It’s time to talk about everyone’s favorite automotive innovation: Screens! No, wait, stop throwing tomatoes at me! Calm down, and I’ll tell you why this matters. In pretty much every car, the infotainment screen is more-or-less rectangular. After all, books are rectangular, phones are rectangular, televisions are rectangular. But why? Instead of being normal, Mini is asking everyone to think round in its next generation of cars, because quadrilateral screens are so 2011. Measuring 9.45 inches (240 mm) in diameter, this OLED screen reminds me of an enormous clock more than anything. Basically, Mini is paying homage to Flava Flav. On that screen sits the Android-based Mini Operating System 9, which is a big number, but it’s something worth walking through.
For starters, your gauges are now in the infotainment. Is this a bit stupid? Sure. However, central gauges are a part of Mini heritage, so I’m willing to grand a conditional pass here so long as they’re arranged well. Indeed, sitting right at the top of the screen is vehicle speed, predicted range, state of charge, and an ominous bar labeled “POWER.” In an electric vehicle, this is everything you need, and it’s in the closest part of the screen to the road. That’s alright, I reckon.
Less than alright is how the automatic temperature controls are integrated into the screen, but at least they’re top-level, so I’ll keep my grumbling to an indoor level. There’s no word on how the heated seat controls are actuated though, and if they’re through the screen, Mini is about to learn that Canadians can be very not-nice when they like.
Of course, being modern cars, the next generation of Minis will come with more interface skins and drive modes than you can shake a stick at. While some may argue this gamification of the car can be fun, I’d argue that unless you’re tweaking things for a specific track, it’s like going to a restaurant and paying extra to cook your food yourself. Some people like that, but chefs do what they do for a reason — they know better than us. Besides, the original Mini was set up one way from the factory: Good.
Still, I can’t say I’m completely immune to the charm. Perhaps my favorite mode at first glance is Timeless, a throwback to the BMC days. It features just the right amount of skeuomorphism, with a giant white-faced analog-emulating speedometer dial, a rolling odometer, and a strong serif font. Sure, you still get the app dock and temperature sliders, but sometimes less visible technology is the answer.
Each next-generation Mini is also available with an optional Spike. No, not the pointy thing, but a tiny digital dog named Spike living in the infotainment system, helping you fetch…whatever you use voice commands for. I mean come on, just look at the little guy. Isn’t he adorable? And even if you have a heart of coal and don’t think he’s adorable, can you at least concede he’s better than Microsoft’s Clippy?
[Editor’s Note: I had a less charitable assessment of the dog and how this all smacked of Clippy-ness back in April, and my heart isn’t entirelycoal, so maybe keep that in mind. – JT]
With an EV, fantastic constantly-updated navigation is almost mandatory as it can help you find charging stations in unfamiliar areas. Sure, PlugShare exists, but finding stations through the infotainment often sends a message to your vehicle to precondition its battery for DC fast charging. The result? Fast charging, less time off the road, better pizza, better ingredients, Papa John’s. Oh, and the navigation system can also support augmented reality, in case you really liked Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition. Given the connected status of parent company BMW’s latest iDrive variants, it shouldn’t be surprising that new Mini models will be available with 5G connectivity for all the updates, re-routing, and “Re-Rewind” by The Artful Dodger you could possibly want. Spotify can be connected as a native app, as can video streaming, video games, and maybe even Blockbuster Video if you ask nicely enough.
Before we go, here’s a shot of an upcoming Mini’s entire dashboard, which, well, it’s certainly daring. The illuminated houndstooth cloth is a great concept, but I think I’d need to see it in different lighting to pass final judgment. Then again, the British climate isn’t exactly known for constant sunshine, so perhaps this weird, de-saturated photo is more akin to real life than expected. Regardless, more interestingly-patterned cloth is a good thing, so it gets our hopes up for the full reveal. So, when do we get to see it? Should be anytime now, right?
(Photo credits: Mini)
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