Volvo, Takes a Cue From Tesla For New Tablet-Powered Dash

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VolvoIn-car touchscreens suck, save for one: the 17-inch megascreen fitted to the Tesla Model S. We praised the Tesla system’s ease of use and responsiveness in our review, and now Volvo is getting in on the game with its own intuitive touchscreen.

The unnamed three-door wagon concept set to debut at the Geneva Motor Show next month will feature Volvo’s new in-car control system. It’s a complete rethink of the automaker’s infotainment offerings, completed with a large, capacitive touchscreen and a new user interface that takes the place of nearly all the traditional buttons on the dash.

Volvo is addressing the primary issues with most automotive displays, namely small size, antiquated technology, and user interface design.

First, the Volvo in-car control system measures in at a sizable nine-inches diagonal — several inches more than what most automakers provide — allowing more space for control elements and larger touch points for fingers. Secondly, they’re using a capacitive touchscreen like those employed on smartphones and tablets that makes controls more tactile and responsive. Only two automakers — Cadillac and Tesla — use such displays, but the tide is finally turning away from the old school resistive displays.

Finally, Volvo created a completely new user interface that takes cues from the touchscreen devices we use, including pinching and swiping, but adapting them for the driver.

“The new user interface is designed to create a smooth, logical and safe interaction between the driver and the car,” says Thomas Ingenlath, Volvo’s veep of design. “This goes far beyond just putting a large tablet in the centre of the dashboard. We have created a digital environment that is fully integrated in the car.”

To anyone familiar with a Windows Phone or new Windows 8 machine, Volvo’s adoption of “tiles” is easy to understand. They’ve divided the screen into two large sections, with vehicle information, navigation and media controls towards the top, while phone, apps, and climate controls are near the bottom — just like you’d find in most traditional dashboards. Touching one tile expands that section of the display, putting it front and center, while the other tiles shrink into the background.

“Using the screen is so logical that it will be part of your muscle memory very quickly,” says Ingenlath.

Muscle memory is a big deal when it comes to auto controls, as drivers are used to one button or one switch being the same place all the time, limiting the need to take their eyes off the road. Volvo is attempting to mimic that familiarity, and thankfully, isn’t ditching the switches entirely, installing a large volume control centered just below the display, along with basic music and climate buttons.

Volvo’s recent in-car control systems haven’t received many accolades, despite being some of the easiest systems to use, so we’ve got faith in Volvo pulling this off with typical Swedish restraint — certainly more than the botched, buggy Cadillac CUE and MyFord Touch systems.

But the best part is that Volvo’s new system isn’t just a flashy concept. They’ll be fitting it to the new XC90 crossover SUV later this year, before the new system infiltrates the rest of the automaker’s lineup.

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