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RE: Out of touch: Speed Matters

RE: Out of touch: Speed Matters

Saturday 12th August

Out of touch: PH Blog

Who gets in-car tech right and who gets it really, really wrong?



Who honestly thinks touch-operated technology in cars is a good idea? Well, car manufacturers for a start. With the honourable exception of Rolls-Royce, reasoning a smeary, fingerprint-stained screen is not an appropriate centrepiece for its dashboards. Bravo.


Ironically though a Rolls-Royce is probably the best possible car for a touchscreen interface, given the smooth ride at least gives you a fighting chance of connecting with the area of the screen you were aiming for. Remember that Jackass episode where a hapless tattooist attempted to give Steve-O a new adornment in the back of a Hummer being driven at speed across a bumpy desert floor by Henry Rollins? That's sometimes how appropriate trying to operate a touchscreen system in a car with fashionably sporty suspension feels to me.

I don't envy the people designing these systems though. Phones have got us used to having the world at our fingertips. Only natural carmakers would seek to emulate that in some form. I can also see the attraction to designers for cleaning up interiors and reducing button counts. Something that fit McLaren's minimalist ethos but rather bit it on the backside with the early Iris systems in the 12C. All very well committing to bundling all the car's systems into one interface. But if that single component doesn't work properly you're screwed.


Thankfully I've not had any issues with the PH 570GT long-termer and I appreciate the way the portrait-oriented screen is positioned just a hand-span away from the wheel, meaning you don't have to move your eyes or fingers too far from more important duties (y'know, like driving) to operate it. Better that than a steering wheel festooned with buttons too - a definite cheer for the McLaren approach here, the clear message being it is for steering the car. Not tuning the radio.

Many Porsches, in contrast, combine both a heavy button count and a small screen placed low in the dash and an arm-stretch away to operate. Worst of both worlds, though if you've ever driven an old 911 you'll be aware 'ergonomics' has only entered the Porsche lexicon relatively recently. Credit to the new Panamerathough - its clean combination of button-free haptic controls on the centre console and a huge screen in the dash win on both style and function and, I have no doubt, will be rolled out across the rest of the range in due course.


BMW's early adoption of an on-trend, iPod style spin-and-press interface was controversial when it first launched in the 7 Series. But this head start has evolved into a system that now works really well and lets you scroll your way through complicated menus and systems with one eye on the screen and the other on the road, thankfully without Apache gunship pilot levels of eyeball dexterity. Consistency over a long period works here too - you can drive pretty much any BMW of the last decade or more and it works the same way. Unlike Audi, which seems to attempt reinvention with every new generation, meaning you have to learn from scratch with each new model.

I did like Mercedes' iDrive style Comand wheel too, though the E400 Coupe I'm currently in has (like others) gained a touchpad atop it. Many of the premium brands seem to love the idea of them but has anyone ever successfully scrawled anything meaningful into such a device, even at a standstill? Only the Lexus joy-stick thing is worse.


Surely voice or gesture control are the way to go then? Sorry, but I hate automated voice interaction. I hate it when phoning call centres and I've hated it in every car I've tried it. Maybe I'm just old-fashioned but conversing with machines makes me uncomfortable. Siri and I are not on speaking terms, put it that way.

I should probably reserve judgement on gesture control until I've tried using it. But I can't help thinking frantic hand movements while driving are a recipe for trouble. Not that it was much better back in the day of course, the tiny buttons on old-fashioned head units impossibly fiddly at their 80s peak. Ever tried using a graphic equaliser on the move? Exactly!

Time for a vote though. Who gets the tech interface in modern cars right? And who gets it wrong?

Dan

 

 

Author
Discussion

griffgrog

Original Poster:

557 posts

168 months

Tuesday 8th August
quotequote all
My 2015 Range Rover had the In Car tech from the 1980's. It was both woefully slow and really hard to use. Whoever thought that it would be a good idea to bury the heated seat function in a menu system....Grrrrr.

RenesisEvo

2,962 posts

141 months

Tuesday 8th August
quotequote all
Shockingly, the new Honda NSX is abysmal. Half the time the screen was black, I couldn't fathom a way to wake it up or turn it on, just eventually it came to life. Wish it hadn't, the interface rivals the older Range Rover system for being out of date, it's deeply unresponsive and clunky - prodding the screen you have no idea if it's actually registered an input. This would be borderline acceptable in a 2005 Civic, not a hybrid supercar presenting itself as a technological tour de force.

BFleming

491 posts

65 months

Tuesday 8th August
quotequote all
I've tried gesture control on the new 5 series, and something tells me you'd hate that too. It's 100% pointless & doesn't work well.

Nik Attard

66 posts

105 months

Content and Production Fella

Tuesday 8th August
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One thing I have noticed with some of the modern cars, especially the 570GT and the Alfa Giulia is that you can't actually see them properly when wearing polarised sunglasses. I know, I know just take off the sunglasses right!

One thing I can see happening is manufacturers moving back to plug and play options. Have the ability to update your in car tech by swapping out the screen much like it was done by swapping head units out. A lot easier said than done but if Android and Apple push deeper into car tech it could work.

Nik


milesr3

212 posts

133 months

Tuesday 8th August
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I find the command controller in my Merc very intuitive, supplemented by the few fixed buttons. I've never used the touchpad, apart from the middle button with a little bump on it to call up the radio sub-menu overlay on the navigation map.
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sticks090460

695 posts

80 months

Tuesday 8th August
quotequote all
IMHO a lot of issues are generated by people not sitting down with the manual for a decent length of time and working the systems out. That's probably impractical for a journo, since you have to be jumping in and out of multiple cars all with differing control systems. If you spend time with a car as most people will, you'd probably find that the commonly used functions just become second nature. I used to have a Chrysler Voyager (don't judge me) that on first meeting had the most confusing array of buttons and knobs on the front AND back of the steering wheel, that it drove me to distraction. After a month or so of driving it, I found it was possible to control most functions without ever having to take eyes off the road or hands off the wheel.
BTW I think having volume up/ down and phone answer/ hangup buttons on the steering wheel make plenty of sense, although I do take your point re button count on some cars (Ferrari). I think we all agree that voice control, in general, utter rubbish.

Murphy16

108 posts

4 months

Tuesday 8th August
quotequote all
I think all this tech will just make the car feel even more dated in years to come. Back int day, if you bought a car with a cassette player, you'd get a universally fitting single din headunit, the fascia (if even required), and you car would move that headunit from car to car and all was good, you had the latest connectivity until you sunk a couple of hundred quid into a newer one. In a way i miss the days of cheap stereos and subwoofers because it was so easy to chop and change.

In the years to come, there'll be no one really upgrading MMI's. At present would cost over a grand to upgrade my BMW MMI to the latest version, people will be driving round in cars with low res screens and limited functionality because tech moves on so fast and manufactors are now engraining it more and more into the car. My old phone never was able to connect to my 61 plate 1 series and there were only a few years between manufacturing.

E65Ross

19,333 posts

134 months

Tuesday 8th August
quotequote all
Murphy16 said:
I think all this tech will just make the car feel even more dated in years to come. Back int day, if you bought a car with a cassette player, you'd get a universally fitting single din headunit, the fascia (if even required), and you car would move that headunit from car to car and all was good, you had the latest connectivity until you sunk a couple of hundred quid into a newer one. In a way i miss the days of cheap stereos and subwoofers because it was so easy to chop and change.

In the years to come, there'll be no one really upgrading MMI's. At present would cost over a grand to upgrade my BMW MMI to the latest version, people will be driving round in cars with low res screens and limited functionality because tech moves on so fast and manufactors are now engraining it more and more into the car. My old phone never was able to connect to my 61 plate 1 series and there were only a few years between manufacturing.
Though how is that different from years ago....cars with cassette players now have defunct technology....Nothing new there, in that sense, no?

saaby93

20,359 posts

100 months

Tuesday 8th August
quotequote all
E65Ross said:
Though how is that different from years ago....cars with cassette players now have defunct technology....Nothing new there, in that sense, no?
Not defunct - think retro smile

TNH

465 posts

69 months

Tuesday 8th August
quotequote all
BMW iDrive is definitely the best I have come across.

Touchscreens are a bloody nightmare on the move.

Raramuri

67 posts

74 months

Tuesday 8th August
quotequote all
IMO, operating these ipad type/touch screen control systems is no different to using a smart phone while driving. From a safety point of view, I am amazed that they are becoming so commonplace.

Surely good ergonomic car interior design should revolve around a series of well placed, tactile and recognisable to the touch buttons/knobs/switches. Once familiar with a car they should be easy to operate without taking your attention (and eyes) away from the primary matter at hand - driving.

The BMW systems are perhaps the best compromise, but I still think they require too much of your attention.

The problem is the number of systems which can now be operated whilst driving. Call me a Luddite, but I feel that there is just too much tech being packed into cars in general these days.

Unexpected Item In The Bagging Area

5,478 posts

111 months

Tuesday 8th August
quotequote all
I really like the seven programmable buttons that my X5 has: you can set each of them to carry out a function from the iDrive menus with one push, e.g. set the satnav to take you home or call a specific person. It's a very simple way of operating the system.

I really don't like touch screen however, I'm not sure it's a good idea to have two of them like in the RR Velar.

flowman

29 posts

131 months

Tuesday 8th August
quotequote all
Honda touchscreens are just plain useless. The nonsensical menu is not intuitive and each progression through the labyrinth only seems to work after the third or fourth frustrated stab at the screen. The idiotic "Warning" screen, likewise, will not go away until after several stabs and a few near misses. Put simply the touchscreen is a good reason NOT to buy the car.

generationx

1,480 posts

27 months

Tuesday 8th August
quotequote all
My last car was a Golf Mk7 with a touch screen interface, and it's only now I have an iDrive-type control that I realise just how difficult it used to be to operate safely at speed.

One Big Knob wink to do everything soon becomes second nature and only requires occasional glances away from the road ahead to use.

tankplanker

1,850 posts

201 months

Tuesday 8th August
quotequote all
Voice control has to be the future with this, far safer than even traditional buttons as you don't need to take your eyes off the road or hands off the wheel. Obviously current voice recognition is far from perfect (especially the systems car manufacturers use), but it has come on leaps and bounds in the last few years and if it keeps progressing at the same rate then it will become more than good enough for the majority. The other big issue with voice is people's reluctance to use it, that will change as we switch to a younger generation who have grown up with technology.

I make extensive use of Android Auto in two of my cars, Google's voice control works really well for me, being able to tell it to navigate somewhere, play a particular album, or dictate a text message is very welcome and works 99% of the time. The same can't be said for the car manufacturers systems to control the hvac or other car systems, but it will get better.

As an aside, I know a lot of people dislike the Lexus "mouse" control, but if you decrease the sensitivity to its lowest setting it then works like iDrive flicking directly between the options rather than requiring you to move a cursor around.

SteveO...

453 posts

147 months

Tuesday 8th August
quotequote all
You can't beat dials, knobs & sliders for most controls in a car (outside those directly involved with driving). They have the advantage that, when set up properly, you can use them to make an adjustment without looking and ... you know ... keep your eyes looking where they should (on the road).

All these poxy touchscreens and iDrive doodads are just a dangerous distraction. It's fashion over function.

havoc

23,003 posts

157 months

Tuesday 8th August
quotequote all
I'm in agreement - touchscreens on both our main cars (thankfully for audio only) and whilst both work reasonably well, you still have to take your eyes off the road for longer than with normal buttons/knobs/etc...

...so I REALLY am not looking forward to a car which has all the secondary controls buried through the touch-screen.


Much like keyless entry/keyless go, it's a technological answer to a question no-one was actually asking, and for an owner is a backward step.

AmosMoses

2,579 posts

87 months

Tuesday 8th August
quotequote all
Vauxhall Astra J is the worst i have used.

I had a Nav equipped car, the interface would regularly crash. Only way to fix it was to restart the ignition! It also has a horrid Bluetooth setup and the satnav would get you lost for fun.

I now have a 17 plate VW Scirocco and the nav and interface in that is brilliant.


monty158

38 posts

94 months

Tuesday 8th August
quotequote all
People THAT bothered about in-car tech need to either:

A) Buy faster, more entertaining cars
B) Spend more time talking to Women and less time talking to their car

I couldn't care less about any of it, it's all just extra weight

Cold

2,748 posts

12 months

Tuesday 8th August
quotequote all
"You must think in Russian".