According to Jonathan Spira (of Roundel fame),
who documented the various (unseen) versions of iDrive, this controller represents part of the fourth generation of BMW ‘s iDrive cockpit controller system.
Spira tells BimmerFile that the key difference between BMW’s new cockpit controller and the competitions’ is button placement.
While other manufacturers (Mercedes and Audi) have added function buttons, BMW is placing them in a cluster surrounding the controller so that the driver does not have to remove his hand from the controller or look down to engage a function.As a result, since the driver can distinguish between buttons based on shape and placement while keeping his hand on the cockpit controller, the system is easier and safer to use. We agree that BMW took some time and thought about ergonomics and placement of the buttons.
Audi just released Generation III of its MMI cockpit controller in the Q5; based on press photos, button placement has not been improved and they remained scattered.
For a more in depth analysis we recommend Jonathan ‘s latest article which can be accessed via the BMWCCA website here