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This article was published on January 12, 2021

The rotary knob lives on! BMW previews next generation iDrive

Even though there are touchscreens, voice commands, and gesture controls, the rotary knob lives on

The rotary knob lives on! BMW previews next generation iDrive
Matthew Beedham
Story by

Matthew Beedham

Editor, SHIFT by TNW

Matthew is the editor of SHIFT. He likes electric cars, and other things with wheels, wings, or hulls. Matthew is the editor of SHIFT. He likes electric cars, and other things with wheels, wings, or hulls.

If you’re looking for a reason to feel old, let me help. BMW’s proprietary infotainment system, iDrive, is 20 years old this year.

To celebrate, BMW took a look back at the tech and teased a few changes that will come with the latest iteration of the system that will debut in the iX electric car, at this year’s CES.

[Read: Meet the 4 scale-ups using data to save the planet]

In the iX, BMW will follow the trend for massive dashboard screens, which is a welcome addition. Compared to cars like the Tesla Model S or Polestar 2, the screens in BMWs have started to seem a little small of late.

But best of all, BMW is keeping its analog rotary control knob and is not removing it in favor of voice inputs or touchscreens.

In the early days, iDrive was a little rough around the edges, and the rotary control was a little more confusing than it needed to be.

Turning it would scroll through menus on the screen, and it could also be pushed forward, backwards, left, or right, to perform dedicated functions.

Credit: Wikimedia CC
If you ask me, the BMW iDrive really came of age in 2015. It was quick and easy to use, was ergonomic, and just made sense.

Over the years, this system was refined, and buttons were introduced to allow users to navigate quickly to certain functions like navigation or music.

Using the latest iDrive system is quick, easy, and can be done without taking your eyes off the road. It’s not just the software design that makes it so useable, its physical ergonomics also deserve some of the praise.

Just drape your arm over the center armrest, and there it is, teasing your fingertips.

bmw, idrive, future, car, ev
Credit: BMW
The iDrive system was simple, easy to use, and perfectly placed at the driver’s fingertips. Once used to its layout, it didn’t take any additional attention to operate.

In recent times, BMW has added gesture controls, which let drivers skip tracks and turn up the volume, by just waving their hand around in front of the dashboard.

The German automaker has also added touchscreens to some of its vehicles, allowing for more direct human input.

But it’s never got rid of the rotary knob, and we should all rejoice, because it’s simply the best input control of any vehicle’s infotainment system.

BMW, idrive, future, ev,
Credit: BMW
BMW’s next generation iDrive retains the rotary knob that has been a key feature of the system since the very beginning.

In fact, I’d even go so far as to argue that it’s so good and so iconic to BMW vehicles that it’s become as important as the kidney grilles, Hofmeister kink, and propeller inspired roundel.

The next generation iDrive system will hit the market in the company’s flagship electric car, the iX, which will be out in 2022.

Sure, BMW‘s iDrive wasn’t the best system to begin with, but the German automaker has stuck to its guns and refined it over the years. It’s now one of the best systems around, and we should respect BMW for not ditching it in favor of more futuristic sounding and marketable input methods.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.


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