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Have We Reached Infotainment Saturation?

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Rob Rothwell
Yesterday, I drove the family, including in-laws, to Thanksgiving dinner. The vehicle of choice was this week’s tester, the 2011 Kia Optima Hybrid equipped with an optional Premium Technology Package, which interfaced through a 7-inch touch-screen in addition to voice-activated navigation. But this was not the only LCD screen onboard.

A smaller screen embedded into the instrument panel between the primary gauges displayed numerous information tidbits and vehicle performance measures. A steering wheel-mounted button enabled the driver to scroll through the plethora of readouts while driving. The larger touch-screen also displayed a multitude of graphics and visuals that pertained to eco-friendly driving and power generation.

While I can work my way through the enormous volume of information that these screens provide, which include the growth of leaves and flowers to reward frugal driving practices, I wonder how intuitive – and thereby useful – these systems are to older, less screen-accustomed drivers; and at what stage we say, “Enough of the video-game infotainment!”

2011 Kia Optima Hybrid equipment
Photo: Rob Rothwell/

My father in-law, who still regularly drives his Honda Accord, was agog and dumbfounded by the wizardry of the Optima’s ceaseless display of LCD graphics and readouts along with the patient woman delivering directions through the vehicle’s voice-activated navigation system.

It seems each year, new apps migrate their way onto automobile LCD screens, and I wonder where it will end. This is especially true of hybrid cars; the Optima I referenced had an app that depicted the earth in the centre of the screen flanked by the gas engine on one side and the electric motor on the other, both in an apparent orbit. I’m not sure if this had more to do with NASA and hybrid space vehicles, but it seemed of little importance as I struggled through traffic on planet earth.

The time has come to re-evaluate exactly what information is important to drivers, and stick with it. In today’s traffic chaos, focusing on the road ahead is far more important than watching a screen grow a leaf because I didn’t beat the guy beside me off the line. Your thoughts?
Rob Rothwell
Rob Rothwell
Automotive expert