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IHS Automotive analyst Brian Rhodes on user experience for in-car tasks: "For every single function, the consumer wants to use a touch screen."

SAE 2016 Convergence: Touch screens, speech, HUD the likely future of in-car interface

Touch screens are far from perfect and the state of speech-recognition remains marginal, but those are the two driver-interface technologies consumers overwhelmingly prefer—and probably are likely to prefer in the near future, according to the results of a recent IHS Automotive survey presented at the SAE 2016 Convergence conference near Detroit.

Brian Rhodes, analyst for HMI and usability at IHS Automotive, said consumers' responses regarding their preferences for the “input” portion of the in-vehicle user experience (UX) is particularly intriguing because most consumers’ experience with touch screens has been with spotty-responding resistive technology—and “speech (recognition) generally today is bad. Consumers don’t like it.”

“It’s fascinating,” Rhodes noted of the findings from the survey’s 4000 respondents, saying that despite the fact that both technologies “haven’t worked too well,” consumers still want them.

The main reason, Rhodes suggests, is because drivers and passengers are seeking less complexity from the UX environment—and touch screens and speech recognition appear to be the choice methods for clearing the clutter.

On the “output” side of the UX—methods for relaying information to the cabin occupants—head-up displays (HUD) appear ready to take off, Rhodes said, but consumers are expected to continue to prefer center-stack and instrument-panel screens to receive the bulk of their information.

Improving tech = higher penetration

Rhodes said that in 2016, about 35 million touch screens will be produced for automotive use. But only about one-quarter will use capacitive-touch technology, which has better response speed and reliability and allows additional functions such as pinch and zoom. But IHS data indicate that by 2022, that ratio will be flipped, with 80% of touch screens using capacitive technology and only 20% resistive.

“We’ll see resistive kind of dying,” Rhodes said, as consumers gravitate to the technology that most replicates smartphone functionality. “There is some case for resistive” in automotive use, he said, specifically noting the ability to use resistive screens with gloved hands, for example, “but clearly that case is less compelling.

“For every single function, the consumer wants to use the touch screen,” he concluded. Speech input is the distinct second preference, he said. Interestingly, one current highly promoted input technology—gesture recognition—scored dead last in the consumer survey.

“It’s probably too early to be surveying about gesture,” Rhodes explained, adding that his company nonetheless is projecting a 34.5% compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) for gesture-recognition technology between 2015 and 2022, that high figure based largely on low initial penetration. He also said that gesture recognition is expected to largely remain the province of the luxury market.

Coming: advanced displays, augmented reality

Rhodes said that improved display screens—with and without touch capability—are projected to be a large growth area in the 2016-2022 time frame.

Advanced AMOLED (active matrix organic light-emitting diode) screens don’t require backlighting and can be exceptionally thin; IHS projects a CAGR of 44% for AMOLED screens between now and 2022.

And yes, it’s been done for the home, so get ready for it in the vehicle environment: curved display screens. Rhodes said curved displays could add a new dimension to interior design, but currently have several challenges to adoption, chiefly cost and the difficulty of integrating touch capability. Nonetheless, “We’re getting pretty close to seeing curved displays in automotive,” he added, noting his company projects a 53% CAGR through 2022.

Also in the pipeline is some type of augmented-reality (AR) display technology. For now, Rhodes said, the expectation is the AR largely will involve the ability to project an image or information at a focal point further than the windshield area used by an HUD—and while it’s impossible to speculate where the technology might go, AR “is absolutely key when you talk about autonomous (vehicle control).”

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