BMW’s i Vision Dee, revealed at CES 2023, goes against several trends among automakers’ new premium vehicles, and suggests that BMW has dissenting expectations for the future role of infotainment systems, which could have a widespread impact if realized.
i Vision Dee Focuses on Augmented Reality
In May 2022, Matthias Junghanns, Head of BMW i Interior Design, suggested that large infotainment screens would become outdated, and this prediction was reiterated recently by BMW Group’s Oliver Zipse at CES 2023. The Chairman of the Board of Directors cited driver distractions as the main cause of accidents and predicted large tablet-style dashboard displays will be gone within 10 years, potentially due to regulator intervention.
This announcement tied into the presentation of the BMW i Vision Dee concept car at CES 2023, which has a minimalist interior that eschews dashboard-mounted screens in favor of a large Head-Up Display (HUD) on the windscreen. The “Mixed Reality Slider” allows for different levels of information to be shown on the HUD, including key driving information, social communications, and Augmented Reality (AR) overlays with driving alerts, up to a full Virtual Reality (VR) world.
This stands in contrast to the other cars announced at CES, most of which included the large tablet-style infotainment displays pioneered by Tesla. These have become commonplace in new premium vehicles, especially Electric Vehicles (EVs), which often take advantage of the increased headroom made available by new consolidated Electrical/Electronic (E/E) architectures to offer advanced infotainment functionalities. The Ram 1500 Revolution concept, as well as the upcoming Volvo EX90 and Volkswagen (VW) ID.7, featured head unit displays over 14 inches, while Sony and Honda’s AFEELA went a step further with a panoramic screen covering the entire dashboard.
Different Vision for Infotainment and Mobility
BMW has not shied away from center control infotainment in the past, with the new 7 series featuring a 14.9-inch curved display, but its predictions for In-Vehicle Infotainment (IVI) are reflected in its market-leading Rear Seat Entertainment (RSE). The 7 Series is available with an impressive 31-inch Theater Screen with 8K resolution and Amazon Fire TV integration for content streaming over a 5G connection.
If BMW’s expectations are realized or become more mainstream among Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), this would reduce the market size for infotainment display suppliers, such as LG, AUO, and Panasonic, and lead to annual shipments for vehicles with head unit displays over 10 inches failing to reach the currently forecast 53 million in 2030. There could be benefits for companies like HARMAN that have invested in AR HUDs, and the annual shipment of vehicles with AR HUDs in 2030 could be higher than current forecasts of 1.4 million. It does not indicate a turn away from in-car multimedia entertainment, but a potential change in its nature and a pivot toward RSE that would require adaption from streaming and media suppliers, such as Cinemo. Further information regarding infotainment trends can be found in ABI Research’s New Automotive Infotainment Architectures report (AN-5329).
This is also tied into BMW’s reluctance to sacrifice control to third-party apps. BMW’s OS 9, due to be released in 2024, will be its first to fully rely on Google’s Android Auto Open Source (AAOS); it will not be taking up Google Automotive Services (GAS), the suite of Google-managed services and apps that can be added on top of AAOS. Stephan Durach, BMW Group senior vice president of the Connected Company unit, stated that BMW will be avoiding GAS in order to retain control of customer data, to ensure functionality in key markets without access to Google Services, and crucially to preserve its in-house systems and remain in charge of the user experience.
AAOS and Apple’s CarPlay have user interfaces focused on the infotainment touchscreen, and the context of BMW’s expectations for the future of the dashboard provides further justification for its OS strategy. BMW’s immersive HUD solution would likely require proprietary software that could not be adequately integrated with third-party apps, while providing the all-encompassing experience it desires.
While users’ expectations for touchscreen displays are driven by their experiences using iOS and Android mobile devices, an area in which it is hard for automakers to compete with Apple and Google, HUDs are firmly rooted in the car cockpit. Smart HUDs are a relatively new technology that OEMs have the opportunity to shape and take back some control over the driver’s digital experience.
A movement toward HUDs would necessitate changes to the current typical User Experience (UX). A vehicle lacking a touchscreen or physical controls would require an increased role for the voice assistant and likely the car acting intelligently to respond to the driver’s needs without them actively controlling it. Accordingly, the Artificial Intelligence (AI)-powered voice assistant Dee is heavily touted in the i Vision Dee concept.
This could be a significant boon for Google and Amazon, as Google Assistant and Alexa are expected to dominate the embedded voice assistant market. They have built a technological lead over OEMs in this area, as seen with BMW recently conceding by announcing the inclusion of Alexa alongside its own Intelligent Personal Assistant in future vehicles. A widespread elimination of physical controls could see these companies playing an essential role in supplying voice technology to OEMs.
Curiously absent from the i Vision Dee concept is any mention of autonomy: unlike, for example, the Audi “sphere” concepts that focus heavily on luxury as a passenger in a fully autonomous vehicle, BMW’s concept is centered around heightening the driving experience. Autonomy is not an area that BMW has, thus far, ignored or fallen behind in; the 2023 7 Series has Level 2+ capabilities with the hardware for Level 3, and BMW has formed development partnerships with Qualcomm and Stellantis. The use of an HUD to avoid distracting the driver and the absence of multimedia screens to entertain the driver while operating at high levels of autonomy could indicate a new pessimism from BMW toward self-driving systems, and that it does not expect fully driverless vehicles to become a reality in the same time frame as the rest of the industry does.
New Opportunity that Could Disrupt Expectations
Other automakers should be prepared for legislative measures or consumer backlash against the perceived safety issues with infotainment screens, and ensure they have alternative options ready. Traditional HUDs are common in high-end vehicles in North America and expected to filter out to mid-range vehicles in the next few years, as they already have in Europe and Asia. AR HUDs are an expensive feature that should only be available on premium EVs until at least 2025; this gives some time for human factors research to be done to better understand how HUDs should display information and be interacted with.
Meanwhile, OEMs should continue to develop and use infotainment screens, as these are a feature that customers have come to expect and rely upon. If they do not go out of favor, they could be an essential part of the future driving experience. For EVs, they can be used for content streaming and gaming while fast charging on-the-go, and this capability could evolve for driver entertainment in L3 to L5 autonomous vehicles that do not require driver supervision.
Automotive suppliers should follow developments in this area closely, as it has the potential to disrupt the growing market for infotainment solutions. They should ensure that their systems are suitable for vehicles without physical controls through compatibility with voice assistants and camera-based gesture inputs, and further research these technologies. Leading suppliers like HARMAN and Continental are already offering advanced AR HUDs, and their competitors should develop their own alternatives to prepare for greater uptake of this technology in the future.