The Automotive Market: Taking a Road Paved by Smartphones

May 11, 2016

By Huibert Verhoeven


“Why can’t my car be more like my smartphone?” That’s a question people in the automotive industry often hear.

In an age when we're more likely to leave the house without shoes than without our smartphones, the latter’s indispensability is unquestioned. Consumers have grown accustomed to smartphones' ever-advancing functionality -- their speed, responsiveness, frequent updates, not to mention their being our most accessible source of instant content and information.

So, it stands to reason that we seek the same ease of use, utility and intuitiveness of our smartphones in other products, such as the cars we drive. Leading us back to the question…

“Why can’t my car be more like my smartphone?” Actually, it can, in fact, cars already are adopting many of key user interface (UI) typically standard in smartphones.

The UI in automobiles is evolving; advanced UI features are being designed into cars' consoles and steering wheels. And Synaptics is now playing a central role in that evolution, by leveraging our three decades of user-experience advancements into solutions ideal for the fast-changing automotive market.

Among the many reasons the UI became so important in smartphones and is now attractive to other applications like cars is that it creates a content-rich environment. Through a relatively small display, users experience highly visual and tactile interactivity with information, entertainment, communications, and more -- functionality that appeals to drivers as well.

Obviously, it’s ill-advised for a driver to depend on a smartphone for anything other than hands-free conversation; his/her attention clearly need to be devoted to the vehicle’s safe operation. Moreover, the cognitive skills demanded by a smartphone’s interface differ tremendously from those by a car. Still, a UI that takes the best of smartphones' touch and display features while ensuring drivers keep their eyes safely on the road would certainly enhance the driving experience. Force sensitive displays with haptic feedback will augment these automotive UIs.

An imperative for carmakers, therefore, is to make vehicles’ UI:

  • fast and instantly responsive
  • intuitive and easy to learn
  • easily and safely navigable for drivers contending with vehicles' multi-layered and discrete functions
  • provide easy access to connected services
  • attractive to look at

Synaptics led the industry’s transition from resistive-touchscreen displays to capacitive-sensing technology, providing several key advantages: greater sensitivity, the recognition of lighter touch, and support for multi-touch operation. Thanks to these breakthroughs, such features are the norm across countless touch-and-display applications and poised to make further inroads into the automotive market. In fact, capacitive touchscreens are now common in the displays of several car models, finally supplanting mechanical buttons and resistive-sensing technology.

While the graphical interface must be automotive-specific – for example, larger icons and plain backgrounds for easy readability – these new capacitive touchscreens can also benefit from the use of intuitive, single- and multi-finger operations, proximity detection, haptics, and variable-force sensing. Moreover, Synaptics is developing capacitive-touch solutions with longevity in mind; automakers’ design cycles are measured in years, not months, and unlike their smartphones, car owners often keep their vehicles for a decade or more before re-sale.

As a testament to Synaptics’ leadership in creating rich human-interface solutions, manufacturers from around the world now feature our solutions in their vehicles -- all of which serve to confirm that, yes, a car can be more like a smartphone.