The Idea Behind iDrive

UK journalist Richard Aucock got a sneak peak into the then very secret new 7er and it ‘s updated iDrive system last year when we got a tour through one of BMW ‘s engineering labs. He also got a lot of background around the ideology behind the iDrive and BMW ‘s general philosophy around cockpit interaction and dispay.

BMW needed a fundamental overhaul of its controller system. As we now know, and was shown to me then, the solution it found is brilliant. ‘We’ve kept the 4-Rose menu as ‘direct’ buttons,’ said the engineers. ‘But, if you’re trained in iDrive, you don’t use the buttons. You do the whole interaction WITHOUT looking at the controller.’

That’s fine, we wagered, but isn’t it even easier to have touchscreen? No, said a horrified engineer. See, touchscreen is absolute: ‘you need to guide your finger all the time, by looking at the screen.’ Imagine, they said, driving along and trying to input a nav destination.

‘iDrive is relative, though – you can turn, wait, give your attention to the road, but still know where you were when your eyes flick back.

‘This is a system for driving. We’ve designed iDrive in general to consist evolutionary steps, so you can see where you came from. It doesn’t overload drivers. And is, we feel, far safer.’

+ BMW tells me why its instruments are lit in orange: an iDrive iNsight / richardaucock.com

Thanks for the tip Nick.

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  • bsd107

    They are completely right about touchscreens. I’ve owned a MY99 E39 with Nav, MY07 Honda with Nav, and now a MY09 E90 with new iDrive.

    I always liked the interface on the first gen Nav on my E39. You used a single knob for everything (although the audio system had completely separate controls, which was actually very nice), and that knob had only three interactions: turn clockwise, turn counterclockwise, and push in. Everything was controlled through those three motions of the knob. It’s sounds archaic, but it was amazingly simple and easy to use. The best thing about it was, just as the article says above, you never lost your place as your eyes darted between the screen and the road, and you’d just leave your hand on the knob (which was on the dash). That early nav system was extremely slow, but the inteface was great.

    The Honda uses a touchscreen, and I immediately found out that it’s extremely difficult to use while you are driving. Typing in addresses on a touch screen sounds easy, but it’s not. The screen is at an angle as it’s on the center of the dash, so it’s easy to misjudge and have the screen thing you are pushing a letter next to the one you want. Also, while you are driving, your arm is essentially floating in space since your hand is not hanging onto a knob. So, even the slight motions of driving down straight down the freeway give enough motion to your arm that you have to concentrate as you aim and press buttons on the touch screen.

    The new iDrive in the MY09 E90, is, of course, and improvement over the original nav in my early E39. With the knob not on the dash, it’s even easier to use.