Thursday, December 18, 2008

Apple After Autos?

Previously, Apple entered deals with auto makers for iPod integration.

Given the crummy user interface on Mercedes' "Command" system, I was excited Apple might sell high-end auto makers on a less user-hostile interface using Apple tech.

According to Apple's recent patent filings, the future is here. Apple describes multitouch skins that would put controls on steering wheels and enable context-sensitive modification of interfaces. Thus, the silly icon for the in-car built-in phone you didn't order need not roll your eyes the whole life of your auto ownership: the buttons you see would be multitouch surfaces whose descriptors would vary with what you were doing. Zooming and moving maps should be vastly better with this than with the existing map system, which is so heinous that I haven't had time to finish my excorciating comments on it.

The short story: the included maps are obsolete on the day the car is delivered, the categories in which destinations are sorted make it impossible to find the post office in the town you just drove in (or hell, your own town), and the slow and cumbersome mechanism for scrolling about and zooming on the map looks like something that might have been dreampt up decades ago for a sci-fi movie targted at a culture in love with buttons and happy to suffer. And it crashes.

So let's hope -- whether you own Apple, or just drive cars -- that Apple has some success pitching its UI tools to auto makers. At least at Mercedes, they're in desperate need of a lifeline.

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