Touch screens in cars

Posted by kdow on Jun 6, 2018 1:46:00 PM

Photo by Roberto Nickson (@g) on  Unsplash

Tesla’s taking a lot of flack in the media these days. And I’m not one to pile on, but having sat in (and driven on one occasion) a Tesla, I want to talk about the trend they’ve started setting. No, not electric motors. Touch screens in the centre console.

I own a Mazda, and in the centre console I have ribbed knobs, buttons and other such interface devices that let me control a modest screen in the center of the dashboard. I can change volume, navigate to different sections of the display (communications, media, etc.) all while fondling some different sized & different textured wheels to my left (right-hand-side driving). It’s not just easy, it’s natural and importantly, safe. I don’t need to take my eye off the road to change from the USB device playing music to my phone via Bluetooth.

Testing a Tesla, the owner of the car, fully aware of what he was asking me to do, asked me how I would lock the doors in my car while we drove through a dodgy area. On my car, there’s a lock switch on the driver door which locks everyone’s door. In a Tesla, no such thing exists. But it’s much worse than that. The feature exists… on the touchpad. It’s on the driver side for me, but not for someone driving left-hand-drive cars. And it’s a tiny lock icon on the top of the touchpad. Which, to me, having spent years on iPhones and iPads, thought that to be a way to lock the touchpad itself, not the mechanical car doors.

And that’s just the beginning. The whole touchpad is really annoying, bright and poorly designed. It’s a nightmare to use when parked, so I can’t imagine using it when driving. It’s not that it’s not intuitive, it isn’t, but it’s that it’s fiddly, making it dangerous to use when driving.

I’m not against using a big display to access features of the car, but make everything big & obvious. I shouldn’t need to pull over to change the temperature of the car or lock the doors.

This is a case where adding Siri would probably work. Obvious commands like “hey siri, lock the doors” or “hey siri, make the car colder” would work a charm.

The other issue is the sheer size of the thing. It’s distracting. I was in the car during the daytime, but I hope it dims significantly at night or it’ll become an eyesore and stop drivers from spotting dimly lit cyclists on back roads.

I get the impression that the interface and raison d’etre was to impress people. Not to be usable and safe.

Don’t get me wrong, I still want a Tesla. I’m really considering putting a deposit down on a Model 3 this year. But I still think someone else (a more traditional car company, or someone more radical like Apple) will beat Tesla to the mass-market punch.