TMO Short Take: BMW Shows You How Cars Would Be If Microsoft Made Them

Last week, a friend showed me his new car that came equipped with a state-of-the-art GPS console, complete with color-rich LCD display and buttons galore. Gadget hound that I am, I went thereafter to read up on other vehicles that are offering similar convergences between auto and PC.

I ran across a review of BMWis latest 7 series of cars that has taken the idea of auto-gadgets to the Microsoftian extreme, shoehorning in more confusing and extraneous features than Word itself. This new car is so feature-prone that, according to a New York Times article, "Some dealers allot three hours or more to hand 7s over to customers; after youive bought it, you must learn to drive it."

This car, the 2002 BMW 745i, has over 270 functions, some voice activated, some manipulated by an input device similar to a track ball. BMW calls it "iDrive." The New York Timesi James G. Cobbs had the same chilling thought that crossed my mind: computers are still hard to use and weire putting them into our cars? Is this a foretaste of what will happen if Microsoft gets into the auto biz with its "Windows everywhere" strategy? From the Timesi article:

Though intended to be intuitive, iDrive is maddening, especially at first. The hardware becomes easier to use with practice, but just as you get the hang of it you run into some exasperating quirk of the software: you call up menus just to tune the radio or adjust the air flow. If youive wondered what a car from Microsoft might be like, the 7 offers a clue. You half expect it to ask, "Where do you want to go today?"

The pity is that this complicated and distracting user interface overshadows technology that works much better.

For the price, youid expect a better user interface: the 7 series starts at US$68,495; the 745i starts at US$72,495 and gets as high as $100,000. Appleis Steve Jobs has said more than once that the computer will never converge with the TV. I think that the same is true about cars combining computers (can you imagine having to stop and reboot your car after installing the latest interface hack?). Cobb says it best:

Most people donit bond with their computers, and it is hard to imagine them developing deep emotional attachments to this car, however much they may respect its capabilities.

Amen and ditto. All I want to know is when will we see iDrive with an Aqua interface.

Rodney O. Lain canit keep his car on the road, because he keeps getting into flame wars on AIM; itis a chewing-gum-while-walking kinda thing. When he isnit trying to successfully pat head while rubbing his tummy, he writes the occasional editorial and iBrotha column for The Mac Observer. He lives in Minnesota where he is an IT supervisor for The Man at a Fortune 100 company.