Tesla's vehicles have been setting the standards for traditional automakers in a handful of ways — the latest being the onset of a centralized touchscreen instead of buttons. Despite some recent regulator concerns over what activities the screen can be used for, several automakers have already been or are now putting out vehicles with a similarly-styled screen.
Automakers such as General Motors, Volvo, Stellantis and many others have unveiled their own versions of the touchscreen panels in recent releases, as Inverse reports. Tesla first added the feature to its Model S back in 2012, when touchscreens in vehicles were but a twinkle in the eyes of the auto industry.
"I don't think anyone thought virtualized switches was something people would accept five years ago," said Nichole Kraatz, GM's chief engineer of battery-electric trucks. "Everyone wanted a hundred buttons everywhere."
GM unveiled the interior of its Chevy Silverado EV at this year's Consumer Electronics Show, which included, unsurprisingly, a 17-inch touchscreen.
But once implemented, automakers discovered something unavoidable: touchscreens offered a more adaptable interface than buttons, and they could easily be updated on an ongoing basis through over-the-air software updates — unlike permanent, tactile control buttons.
"We're analog animals, and we can only contemplate so many things at once," explains Ralph Gilles, global head of design for Stellantis. "In our research, people like a tactile interface. With screens, we can change the function of the interior very quickly and introduce features without needing to create a button for it. It's infinitely updatable," Gilles added.
Still, some have aired concerns about safety amidst huge, potentially distracting touchscreens being installed in cars today. According to Automotive News, one such party is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which has opened an investigation into Tesla because the automaker updated the vehicle's software passengers play games on the touchscreen.
Tesla has already revoked the feature and has partially responded to the NHTSA's investigation, requesting the utmost confidentiality.
Additionally, the potential for the ecosystem to extend well beyond the touchscreen and the car's software is something Tesla has explored through its mobile app. Volvo is even planning to integrate the car's touchscreen and software with smart home devices, as Director of Digital Experiences David Holecek details.
"We are bringing the car as a native device into the Google Home ecosystem," says Holecek. "It will enable and open up a lot of new experiences as you allow for other services to interact with the car. And it's not just about the interaction, but also sharing information about vehicle status, where it is, and more depending on the permissions that you give to the services."
Although certain activities may not be deemed safe for vehicles, updating them to correct safety issues shows the benefits of having a modifiable, software-based screen and system. OTA updates can change things as needed, as they were with Tesla's passenger gaming feature.
Above: Once considered controversial, Tesla's touchscreen console is now being emulated by others (Source: Chevrolet, Volvo, Chrysler, and Ford via Inverse)