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Car and Driver: Poking and Prodding Audi’s Haptic Touchscreen and Digital Dashboard at CES

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Audi MMI Touch Response demo

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Bosch wasn’t the only automotive company at CES to debut a haptic touchscreen—the kind that registers inputs with a physical sensation like a vibration—Audi also brought one along. Two, in fact. Incorporated into a conceptual, forward-looking car-interior buck mimicking the e-tron Quattro concept‘s cabin, the display had three colossal screens; only the digital gauge cluster goes without touchability. We grabbed a seat in Audi’s pretend half-car to try out the interface that Audi says previews the next-generation A8 sedan.

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Based on Audi’s next-generation MIB2+ infotainment architecture, the three screens are sharp and bright—Audi says the displays are AMOLED, or active-matrix organic LED—and don’t conform to the rectilinear display norm. The gauge-cluster screen, for example, is subtly curved, while the upper dashboard display isn’t a parallelogram, with its four sides tilted at different angles to create a leaning trapezoidal shape. Finally, the lower screen sits tilted just ahead of a palm rest on the center console. The few physical buttons on the dashboard can be found on the steering wheel; the only other hard input is the ignition button.

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Audi MMI Touch Response demo

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Astute Audi fans will note the lack of the brand’s signature MMI infotainment control knob, as well as the touch pad proliferating through the automaker’s current lineup. That’s because Audi refers to this control layout as MMI Touch Response, the future. And MMI Touch Response incorporates today’s MMI functionality and then some, only using a trio of screens. The lower of the two central displays offers shortcuts to media, navigation, phone, and weather menus (which appear on the upper screen when selected), as well as climate controls and drive mode options. Like today’s TT sports car or the new Q7 crossover, users can configure the gauge-cluster display to their liking, with navigation maps, audio settings, and more.

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Audi MMI Touch Response demo

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Simply looking at MMI Touch Response is great, but actually using it? The large upper display is easy to stab at, with relatively large, nicely spaced buttons, but the lower screen requires a glance or two to operate smoothly. (Particularly with the small buttons along the bottom edge of the screen.) The haptic feedback is somewhat useful on the upper screen but doesn’t help much on the lower one—unlike with Bosch’s more elaborate haptic tech, MMI Touch Response only triggers to affirm a selection. That is: press a button, and the screen vibrates to feign a “click.” Bosch’s setup, which allows users to “feel” for buttons by triggering vibrations as your fingers move from button to button before pressing harder to input a selection, would be a boon here. After all, the lower MMI screen is buried down by the driver’s leg, practically necessitating a glance or three to operate it.

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According to Audi representatives, the concept’s screens come from Samsung, while the haptic system is the work of a German firm named Preh. We really dig the screen-tastic layout, but perhaps before this system is adapted for use in the new A8 luxury sedan, a little more fiddling should go into its multiple displays’ positioning to make its use less distracting.
-2016 Consumer Electronics Show

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