The future isn't tactile, according to Audi.
When it comes to infotainment systems, Audi leads the way. The automaker's Virtual Cockpit is excellent, and its latest refinement of the MMI Touch Response infotainment system is quick and responsive. There's a consistent frustration with having Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) controls on touchscreen menus, which is why Audi made them accessible on a separate screen on its top-of-the-line models. The result is very few actual buttons on the current A8, A7, A6, and Q8, although Audi seems to have learned from Honda that retaining the volume knob is a good idea. But, it appears that dramatically reducing the number of buttons on a dashboard is just the beginning for Audi.
Marc Lichte, Audi's head of design, told Motor Authority that the next step is an augmented reality head-up display. With that added, the digital gauge cluster will get smaller and not need to show as much information. Later on, Lichte says that buttons will be eliminated completely and the volume knob will disappear. Along with that, the smaller screens will merge into one big screen with the driver and passengers using that and voice commands to operate the car's features.
A buttonless dashboard has been the holy grail for minimalist designers for a long time, but there are inherent problems to be overcome. Screens are expensive, and burying standard controls in menus is frustrating for the user. They can also fail, while the less sophisticated common button or switch tends to last a long time. Even then, if one button or switch fails, other systems will keep working. There's also a benefit and satisfaction in a tactile response that haptic feedback doesn't satisfy, as well as the advantage of being able to reach for a button, switch, or knob, without taking your eyes off the road.
We're not saying it can't or shouldn't be done, and it'll be interesting to see exactly how Audi goes about its mission to get rid of the dashboard's switchgear.