The idea is similar to a head-up display, in that a reflection makes an image appear to float in midair. With HoloActive Touch, a control pad appears next to the steering wheel on the center console and can be configured to perform various functions. A camera tracks the position of the driver's fingertips. So you pretend to push a virtual button, and the system beeps in confirmation.
HoloActive Touch is an evolution of BMW Gesture Control, a feature in the current 7 Series that lets you control various features of the infotainment system using hand motions. It's an idea popularized in the movie Minority Report back in 2002 (side note: I feel old). Tom Cruise's John Anderton made it look easy, but he wasn't in a moving car. We're still not convinced that a car's infotainment needs the functional flexibility of a mobile phone or tablet. And if gesture control doesn't work, it could end up as Douglas Adams envisioned in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:
"For years radios had been operated by means of pressing buttons and turning dials; then as the technology became more sophisticated the controls were made touch-sensitive – you merely had to brush the panel with your fingers; now all you had to do was wave your hand in the general direction of the components and hope. It saved a lot of muscular expenditure, of course, but meant that you had to sit infuriatingly still if you wanted to listen to the same program."But we'll reserve judgement until we get a closer look in person at CES, where we'll find out how well HoloActive Touch functions. Then we'll get back to examining the difference between can and should.