Form a more intimate relationship with a car? Er, no thanks, says Jethro
‘The i Vision Dee can display your own personal avatar on the side windows as you drive along’
ACAR, ACCORDING TO THE OXFORD ENGLISH Dictionary, is ‘a road vehicle powered by a motor (usually an internal combustion engine), designed to carry a driver and a small number of passengers’. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the mobile phone has a different definition. ‘A phone that does not have wires and works by radio, that you can carry with you and use anywhere.’ Maybe they haven’t been to Wales. Anyway, there’s also a distinction for a smartphone. ‘A mobile phone that also has some of the functions of a computer, for example the facility to use apps and the internet.’
As you can see, the car and the mobile or smartphone are not the same things. So why do car manufacturers want – so badly – to design phones? Touchscreens, augmented reality, apps, connectivity… the list goes on. The latest concept to signpost this weird obsession is the BMW i Vision Dee. That’s DEE derived from Digital Emotional Experience. It was launched at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas recently and showcased not just the Neue Klasse platform – upon which a whole host of ICE, hybrid and EV models will be created from 2025 – but also a clear design direction for BMW’S near future. Inside and out.
The buzz around BMW’S new emosh-mobile was very, very buzzy. ‘Paint that changes colour!’ Woooooohooo. ‘Full-width head-up display with augmented reality!’ OMG, sign me up! Not much substance, though. Instead we got all sorts of strange, slightly creepy language that doesn’t seem to mean much at all. For example, and this is a quote from BMW’S own website: ‘She’s a digital companion that interacts emotionally with you and accompanies you on a journey between physical and virtual reality.’ Hmmm, okay. Sounds a bit sex doll-y but perhaps I’m missing the point. Maybe if I read down a bit…
‘Through dialogue a natural and emotional relationship between human and vehicle is developed.’ Oh dear Lord. What is happening here? Maybe BMW engineers are just very lonely people? I’ll spare you the rest but suffice to say, ‘Her headlights and closed BMW kidney grille form a uniform physical-digital (phygital) surface on which she visually expresses her emotions through animated facial expressions.’ PHYGITAL. Oh fugital off, guys. The car – for it is a car, I believe – can also display your own personal avatar on the side windows to the rest of the world as you’re driving along. In order that people know the fantasy appearance you’ve created in order to have fantasy intimacy with your car. Anyway, once I stopped being sick in my mouth I realised that the great innovation appears to be augmented reality. Swipe right on BMW’S ‘Mixed Reality Slider’ and you’ll get more and more info projected on the windscreen. That big piece of glass you traditionally look through in order to see the road, pedestrians, other vehicles and buildings. The highest setting allows you to enter a ‘fully virtual world’. It’s immersive. It’s intuitive. It’s digital. But with intimacy. You follow the flights of birds to find your way, for example. There’s probably more but the clunky VR microsite (Joytopia – I promise I’m not making this stuff up) was too painful to navigate.
The over-riding idea seems to be that as we use our phones as portals to new experiences, to see faraway and wonderful places or just to doomscroll and feel bad about our mundane lives whilst everyone else seems to be partying in Miami or configuring another GT3 Touring, then we must want our cars to give us the same experience. Of course, there are fundamental flaws here. We mostly have an ‘immersive’ experience with our phone when we’re sitting on the sofa and can’t find much to watch on TV. When we’re bored in a queue at the supermarket. That sort of thing. Not when we’re in control of a two-ton vehicle around other cars, people and ever-changing dynamic situations.
The smartphone is a means of absent-minded virtual escape, whereas the car is real and requires attention and concentration. It’s also a means of real, genuinely joyful escape. Seriously, who wants augmented reality beamed onto a windscreen?
There’s a bigger problem, too. Car manufacturers have so far proven hopeless at creating tech that effortlessly enhances your life. Except the car itself. Think about it. When was the last time your phone required you to get lost in menus to turn off a feature that’s invasive and pointless? And then, inexplicably, forced you to do the same thing every single time you picked it up? It doesn’t happen. Phone companies are brilliant at making phones. Car makers are not. Stick to what your good at. And to BMW, a plea. Stop asking us to have sex with your cars. It’s inappropriate.