To touch or not to touch: BMW’s next-gen iDrive lets you decide

Love it or hate it, BMW’s iDrive is a pretty handy way to interface with a car’s infotainment system while driving. There’s something to be said about having a tactile controller to manipulate. Nevertheless, it’s still rather limiting, plus advances in technology and the habits that accompany them declare that touchscreens are the way forward. BMW has responded by introducing a next level iDrive controller that includes touch (and touch-less) inputs.

BMW’s latest iDrive still retains its distinctive controller and BMW points out that one control doesn’t compromise the other. Everything done by the touchscreen can be done with the controller and you can switch in between them for whichever functions you may be performing. Say you’re looking for a song on a playlist and scrolling through it with the iDrive controller. At any point, you can reach out to the touchscreen where an on-screen keyboard will pop up when it detects the proximity of your hand. Even if you decide to go back to the controller, your input won’t be interrupted.

As handy as touchscreens are, you still have to reach out and push something, and the next level of interface manipulation is non-contact gesture recognition. This means that, in a designated space of air in the cabin, a 3D sensor can recognize if a driver or passenger is pointing with one finger or two, or pinching and expanding with the thumb and index finger. It will even recognize if you’ve “tapped” an icon or swiping left or right with a wiggle of your digit.

Rotating your finger could do things like change the volume level and a simple finger gesture could even answer or decline a call. It’s an interesting take on how we interact with our vehicles and we can’t wait to try it out for ourselves. Those who animatedly sing and dance along with their songs might want to be careful though: a spirited rendition of “rolling on the river” might make you skip through an entire playlist.

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