I may be a little late to the party in commenting upon the Tesla Model S, but after witnessing one in the flesh this summer it got me thinking. I didn’t know much about the car, so after seeing this, understated machine sat calmly in it’s parking bay, I needed a closer look. What I saw was inside was a huge 17” tablet-like interface placed upon the dashboard, as the main control interface between the machine and the driver.
The role of interactive screens in vehicle design has become commonplace, and the Tesla is the first model where such a screen is as large, negating the need for a traditional analogue interface. Much like a smartphone, the designers have sacrificed permanently placed tactile buttons and switches to open up the possibilities of what can be displayed by the large touch-sensitive panel. The device offers a myriad of functions, from suspension settings, to its very own web browser. The development of this sort of device leads us to the possibility of web content being designed for use beyond the realm of smartphones, tablets and desktop environments, taking responsive web design to the next level.
With the ever expanding network of ‘the internet of things’ comes with it the benefit of sharing information across many devices. At the moment we tend to reach for our smartphones as our one point of reference for a vast amount of information, and notifications throughout the day. A broader range of connected devices that relay information will allow us to to act upon notifications ‘in the moment’ rather than constantly picking up their smartphone as their source of information. This is already happening through sharing user information across many screens, using Cloud-based notifications. For a number of years, the likes of Apple, Google and more recently Microsoft have assisted users by providing useful notifications from a range of devices. For example through their latest software updates, Apple now offers users the potential to pick up phone calls and text messages through their laptop, or tablet when the devices are on the same wifi network.
Vehicles interfaces offer users another opportunity to display information that their smartphone provides them. Much like the introduction of Apple’s laptop text and calling functionality, there is a vast potential for vehicle interface design to benefit users by integrating smartphone notifications. One major issue at the moment is the software design of in-car entertainment systems is still in its infancy, with clunky user interfaces, and out of date aesthetics. Both Apple and Google have begun to address this by introducing iOS and Android style interfaces in vehicles, when a user’s phone is connected to the car. By ensuring that the design language is uniform across many screens, the user expectation, and journey remain smooth and seamless.
The use of such in depth entertainment systems in cars has been questioned however; as a large, featureless glass touch screen replaces the tactile controls we are used to. A research paper by Professor John Lee conducted in 2008 commented upon the distractions faced by drivers, and how the likelihood of distractions would only increase, with more complex ‘infotainment’ devices incorporated into the vehicles. He concludes that:
“Infotainment systems introduce new distractions that can undermine safety. Driver-assistance technologies promise to mitigate these distractions and improve safety. But we will not reap the potential benefits of these devices with a technology-only approach.”
The introduction of such systems is risky with reference to driver concentration, so a balance should be met with a blend of physical and digital interfaces. This would provide the greatest amount of flexibility from a large touch panel, yet enough physical haptic feedback to the user to limit the amount of attention devoted to performing simple tasks. This benefits the user ensuring that they remain attentive to the road ahead of them.
Clearly there are a number of challenges that responsive design faces beyond the realms of desktop, tablet and mobile interfaces but once overcome, it is likely to open up an exciting pathway to the future of responsive web design.