Skip to main content

Volvo’s CarPlay-connected interface will destroy the infotainment knob as we know it

In a world where infotainment systems become more complicated by the day, and cars are swallowed in buttons, one company dares to think different: Volvo.

Overwrought cliche? Sure, but Volvo’s new Human Machine Interface (HMI) system is genuinely important … and a very Volvo solution to the problem of creating user friendly in-car technology. Well, Volvo along with Apple. Talk about thinking different.

The new Volvo HMI system is making the rounds of auto shows in the handsome Concept Estate, showing off the design future of the automaker. Fittingly for a Swedish company, the new system is incredibly Scandinavian. The same designers who have been at work for the last twenty years to destroy the knob are now fighting to get rid of buttons.

The only buttons allowed in the sleek center console will be quick shortcuts for the media system, like volume and track skipping . The real heart of the system is a large tablet-like touch screen. And, like a modern tablet, this interface will make use of swipes and multi-touch gestures. Robin Page, head of Volvo interior design, says, “Not having to deal with buttons and controls for a growing number of functionalities is like being freed from a pair of handcuffs.” 

The result of this is not just a potentially more intuitive interface, but also a unique design. Page explained that the removing buttons “has made it possible to build a beautiful interior architecture around the portrait screen.”

That whole system works with Apple’s CarPlay, which is currently available only in new and yet-unreleased models from Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, and Volvo (though it is expected to expand to other manufacturers soon). It runs alongside Volvo’s interface on that touchscreen and lets drivers control music and certain phone functions with either Siri or built-in controls. Phone calls, text messages, and voice mails can all be handled through Siri, which will operate through verbal prompting.

Volvo’s HMI system demo at the 2014 NY Auto Show.
Volvo’s HMI system demo at the 2014 NY Auto Show. Image used with permission by copyright holder

Volvo’s on-screen display consists of four bars: navigation, media, phone and CarPlay. Tap CarPlay and eight colorful, familiar icons pop up for many common functions, including Apple maps for turn-by-turn directions. The system can anticipate potential destinations and routes, based on prior trips, contacts, and email information, Volvo told us. Of course, an iPhone’s music catalog can be navigated using the system, as can iTunes Radio, iHeartRadio, and Spotify.

Some folks say it could even save the car stereo industry

The potential for interesting design is on full display in the Concept Estate. The simple lines and colors create a surprisingly modern and clean look. And unlike a lot of concept cars, the effect is not something wildly futuristic, something neat to look at that you wouldn’t want to live with. The Volvo interior is in fact something I want in my car right now.

However, as with all HMI systems, the devil is in the details; it remains to be seen whether the concept will work as well in practice as in theory. We had a brief demo of the system at the New York Auto Show, and the system seemed easy to use: intuitive and best of all clean. It’s too easy on some smartphone interfaces to get lost in menus — where the heck is the home screen again? That won’t do when you’re driving, of course, and for the most part Volvo’s system won’t do it to you.

We just saw it in a sealed demo room, however. Whether it works on the road is another story. We may not have to wait long to find out, though: Volvo says that this system will come standard on the new XC90, set to debut late this summer and available early next year.

Editors' Recommendations

Peter Braun
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Peter is a freelance contributor to Digital Trends and almost a lawyer. He has loved thinking, writing and talking about cars…
Scout Motors Electric SUV: rumored price, release date, design, and more
Scout SUV Teaser

There's another electric SUV on the way, and this one comes with a familiar name. Volkswagen is reviving the classic Scout name for a new electric SUV that's billed as being an "RUV," or a rugged utility vehicle. And, it could well prove itself as the best electric SUV in its price range, when it does finally come out.

The new EV isn't due out for quite some time, but there's already a fair bit that we know about it. Curious to learn more? Here's everything you need to know about the upcoming Scout SUV.
There's very little we actually know about the Scout SUV so far, but we do know a little about the eventual design. A few teasers for the upcoming vehicle have been released, showing sketches of both the SUV and the accompanying pickup truck, along with what's presumably the front of the SUV -- though in a dark environment, with little detail.

Read more
Volkswagen ID.GTI concept is another icon reimagined as an EV
Front three quarter view of the Volkswagen ID.GTI concept.

Volkswagen reinvented one of its most iconic models with the ID.Buzz, a modern, all-electric homage to the classic Microbus. But that's not the only fan favorite vehicle currently in the automaker's catalog.

Debuting at the 2023 Munich Auto Show, the Volkswagen ID.GTI concept aims to do for the Golf GTI hot hatchback — VW's signature performance car — what the ID.Buzz did for the Microbus. VW claims a production version has already been given the green light, although it won't say when it will appear.

Read more
Some Tesla fires were reportedly caused by Idalia floods
A Tesla Model Y is seen driving to the left.

As Florida embarks on the difficult work of cleaning up the damage caused by last week’s powerful Hurricane Idalia, local fire crews warned owners of electric cars caught up in floods to immediately move their vehicles away from buildings as a safety measure.

The alert was issued via the Facebook account of firefighters in Palm Harbor, Florida, after reports emerged of electric batteries in two Tesla cars suddenly combusting after exposure to saltwater, CBS News reported, adding that one of the Tesla cars went up in flames as it was being towed by fire crews.

Read more