It is no secret that cars are loaded more and more with tech daily. The amount of tech inside a car, and the substantial monetary investment that goes behind it has made the CEOs of big companies like Ford, and Mercedes and more think more and more like Tech CEOs rather than car CEOs.
CEOs of big car companies are thinking more and more like tech CEOs
At the centre of all of this attention, quite literally, is the infotainment system. Over the past few years, the presence and importance of the infotainment screen has grown exponentially. Now in a way, that is a great thing.
Screens are far more interactive and unlock another dimension of interaction with your car. A car with a well-thought-out infotainment system that neatly integrates with the other systems of the car will fade into the background when you don’t need it and present itself with all its functionality when needed. However, that’s not happening.
The issue with screens nowadays
With the Model-S & X, Tesla set such a high bar when it comes to the infotainment, and wowed anyone who used it with its huge size, unlimited functionality, and Elon Musk-approved easter eggs that kept anyone who used it entertained.
Moreover, most of the car’s aspects are controlled by that screen. That kind of vertical integration between functions of the car was not done by anyone else at that time.
Usually, the sourcing and the software of the infotainment screens are just outsourced, so vertical integration at Tesla’s level is just out of the question with that process.
This means that large reorganisations at the corporate level were needed. This would require a lot of investment.
So now think about it, the manufacturer is most likely spending more money on that new infotainment screen than on the development of the engine, or the transmission, or the dynamics now. So they’re more inclined to make a big deal out of that rather than what makes a car truly interesting: the drive.
Such prominent placement has only one issue:
Screens, much like smartphones, age terribly. The speed of software development means that the moment one batch of software is rolled out, another one is already in the beta testing stage.
With powerful ML&RL algorithms now being baked within these software stacks, the hardware simply will not be able to keep up with the processing or display requirements in the future.
Screens on cars till date age much faster compared to the mechanicals
Yes, the iPhone 6S still receives software updates from Apple, but they actually make it slower than it was, and it still won’t look as good as it does on an iPhone 13 Pro Max. That is the issue, once we’ve seen something better, the current one will look dated. With cars that cycle is 3-4 years on average, with tech that is 1 year on average.
And the improvement with each iteration will be substantial since we are in the early stages of taking the infotainment seriously. Imagine what will happen once manufacturers start putting 120Hz refresh rate screens, much like phones, the cars without 120Hz will look outdated and not very good.
Take the wonderful Rolls Royce Cullinan we reviewed a couple of weeks ago. The interior is plush, and wonderful, and is practically the synonym for the word “opulence”. No one knows how to make more luxurious interiors than Rolls Royce, that is a given! However, one thorn in their side is the infotainment system.
The infotainment, a skin over BMW’s iDrive software is done really well, but the underlying age of the iDrive system is clearly visible. First of all, the design language, with shadows and depth is far from the flat design language we are used to in our smartphones and computers.
Moreover, the response of the system itself leaves a lot to be desired. Its saving grace is Apple CarPlay. But even that is an issue, because newer versions of CarPlay CAN be wireless, and demand more processing power for smoother animations.
Furthermore, the Cullinan does not have the ability to receive OTA updates, so you’re pretty much left with a very old version of the infotainment system, even by the standards of today. So imagine how it will be 10-15 years from today. Thankfully the screen does not command as much attention as modern cars do.
A small note on the new Mercedes S-Class, with its gigantic 12.8-inch touchscreen display. First of all, it is a HUGE fingerprint magnet, so that classy look would be gone in 3 minutes flat.
Moreover, Mercedes have already confirmed that they are working on a mega software stack called MBOS. The amount of vertical integration that is talked about with the MBOS means that most likely the S-Class that costs AED 530,000+ would not get it due to hardware limitations.
At least not fully. I really hope Mercedes has a game-plan to let the screens age gracefully, and not keep the tech giants’ mentality of “Sell it first, fix it later”. Otherwise, the EQS will not hold its value very well.
Once again, these screens just put a big date marker on the car. There are far more elegant ways of achieving all the functionality of these infotainments, without losing the timeless design.
Take a look at all the high-end Ferrari’s: the SF90, the F8 Tributo, the Chiron, the R8 and more. All of them lack a centre screen, and that is on purpose. This keeps the design timeless and holds value much better than those with screens.
Where do we go from here?
I think there is a fundamental difference in the interpretation of “The Car” when it comes to infotainment. I, much like you, dear reader, see cars as pieces of art, an investment for the future.
However cars with mega screens and tech are motivated by sales, they are usually seen as products, and consumables, wherein the main measurement of success is the market share, and the monthly sales.
Now that is not a wrong thing at all. In fact, you need the mass market to differentiate the supercars and the hypercars. However, I really hope the manufacturers don’t get blinded by the amount of investment they are putting in these software stacks and hardware, and start adding them to their halo cars in such a way that their long-term values are diminished.
What do you think? Do you like the big screens in cars nowadays or not? Let me know in the comment section.