Remember BMW’s Dee, that AI smiley-face avatar thing that BMW pretended took over their social media feeds a few months ago? Remember how everyone thought, wow, this is amazing and will change human-machine interactions for the better, forever and always? No? Huh, I wonder why that is? Oh wait, now I remember, it’s because everyone thought it was stupid and eye-roll-y and no one gave a shit because why the hell would they? Nobody is asking for a sassy AI personality for their car that helps you turn on your wipers or some shit. Nobody wants that. Somehow, though, BMW didn’t believe us, and has now instructed its Mini sub-brand to try something similar, with a cute dog-avatar named Spike. Okay, great, but, again, no one wants this. You know how I know? Remember Clippy? Of course you do. Are you a big fan of Clippy? Do you miss interacting with Clippy? Hell no. Nobody does. [Editor’s Note: I kinda like the dog? -DT].
Yes, Clippy, the little animated paper clip avatar that was Microsoft’s “virtual assistant” for its popular word processor, Word, that managed to bring the whole computer-using world together in the welcoming siblinghood of annoyance. Nobody liked Clippy. From the very beginning, even. A cloying paperclip with eyeballs that popped up and made a lot of assumptions about what you were doing and offered unsolicited advice about how to do it just isn’t something that human beings seem to desire when doing, oh, anything.
Were Clippy a living being we’d all be murderers, staring at the pile of mangled wire and the strangely warm eyeballs in our hands. I think humanity has collectively given on-screen Virtual Assistant avatar things a pretty fair go, andI really can’t fathom why BMW/Mini thinks anyone wants more of that.
I mean, does this make you want a new car?
December 13, 2022
I can’t fathom how it would. Which is why I can’t fathom why BMW is pushing ahead with Spike, which you can see in action here:
Sure, Spike is cute. And, at least in these ads, he’s not talking, but I’m kind of afraid he might. Probably with a cartoonish British accent, too. Here’s what Mini has to say about Spike:
Spike will also be appearing as an active protagonist in the cockpit of the new MINI Concept Aceman. The new Spike mode sets the perfect stage for the digital companion, who is presenting to the public for the first time on the circular OLED central display and dashboard. MINI will enable comprehensive insights into the digital world of the new model family and Spike’s diverse functions in the further course of 2023.
“MINI will always be synonymous with emotions and remarkable experiences,” said Oliver Heilmer, Head of MINI Design. “That’s why we are now taking Spike into the future as a digital character. And he is not just a design experiment – he is becoming a characterful companion for the user experience.”
Active. Protagonist. No thanks.
Look, the design is great, and I’m sure they have all kinds of talented people working on this, and that all just makes me feel bad because I can’t see any way that this will be anything other than doomed. Has this team at Mini you know, met people? Did they do a focus group and ask people what they want in a car, and found people saying that what they’d really like is some cloying animated something to pop up and talk to them about what they may be doing in the car? Because if so, who the fuck were they talking to? And how are those people recovering from their head traumas?
[Editor’s Note: It’s not clear to me why Jason is so angry at this cute two-tone dog. I think it’s fun! -DT].
Is there any scenario where a person will go on a test drive of a Spike-equipped future Mini and not have one of their first questions be “So, how do I turn all this off? All the shit with the dog?“
Nobody is clamoring for this. People want fun, practical EVs that aren’t all so damn expensive. They want them to be fun to drive and comfortable and easy and fast to charge and look cool and let them play whatever media they want from their own devices and maybe easily talk to the people they want and when it comes to doing shit with their car, they just want to do it, ideally without striking up a conversation with some animated whatever, because everybody has better shit to do.
People have plenty of emotional connections with their cars, and trying to force that into something a brand thinks is cute or charming or whatever pretty much never works.
This is just Clippy, in your car. It’s Clippy all over again. Nobody wants this, BMW. Put your money somewhere else, cut your losses, and move ahead. It’ll be fine.
[Mercedes’ Note: Even Smart has an animated digital car assistant thing in its new electric SUVs. It’s a fox (below) and it’s 110 percent just a gimmick.]
Just don’t give us fucking Clippy for cars, okay?
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I prefer to be the active protagonist in my own car.
You know, I don’t have a problem with this in principle. I would guess that there is a subgroup of drivers who would find this fun, quirky, and cute. In the same way that certain people change their system fonts to render everything in Comic Sans. The world is just too dark to begrudge these kinds of harmless choices. What pisses me off is when a manufacturer makes it the default setting because they spent waaay too much time and resources developing it. Don’t make me dig through a bunch of sub-menus to disable it and then have it come back every time the system reboots. Let people opt-in to this bullshit.
Might be okay if they have a store for adding your own characters? I mean, I’d buy a Mini, paint the exterior with a variation of a Rush album cover, and load my virtual girlfriend Mitsuko into the dash… I’d love to have the car call me “Krieger-san!”
Counterpoint, there were DLC characters for Office 97 that were much better, the best was Earl the Cat, with various looney tunes animations, when you closed the assistant window he had at least 4 different exit animations, drowning with his hand doing a 3 finger count down, being buried and his grave counting up the 9 lives, the cartoon enclosing circle to black closing in on him, backing up and running at the ‘front’ of his window hitting ‘glass’ and sliding down. Open the window again, he comes strolling in waving at you and slams his face into the side of the window, reeling in pain. Sending an email? An electrified mailbox wheels in, he puts on safety gear and still gets electrocuted, taking a note? a changing blind wheels in, wheels back out and he’s in a dress and wig with lipstick taking notes, he was amazing! And also not offered for the Office 2000 updates where the assistants were no longer in their little boxes. You could right click the assistants and click ‘animate’, the first time I tried that with Earl he just scratched his butt Homer Simpson style, and I knew that was the assistant for me!
So yes, Clippy sucked and was annoying, but Earl was a breath of fresh lunacy while you’re trying to just get through your day of filling in spreadsheet reports and emailing them to the ‘head office’ or whatever.
Hopefully the Germans will get input from the British on their humor, if Spike comes across like Wallace and Grommit I’m all in, we all should be, it may be the only thing keeping us from losing it in ever increasing congestion as somebody cuts you off and there’s Spike faceplanting into the side of his screen because you had to slam on your brakes. Or you hit the gas and he has to hold on with his eyelids peeling back. Sitting too long in traffic, that dog better inappropriately start cleaning his nethers like my dogs do whenever they’re just sitting around.
Ask Thomas how he’d feel if car makes start putting cool Dolphin animations in their head units like Pioneer used to, if it’s more like that I’m all for it!
Wow – this seem to have touched a nerve with many of you.
As an industrial automation specialist, this concept is wrong on so many levels. Do not distract the operator (driver in this case) with irrelevant confusing things.
The acronym is HMI (Human Machine Interface).. and per the ‘High Performance HMI Handbook’, the focus should be on abnormal situation management, with “the operator’s attention drawn to the most critical information.”
In laymen’s terms, ‘keep your eyes on the road, dipshit!’
PS: am I the first to say:
‘Open the pod bay doors HAL’
While I don’t miss Clippy, I do kind of miss sitting in a cube farm during Clippy’s heyday and listening to people mumble “Screw you Clippy…” under their breath all day long. I remember getting a blank trouble ticket to do some work on the machine of one of the senior executives, and when I arrived at their office and asked what the issue was, I got a “How do I get rid of this F-ing paper clip A-hole?!”. Those were the days…
I’ll be honest, I liked Clippy when I was 13. I use to roll through all his animations while procrastinating on writing English papers. This was before we had internet.
In a car? I dunno man. I have to wonder if MINI did any research on the acceptance of that stupid economy fish before moving ahead with the dog.
Yeah, I loved Clippy. I was a little kid though. The ability to ask it a question and have it spit back a kinda-close answer was mindblowing at the time.
If you’re an adult trying to get through the workday I can imagine that would be mega annoying though.
I’m with DT; I think the dog is cute. I welcome whimsy in an otherwise dull and sometimes even hostile world.
That said, I’d be interested to understand the role of the dog character a little better. In general, vision is very important to the act of driving, so anything that takes your eyes off the road is counterproductive — that’s why so many alerts in cars are aural or very subtle simple visual indicators.
So, I’ll reserve my judgement on Spike here until I see how he’s implemented. If he bounces around all hyperactive like while playing virtual fetch with the speedometer display, then yeah, I’ll hate it. But if he’s just a glorified passive design element, I’d be perfectly fine with his presence.
I liked clippy. My guess is VW sees this and adds a really cute something to their current interface. People would be a little less likely to hate a non-functioning UI if it has a cute face on it.
What I really want is a Samuel L Jackson mode where a snake appears on the screen and the car tells us there are MF’ing snakes in this MF’ing MINI!
“OBD-II, motherfucker! Do you speak it?”
Still distracting, but funnier…
I often take my over-exuberant Blue Heeler on ride-alongs and she is quite free with her helpful advice. “Get closer to that Golden Retriever”, “Hey you missed the turnoff to the park”, and “Roll down the window so I can slobber outside also”.
“Over-exuberant Blue Heeler” is redundant
Jason, I feel like you need to wait until you are in a particularly bad mood and re-write this with additional bile. This electronic dog sucks so bad, please turn the disdain up to 11.
This is dumb, but that fox is kinda cute.
I liked this car assistant stuff better when the visual indicator was just a voice-modulated group of red lines installed by Knight Industries.
Automakers are just trying to justify their digital data hoarding with “Fun engaging features” that will justify their new business model of hoovering up every bit of data their customers can generate, so they can sell that to the highest bidder; because selling cars isn’t profitable enough.
Remember when BMW focused on making engaging, light, rear wheel drive cars? That feels like a century ago at this point.
It was certainly last century… IMO BMW peaked with the E46 generation of cars circa 1998, and has been slipping more and more quickly downhill ever since.
BMW peaked with the E34 but the decline was gentle until after the E46. Then mortal rot set it, with Bangle Butt as the poster child and primary symptom.
This is the answer nobody asked for to the solution of a taking away physical buttons, which was a solution to a problem that didn’t exist to begin with.
“Hey Spike, how do I disable the turn signals?”
“I’m sorry Balloondoggle, your subscription has expired. Please contact your local BMW Dealer and Customer Service Call Center to reactivate your turn signal deactivation subscription.”
Or worse, call to reactivate Spike to tell you you need to pay to reactivate your turn signals. The paywalls never stop!
BMWs come with turn signals?
Given the upcoming breathalyzer mandates, I can totally forsee a future where your car’s robot dog politley asks you to blow him/her before it starts the car.
Antagonist is the word they were looking for.
This might end up being popular with the overgrown tween adults I see driving around with stuffed animals hanging from the bumpers of their tuner cars, though I’m not sure they can afford new cars in terms of credit or would want a Mini unless the antagonist is one of those Japanese cartoon porn characters. They’re not the only perpetual children, though, so maybe emotionally stunted weed addicts who play video games all day or the adults who are really into those formulaic Disney properties they’re running into the ground? Would they buy Minis? I wonder if it wouldn’t be a better experiment for one of the endlessly same sub- or compact CUVs to stand out in the crowded market. They could survey buyers to see if they should expand its deployment to other models starting by asking how many minutes it took after purchase to google: “how do I turn off the personal assistant in my Acme Corp Eunuchmobile XS?”
You must be fun at parties.
Why? How about having these smart engineers do something productive like make charging payment software that works or not let cars be hacked through their headlights?
“Characterful?” Stop. Just please stop.
You had me at the shit clippy gag