When BMW first debuted its iDrive system, with the E60-generation 5 Series, it was almost universally loathed. For good reason, too. It was slow, dim-witted, overly complicated and wildly un-intuitive. However, as the years have come and gone, automakers have been copying the idea of iDrive. So while it was infuriating when it first debuted, it was revolutionary. Now, every premium automaker has their own infotainment system to compete with BMW’s iDrive. Except, iDrive seems to be ahead of the rest of them, especially in one specific area.
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Infotainment systems started out almost universally with analog controllers. Whether it be a rotary dial (BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi) or weird mousepad-like controller (Lexus), there was always some sort of physical control over the system. Now, though, it seems that automakers are moving more and more toward touchscreens. Jaguar, Land Rover, Cadillac, Volvo and now BMW and Audi are all eschewing traditional controls for touchscreen capability. However, no one does touchscreens better than BMW’s iDrive and there’s one very specific reason why.
iDrive is not touchscreen only.
The newest version of BMW’s iDrive has several different methods of interactivity. It keeps the traditional iDrive rotary dial, while adding touchscreen, voice control and even Gesture control capability. That allows users to sort of pick and choose how they want to interact with the system and this is the best way to go.
Touchscreens are great nowadays, with rapid response and slick, intuitive graphics. But it doesn’t matter how good the touchscreen is, you still must avert your eyes from the road, while driving a massively heavy death machine at high speeds, to use it. So it becomes more distracting and dangerous than anything else. With a physical controller, users can use muscle memory to use the controller without every taking their eyes of the road. This makes using them far more intuitive, far less frustrating and simply safer.
There are merits to touchscreens in cars. For instance, to pinch and zoom on a navigation map to help find a road can only be done intuitively with a touchscreen. BMW’s iDrive allows users to do this but then control the rest of the system with the rotary dial. Apple CarPlay is also much easier to use with a touchscreen. BMW allows Apple CarPlay to be controlled by either touch or rotary. So it doesn’t matter which you like more, BMW’s iDrive allows for it.
We’ve just recently seen the brand-new Audi A8, which comes out next year. Rather than have Audi’s traditional MMI system controller (a very similar rotary dial to BMW’s), the new A8 uses two different touchscreens. From what we hear, it works really quite well but is still a nuisance on the road. And that’s the latest and greatest touchscreen unit on the market (soon to be on the market).
The fact that BMW allows users to control the system in multiple different ways, allowing them to sort of customize their usage in different ways for different things, makes its newest iDrive simply the best system on the market. Touchscreens are hard to implement in the automotive world and do have their place but BMW does them better than anyone else.