Current Volvo infotainment systems require users to twist a control knob and push multiple buttons, but Ericsson showed off a new touchscreen interface for future Volvo models. The system, displayed at the Consumer Electronics Show in an XC60 crossover, will be offered as a dealer-installed add-on and will later become standard across the Volvo lineup.
The touchscreen runs on a version of the Android operating system and connects to Ericsson's "cloud" software through the driver's Bluetooth-paired smartphone. Starting in May, it will be offered as a dealer-installed add-on for any Volvo with a seven-inch Sensus infotainment screen. The upgrade consists of adding an interface box in the glovebox and adding a special infrared screen overlay that makes it touch sensitive. By the end of 2013, the new touchscreen interface will become standard or optional on all new Volvos, replacing today's button-based Sensus.
The software's home page simply shows the time, weather conditions, and the currently playing song. You "swipe" the screen left and right to access more apps. In addition to the car's built-in iPod connection and CD player, Ericsson's software features Deezer, Spotify, and TuneIn internet radio -- and users can search for new artists or songs by speaking aloud. There are also various other built-in apps, and the system will link to the Parrot Asteroid app store so owners can download more features.
There are two navigation options. The Google Maps option has pinch-to-zoom functions like a smartphone, and can also display satellite images from Google Earth. The other option, iGo, looks remarkably like the current Volvo navigation system and has clear 3D-style graphics. Other neat features include an HTML5 web browser that can play YouTube videos (it's disabled when the car is in motion), as well as a streaming-video service that can show certain live TV channels. In the demo car, only cable network TNT was available, and the picture was fairly choppy.
Perhaps the component that will appeal most to consumers is a function that automatically books dealer service appointments. When the car is ready for some sort of service, it automatically prompts the user to book a service slot at the nearest dealership. The idea, representatives explain, is to keep owners coming back to Volvo showrooms for required maintenance -- but the real goal is to top up the dealer's coffers regularly.
We found the Ericsson system intuitive and responsive in the XC60 on the display stand. It looks considerably more modern than the drab, text-menu interface of the current Volvo Sensus system. It can be retrofitted to any Volvo built since 2010, and will launch on new cars by the end of the year. Pricing has yet to be announced, but we're told it will be "competitive" with similar systems from other automakers. Ericsson representatives said the company is working with other automakers to implement this system in more cars, but declined to name particular manufacturers.