Cars have finally caught the iPad bug. The screen technology used over the past decade or more, which has almost always been resistive type, has not exactly registered every finger press perfectly. In some cars, you had to tap the screen a few times to get it to work — and forget about swiping or making any gestures on the screen. It was all about button taps.
In a recent test of the 2018 Acura TLX A-Spec (base price $42,800), I noticed the screen looked better and responded to touch faster and better. It’s the first Acura to use a capacitive touch screen (there’s a second screen that is not touch-enabled). Once I connected my iPhone 7 Plus, I was able to use all of the Apple CarPlay features without having to tap too hard, which helps with distracted driving issues (e.g., “Why doesn’t this button work? Why did I just drive into a lake?”).
In a few cases, I wanted to see the icon for Google Play Music, which is the app I use the most when I’m driving. I swiped to the right quickly without the usual stuttering (or outright failure) I’ve seen on other cars’ screens. It’s a very quick glance and swipe action, then eyes back on the road. This also helps because the TLX A-Spec, which has a 290-horsepower engine, can be a little punchy in the “sports plus” mode, which revs the engine when you accelerate and downshifts like you are on a race track. You want to focus on the road, not on the screen. It was also easier to select the smaller “frequently used apps” icons on the far left of the CarPlay screen, including the one for the iTunes app.
The screen also looked colorful and clear. You really notice the difference when you use the Maps app in Car Play, which has a crispness that helps you see fine road markings. In my area, there are way too many country roads that look like strands of hair. It was easy to zoom in and see a little more detail to figure out a weird intersection or discern that a road actually comes to an end sooner than expected and doesn’t curve around the whole lake.
The bright and clean display is a sign of things to come.
I’ve seen concept cars that turn the entire dash into a touchscreen. It’s not quite possible yet because the auto industry has to figure out the safety issues, but someday the future connected car will involve a lot more touchscreen interaction on every part of the car. I tested a Lexus LC500 recently, and the locks on the doors were lighted and looked like icons. Some cars use door handles that respond to touch to lock and unlock. It’s definitely coming.
How this will all work is an open question. If you really need to open a door and the swipe gesture doesn’t work, trapping you inside, that’s a much bigger issue than not being able to start an app on your phone. Also, we don’t know if all of this touchscreen interaction will cause unsafe levels of distraction (even when it all works).
Why is the full-car touchscreen coming? For starters, autonomous driving will give us more slack time inside the car. We’ll hold Skype calls and maybe even type up an email. I’m excited for that to happen, and hopefully all of those swipes and gestures will work more like an iPad than a 2008 Ford Taurus.