Apple to dabble in automotive industry with in-car touchscreen

By on July 10, 2013, 8:30 AM
apple, patent, car, touchscreen, automotive industry, ios in the car

Apple continues to expand its reach. It started out as a business dedicated to personal computers, and quickly became the industry leader in both music and smartphones. So what's next on the Cupertino-based company's radar?

According to Apple Insider, Apple might soon pursue the automotive industry, seeing as they’ve been granted a US patent for “Programmable tactile touch screen displays and man-machine interfaces for improved vehicle instrumentation and telematics.”

Although touchscreen interfaces are quickly becoming commonplace in cars, they still pose considerable safety risks. Similar to texting while driving, touchscreens encourage drivers to take their eyes off the road as they fumble to control the in-car temperature, as well as the radio volume.

To combat this issue, Apple’s patent outlines a touchscreen with built-in tactile elements. For example, a transparent knob on the display can be used to control the windshield wipers while the car is in motion, but instead be used to surf the internet while the vehicle is stopped. Another nifty feature is that the underlying screen can illuminate all of the important dials when needed, yet fade away when not in use. In essence, the purpose of the embedded knobs, sliders and switches is to make touchscreens less reliant on sight alone. 

Although the touchscreen is the most compelling component of the Apple patent, there are several other technologies that should not go overlooked. The patent also outlines a heads-up-display (HUD) that is embedded in the armrest, a camera that tracks the driver's head motion, and screens that can be controlled using just a laser pointer.

Early reports suggest that the patent might also be used in conjunction with the highly anticipated “iOS in the Car”; an upcoming feature that promises hands-free control of your iPhone through the in-car receiver.

Regardless of the project's outcome, it will be interesting to see how Apple handles the unfamiliar automotive market. However, if their track record is any indication, then the eventual "iCar" will be an instant success.

Images via retrevo and USPTO




User Comments: 15

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Guest said:

Apple also has a patent about car with 4 tires and an engine.

VitalyT VitalyT said:

That picture is worth 1000 stories...

Will the engine look like the new Mac Pro though?

MilwaukeeMike said:

The first time I used an iPod it felt like an item from the future, so I'm going to reserve judgement on what Apple may do to a car until we see some real results.

But I have a feeling that if we'd been using touchscreens for 20 years and someone came along and said that instead of touching everything on a screen we're going to have a little lever that controls the wipers that you click once for each speed iteration, everyone would love it. If someone made a little dial for radio volume we'd all prefer it over a touch screen. Some major car models now are moving away from touchscreens already. It makes me wonder if what Apple is planning is an improvement or just innovation for the sake of innovation and Apple knowing full well that anything that says 'Apple' will sell.

JC713 JC713 said:

Eh, too much Apple!

9Nails, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Big fat piece of glass to reflect the sun into my face.

2 people like this | Nobina Nobina said:

Why the hell would I need touchscreen in a car? It's much easier to control stuff when you can acctually feel what you are pressing and you don't have to look away from the road.

MilwaukeeMike said:

Why the hell would I need touchscreen in a car? It's much easier to control stuff when you can acctually feel what you are pressing and you don't have to look away from the road.

Hence the line about ...."To combat this issue, Apple's patent outlines a touchscreen with built-in tactile elements." Tactile...aka, bumpy.

Vrmithrax Vrmithrax, TechSpot Paladin, said:

The big auto makers that have been in the industry for a long time (some over a century) have moved as much control away from external positions as possible... There is a reason that the important control levers are mounted within finger reach without requiring hands to leave the steering wheel, and that steering wheel mounted thumb controls for auxiliary functions (cruise, radio, etc) are becoming the norm. See, they've actually done the ergonomics and safety studies, and are trying to make driving safer. Even if Apple has "tactile elements" in a touchscreen, it still requires moving your hand away from the wheel. Considering all of the media and safety / law enforcement concentration on "distracted driving" these days, I can't see them approving of Apple's ideas, no matter how ingenious they might be.

But hey, when they get all of those autonomous driving cars with no need to pay attention and hang onto the wheel to keep from dying, that big touchscreen control system would be just fine...

1 person liked this | Guest said:

Oh my God! Apple is copying the idea from Tesla car using touchscreen interface on its dashboard..

Careful Tesla, because apple will sue Tesla, even Tesla cars got the idea first rather than apple :D

davislane1 davislane1 said:

Oh my God! Apple is copying the idea from Tesla car using touchscreen interface on its dashboard..

Careful Tesla, because apple will sue Tesla, even Tesla cars got the idea first rather than apple

Unless I'm mistaken, Audi actually "got the idea first" back in 2005: [link]

davislane1 davislane1 said:

Unless I'm mistaken, Audi actually "got the idea first" back in 2005: [link]

Edit: Actually, the first company to put a touch screen in a car was Buick, in 1986. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buick_Riviera

TomSEA TomSEA, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

The Tesla cars already have this. I'm sure there will be a lawsuit in the making if Apple does anything remotely similar to what Tesla is already doing.

Skidmarksdeluxe Skidmarksdeluxe said:

The simpler car cabin switch gear is, the better. LCD screens (especially touchscreens) are very distracting.

Camikazi said:

The simpler car cabin switch gear is, the better. LCD screens (especially touchscreens) are very distracting.

This is one place where touchscreens are not better having levers, buttons, knobs and other physical switches makes it possible to change things without ever having to look at the touchscreen. With a touchscreen, especially one with multiple level menus, it means you have to take your eyes off the road in order to see what you want to do and that is dangerous.

Nobina Nobina said:

This is one place where touchscreens are not better having levers, buttons, knobs and other physical switches makes it possible to change things without ever having to look at the touchscreen.

IMO, touchscreens are not better anywhere, physical buttons are simpler to use because of the tactile response (I can feel what I'm pressing) and muscle memory. Touchscreen just looks nice, and when people saw it, it looked like technology from the future, that's all.

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