BMW adopts touchscreen tech – at last

The German über-brand's iDrive gets touchy, nearly 15 years on from its birth

BMW iDrive

Nearly 15 years after BMW revolutionised in-car tech with its iDrive multimedia system, the German car maker has finally given in to the inevitable. iDrive will be getting touchscreen technology.

Touchscreens for iDrive is just one of a slew of technology announcements BMW is making at CES 2015 in Las Vegas, including more advanced self-driving car prototypes, laser headlights, wireless charging for electric cars and even a special BMW credit card that also acts as a key.

When it first appeared in 2001, BMW's iDrive system arrived with an input paradigm based on a clickable wheel concept and no other options. It was the kind of purist approach you might expect from Apple.

Over the years, iDrive acquired shortcut keys around the input wheel and latterly a touchpad on top. But the iDrive screen itself resolutely resisted the touch revolution.

Wheely bad

What's more, despite some early criticism, iDrive set the scene for upmarket in-car multimedia systems, with the likes of Audi, Mercedes and others going for similar input solutions sans touchscreen tech.

More recently, however, an increasing number of car manufacturers have been adopting touchscreens including the Tesla Model S and its huge 17-inch display.

Perhaps most significantly, some manufacturers like Mazda have been combining both touchscreen and wheel input in a single car, offering the best of both worlds.

BMW iDrive
BMW added touchpad tech in 2013

But now BMW has announced a new development version of iDrive that includes a touchscreen main display. It's not clear exactly how soon it will appear in production BMWs. But we think it's likely that other holdouts from touch tech, such as Audi, will find it very hard not to follow BMW.

On a related note, BMW will also show off new gesture-based non-contact controls for iDrive and wireless control using a Samsung tablet.

What else from BMW at CES?

Other innovations from BMW at CES this year include an update to its self-driving prototype tech. Part one is full 360-degree collision avoidance based on all-round radar and camera coverage. Then there's a fully automated valet parking feature in which the car potters off and finds a space in multi-storey car parks all on its own.

As for the laser lights, BMW already offers those on the i8 supercar. However, a new system that extends their operational range to an incredible 600 metres has now been announced. Watch out oncoming cars!

On the EV side, BMW is showing an i8 supercar with a wireless induction charging system that can juice the batteries in just two hours.

And finally, that credit card. MasterCard and BMW are working together to introduce a contactless credit card that can be used to both operate BMWs and MINIs and, well, pay for stuff. Hurray for capitalism!

Anyway, all of that is just a taste of what BMW is revealing at CES this year. Look out for more coverage this week.

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