There's no denying the cool factor of the 2015 Porsche 918 Spyder, but its clever new touchscreen infotainment system is almost as cool as the wild 887-hp hybrid powertrain. More important, the system paves the way for advanced infotainment systems in more affordable Volkswagen Group cars. Look for a toned-down version of this car's system in mainstream production cars by 2015 or 2016.
S1nn, a German company founded in 2004, thinks of the new infotainment system in the 2015 Porsche 918 Spyder as its calling card. It features a big touchscreen on the angled center stack made from Gorilla Glass, the same tough and fingerprint-resistant material used in the Apple iPhone, as well as a secondary screen atop the dashboard. S1nn's software can run as many as three in-car displays. It runs on the open-source WebKit software that's related to the Google Chrome web browser, and all the infotainment system content is built in the HTML5 web-programming language.
According to S1nn managing director Philipp Popov and senior director of business development Michael Mann, the key advantage to this approach is that the company can easily reprogram the visual layer of the infotainment system. Whereas older systems required in-depth coding to change the look and feel of touchscreen software, the 918 Spyder's can be redesigned by producing new HTML5 page designs, while leaving the underlying control software unchanged. Not only does that take significantly less time, Mann says that reduces the chances of introducing a programming error into the complex code. S1nn claims its infotainment system software has included more lines of code than the car's body-control computer.
The touchscreens in the 2015 Porsche 918 Spyder work flawlessly. You can swipe left or right to change what is displayed on the dashboard screen, with its home screen reconfigurable to show up to four unique widgets. The touchscreen itself can also be configured with quick shortcuts and widgets, for instance buttons to call home, navigate to the office, and to check emails or text messages. The graphics are designed to look like the infotainment systems in other modern Porsche cars, but the entire back-end system is different. There is also flexibility to use various web apps; because they are displayed in what is effectively a web browser, Mann says that third-party programs can easily be resized to fit any size infotainment system, meaning programmers don't need to create distinct versions of apps for, say, the five-inch screen in an economy car versus the ten-inch screen in a luxury sedan.
The big news is that S1nn sees the 918 Spyder infotainment system as a proof of concept before it markets itself to other car brands. "Nobody would buy from us for a high-volume car," before the company proved itself, says Popov. "Now we are talking to everyone."
S1nn says it will launch a version of the 918's infotainment system in a higher-volume car next year, with "more" models launching late 2016 or early 2017. By the end of 2017 or early 2018, S1nn plans to gradually offer its multi-screen, HTML5-based infotainment software in even more mass-market cars. Given that the company currently makes 70 percent of its revenue from supplying Volkswagen Group audio systems, it's no secret that most of those applications will be in the company's many brands; Popov hints that he'd really like to sell a system to the high-volume VW Golf and Passat, and maybe eventually another automaker entirely, such as Hyundai.
S1nn originally focused on car-audio components, eventually branching out into "connectivity" systems that allow drivers to interface phones, music players, and more with their in-car entertainment system. Currently, S1nn supplies audio systems to Audi, Skoda, Bentley, Porsche, Seat, Volkswagen, and Tesla (Tesla produces its own infotainment system but S1nn makes all the audio equipment). Popov explains that the company's attention to detail is so extensive that it provides different equalizer settings for its sound systems for each specific Volkswagen Group vehicle, even going so far as to retune the audio balance for cloth versus leather seats.
Riding In The 918Of course, it would be cruel to play with the 918's infotainment system and not go for a drive in the car. Sadly, I'm in the passenger seat, but Porsche's Trent Warnke doesn't hold back during a short drive on the suburban roads of Novi, Michigan. After we climb in over the thick, wide carbon-fiber door sills and strapping into the firm, upright bucket seat, Warnke chooses all-electric mode and pulls away in near silence. With no engine roaring behind us, and the twin electric motors emitting only a faint hum, we instead hear gravel and stones pinging off the carbon-fiber bodywork, kicked up by the ultra-sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires. Warnke flinches; the Liquid Metal Chrome Blue paint on this 918 Spyder is an unbelievable $63,000 option.
Out on the road, Warnke switches the car into Hybrid mode, and then Sport, firing up the 608-hp, 4.6-liter V-8 engine that's immediately behind our heads. It's a loud, wild sound that sounds more like a racing car than a road car, and it's all the more audible with the 2015 Porsche 918 Spyder's roof panel removed. As a result, Warnke has fitted the important air deflector to the windshield header; by channeling a strong flow of air above our heads, the small plastic piece prevents noxious exhaust fumes from being sucked into the cabin and choking us.
Soon we're first at a red light and Warnke wants to show off launch control, which he notes can be activated in any driving mode. The implication, of course, is that you never have to fumble to activate the feature if you arrive at a traffic light next to, say, a Nissan GT-R in time for an impromptu drag race. Warnke holds the brake and pins the throttle, the engine's revs building to a scream. Off the brakes and all four wheels shriek, scrabble for traction for a split second, then find enough grip to hurtle the car forward and us back into the bucket seats. The car's quoted 0-to-60-mph time is 2.5 seconds. "Three seconds and you're breaking the speed limit," grins Warnke.
Our ride is over too soon, but it's still an incredible experience. With only 918 of these cars in existence and a starting price tag of $847,975, it's hard to imagine I'll get the opportunity to experience a full-bore launch in a 2015 Porsche 918 Spyder again. Yet if S1nn has its way, I may at least get to use a version of the hypercar's touchscreen in a few years' time.