Here’s a screenshot of the Kanzi UI Editor in action

It is fair to say that car Dashboard Instruments have not evolved remarkably over the past couple of decades. Somehow, we felt like something was going to change, but nothing did, at least in a big way. When the Nissan GTR Skyline came out, it did create a lot of buzz because it had an all LCD-display Dashboard with a user interface (UI) made by the Gran Turismo team at Polyphony (a Sony game studio). That’s awesome, but this was a one-time thing, and this is not going to scale beyond the GTR.

That’s where Rightware’s Kanzi user interface come into play. Kanzi is not just a user interface, it’s a user interface Creative Suite and multi-platform Runtime (a “player” in layman terms). Ask around, and you may find that most developers like to write code that perform some kick-butt computing tasks, but I’ve known only a few who actually *love* coding user interfaces. It’s hard, it’s not your run-the-mill computing and it’s really hard to debug. But somehow, Rightware has managed to hire a group of ex-videogame folks who live and breathe for fast user interfaces, and their mission is to help the rest of the community getting on a fast, beautiful, hardware-accelerated user interface. Easier said than done.

With its user interface builder, Kanzi Studio allows designers to work in 2D or 3D to build the a interface that is right for the job. At the same time, a Kanzi runtime and API allows developers to plug the user interface in their application with much less work than if they were trying to build that themselves. Most of the Kanzi demos that we have seen ran at a solid 60FPS, which is critical for any human-interaction, especially when touch is involved because user expect immediate feedback.

In fact, if you roam the electronics trade shows, you may have seen Kanzi in action: Audi and NVIDIA have demonstrated the technology as a futuristic user interface for Audi cars. Well, this is now reality with the Audi A3, and within 2 years, all Audi vehicles will be powered by Kanzi. This is the first time that Rightware has been able to get some credit for their work, and we suspect that many more car manufacturers will jump on board. The automobile industry is not a place where people like to take chances and if Audi has signed up, this is surely a very positive sign for others.

A couple of new things came out from Rightware today: first of all, the new Kanzi 2.6 is now available to Android developers for a 30-day free trial. Secondly, Rightware has made the license more accessible with a $999 price for Android developers, versus the unique $10999 “Enterprise” price for embedded development on QNX (now part of RIM/Blackberry), Windows, Android and Linux.

Kanzi may make a lot of cars cooler, but the system is not limited to that particular use case. For instance, Rightware is already working with game developers to help them bring games faster to market by offloading some of their user interface work to Rightware. And of course, Rightware would like nothing more than powering more apps in all the platforms they serve, but developers will need to join the fray before that happens.

What’s Rightware business model? It’s actually straightforward: Rightware charges a fee per unit shipped (cars), but if the company can get Kanzi used in large volume, the need for its content creation tools will skyrocket. The closest business model that would be comparable is… Adobe. And that’s certainly not a bad comparison.

Beyond cars, what kind of user interface would need some improvement in your opinion? Leave a comment below.

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