The Problem with Touch controls in the Automotive Industry

Ewdison Then - Aug 22, 2015
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The Problem with Touch controls in the Automotive Industry

You don’t have to be an automotive expert to know that tech is coming to the automotive market in a huge way. Technology in cars is so pervasive these days that many tech firms like Google, Apple, and Microsoft are fighting to get their foot in the door first. One big byproduct of tech firms moving into the automotive industry is that they bring ideas about what works in the tech market with smartphones and tablets and try to apply that to the automotive market.

A perfect case in point are touch screens. Having a smartphone or tablet with touch controls is something that we all know and want in that market. Putting a big touchscreen into a car seems like a good idea, until you realize usage is completely different in a car.

When using your phone it’s not such a big deal to look away from walking or whatever you are watching for a bit to work the controls. You have to look at a touchscreen because there is no tactile feedback so you can’t simply feel for the button you are looking for.

Looking away from the road can lead to a serious accident, a huge number of people are injured and killed every year around the US and the world by distracted driving. If you need to look away from the road to change your radio station or to find the right button to turn up the AC, that isn’t a good thing. The car maker Ford ended up backtracking and re-adding physical buttons back to its touchscreen dashboard – that says something.

That is exactly why touchscreens are hard to use in a car. I want to be able to reach down and hit a button to change stations, a button I can feel. I don’t want to have to take my eyes off the road and search for the right section of the screen to touch. I’m not the only person who feels this way. Some cars combine touchscreens with controls on the steering wheel to control radio stations, but many drivers never use those and still rely on buttons on the radio so you don’t have to cycle through every station you have saved in a row to get to what you want to listen too.

At this point in the car industry, I’m not sure we can do anything to stop the influx of touchscreens and touch controls into our vehicles. I hope that automakers can find ways to make them work that don’t require us to look away from the road.

Several auto manufacturers have tried voice control, but modern voice control systems are clunky and often don’t do what you tell them to do. It’s not convenient to have to wade through four spoken menus to change your radio station or change the AC temperature. It is much more convenient to simply use the physical controls we are used to.

I hope that physical controls will continue to be offered, but I see that going away. I don’t mind touchscreens in tech inside my car, but I want to see duplicate physical controls continue. I fear those duplicate controls will eventually be retired in favor of a cleaner and more attractive design. I’m sure I am not the only person who feels this way – do you like touch controls in your vehicle? What about voice control systems? Let us know what you think and how you think the automotive industry should move forward with touch and voice control systems.


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