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A deep dive into automotive interface design

John Day

John Day

Posted May 22, 2013

Telematics Update has published its Automotive HMI Report 2013, containing an analysis of human-machine interface (HMI) features by vehicle segment and an overview of “best in market” HMI designs, including those from automakers such as BMW, Audi, Ford, and General Motors.

The report includes insights from more than 40 HMI experts from firms such as Continental, DENSO, Fiat, Garmin, GM, Harman, Jaguar Land Rover, Nokia, Bosch, Tata, Telecommunication Systems Inc., Visteon, Volvo, and the University of Warwick.

It also assesses major HMI input/output technologies relevant for next-generation design, and discusses design challenges related to the user experience, U.S. NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) and “the battle for software commonality.” Among other topics the report looks at the move towards natural language, multimodal controls, and innovations in touchscreens.

The challenge for automakers is to keep in-vehicle infotainment systems fresh with new content and features, achieve seamless integration with mobile apps and devices, create personalized user experiences, and accelerate development cycles to keep pace with the expectations of the connected consumer.

Among the report’s observations and predictions:

           By 2016 the ability to integrate smartphones into head-units will be almost ubiquitous, resulting in an estimated 92 million Internet-connected cars.

           European manufacturers of premium vehicles are generally regarded as having the best overall HMI systems. BMW is seen to offer the leading user interface (iDrive), with Audi’s MMI its nearest competitor.

            It’s unlikely that any one input design will dominate in the future because HMI is so important for brand differentiation; however, a large push is underway toward non-contact HMIs and especially toward voice recognition. Voice control is rated as important for all segments, scoring 4.3 out of 5 for premium vehicles, 3.9 for mid-size, and 3.3 for low-end cars.

            Future input HMIs will be multimodal solutions composed of several different technologies that allow users to combine modalities or easily switch from one input mode to another if they perceive it is better suited to a particular task.

            Location-based services are the first or second most important feature in all segments. Advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) are important for the premium and mid-size segments but less so for low-end cars. Cloud-based services and streaming content are more important in mid-size volume cars while control of nomadic devices using the device’s UI (screen replication) is more important for low-end cars.

University of Warwick, Telematics Update, Automotive HMI Report, NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), Nokia, Tata, Telecommunication Systems Inc., Audi, GM, DENSO, Harman, Fiat, Human-Machine Interface (HMI), Jaguar Land Rover, Garmin, Ford, General Motors, Visteon, Volvo

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John DayJohn Day recently launched John Day’s Automotive Electronics News ( to provide news and feature coverage of the automotive electronics industry. Earlier he wrote for Auto Electronics magazine, Auto E-lectronics, EE Times, and other business and engineering publications. Visit John Day

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