Like phones, cars have been getting smarter. Sat Nav, autonomous features and driver-assist controls can all make driving safer and less stressful. Some features already involved some overlap with phones, including map navigation and entertainment options, but Mercedes might just have taken things a bit too far.
With Apple and Google edging into our vehicles through their CarPlay and Android Auto software, it's perhaps understandable that car manufacturers want to wrest back some control (and market share). But that seems to mean packing cars with tech that I'm really not sure we need, and now we won't be able to escape TikTok and Zoom even on the road (perhaps we'll soon even be able to edit images using the best photo apps).
The forthcoming Mercedes-Benz E-Class comes with an optional MBUX (that's Mercedes-Benz User Experience) 'superscreen' that covers much of the dashboard. It offers such essentials as TikTok creation capabilities, an internet browser (Vivaldi), video streaming and conference calls.
With a cutomisable UI, the screen is actually several separate displays made to look like a single piece. Whoever's riding shotgun can choose to view what they want, independent of the driver. Yep, there's no longer any need to talk to the person you're travelling with. The driver’s view of the passenger's screen is limited by a camera-based visual shield function to prevent distraction, which is reassuring, at least.
But the driver will be able to use TikTok and Zoom when parked up. There's even a selfie cam for Zoom or Webex conferences. While this can only be used while the car's stationary it makes it feel like the Twitch streaming of our daily commute sounds is just around the corner.
Mercedes says (opens in new tab) the new E-Class will be "more software-driven and less hardware-driven". Computing functions have been combined in a single processor. The entertainment package (MBUX Entertainment Plus) will be available with me connect services and a data package from a third-party provider.
Meanwhile, active ambient lighting provides sound visualisation for music and films – For example, fast sequences of beats can cause rapid light changes. Sounds can also be felt through sound-resonating transducers in the optional Burmester 4D surround sound system. There's also intelligent voice control, which can be activated without "Hey Mercedes" keyword.
Is Mercedes' aim to keep us in its cars for longer? There may be no need to leave the parking lot and move into the office if you can take your Zoom call from behind the wheel. Some might think that sounds healthy, but don't worry. Mercedes also offers a comprehensive 'ENERGIZING COMFORT' wellness programme with soothing sounds and 'mobilising massage' plus individual recommendations from an 'ENERGIZING COACH'.
It seems it's aiming to compete with our phones for our ever shorter attentions. If it could only add a physical QWERTY keyboard and bolt on a trio of camera lenses to the bumper, it might just win.