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Touch Interfaces In Cars Difficult To Use

Unknown Lamer posted about 2 years ago | from the states-ban-changing-fan-speed-while-driving dept.

GUI 233

An anonymous reader points out an article about touchscreen dash interfaces in cars (in particular Cadillac's "CUE" interface). From the article: "I do not recall anyone ever complaining about the iOS interface and there have been plenty of attempts to replicate the experience and its flow of control. ... As simple as iOS may appear on the surface, it is incredibly well-executed balance that matches the requirements of a touch interface for phones, tablets and other horizontal screen devices. Changing the user scenario, hardware, or software will alter the requirements for the desired user experience as well. ... CUE is not as transparent in its usage as, for example, the iPhone. We are used to certain buttons that are located on the dash – sliders and dials that we expect in places that we can quickly memorize. In the end, you want to be able to reach for such a button without taking your eyes off the road. There are no such buttons on the XTS dash. Instead, there are some capacitive touch buttons for basic climate controls, audio volume and seat heating/cooling. Since the buttons are activated by touch, they feel the same." A touchscreen UI for some functions sounds perfectly sane (how do I set the clock again?), but ditching all of the dash buttons sounds like a recipe for disaster. I've heard from iPod users (and my own experience with my long-dead Neuros echos) that the click wheel was easy to use blindly; the move to a touchscreen made it impossible to use without looking at it.

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233 comments

Never a good idea.. (5, Insightful)

red crab (1044734) | about 2 years ago | (#40982171)

Using touch screen controls on a car is akin to texting on your mobile; taking eyes off the road to see your dashboard or stereo controls is an inherently bad idea.

Re:Never a good idea.. (5, Interesting)

Rei (128717) | about 2 years ago | (#40982247)

I've worked in the field before, and you're absolutely right. Thankfully, there's a lot of people who realize how bad these systems are and are working to come up up with more tactile solutions. Popular approaches are things like steering wheel buttons for controls with sounds to help keep you sure of what function you're operating on. Ultimately, the car is likely headed to a system where there are multiple dumb screens networked into a single "smartphone"-like compute platform for the vehicle. The screens provide independent interfaces but can display common shared applications being run by the compute platform, such as the current route on a GPS app or the currently playing music in a music/radio app. The driver's is the same display as the speedometer and other gauges, is not a touch screen (obviously), and is designed only for quick glances to get summary information while only moving the eyes a few degrees from the windshield. The center dash can go away, since drivers shouldn't be having to look over that far and mess with things over there, and since thus it makes more sense to have the passenger's display right in front of them (requires a bit of airbag/glove box repositioning, but is doable). Freeing up the center console and getting rid of all of these independent, heavy, inefficient standalone "boxes" (which often work poorly together) in lieu of a single embedded multifunction platform provides a massive number of benefits, from more interior design options for what to do with that extra space to reduced wiring costs, reduced weight, dramatically reduced power consumption, upgradeability, security, and on and on. It's the future of vehicles. The Tier 1s won't like it, as their entire business is built on said "boxes", but they'll have to deal with it sooner or later.

Re:Never a good idea.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40982289)

I wonder if the problem could be fixed by using gestures when the vehicle is in motion. This is something I've always wished I had on my iPod when I'm driving around (my car doesn't have the native support).

Re:Never a good idea.. (5, Funny)

crutchy (1949900) | about 2 years ago | (#40982339)

using gestures

turn steering wheel to the left => reduce stereo volume
turn steering wheel to the right => increase stereo volume

can't get much more tactile than that :)

Re:Never a good idea.. (4, Funny)

Dupple (1016592) | about 2 years ago | (#40982369)

using gestures

turn steering wheel to the left => reduce stereo volume

turn steering wheel to the right => increase stereo volume

can't get much more tactile than that :)

Turn left - crash into vehicle
Turn right - cash into vehicle
Air bags deployed.
Other motorists punch you for causing an accident - You can't get much more tactile than that!

Re:Never a good idea.. (1)

crutchy (1949900) | about 2 years ago | (#40982409)

Turn left - crash into vehicle Turn right - cash into vehicle

that's not very marketable... you would at least need to provide other options to crash into, such as trees, farm animals, or justin bieber... instead of a GTO you would have a GTA

Re:Never a good idea.. (4, Funny)

Joce640k (829181) | about 2 years ago | (#40982779)

turn steering wheel to the left => reduce stereo volume

turn steering wheel to the right => increase stereo volume

can't get much more tactile than that :)

With a few changes, that might work: Treat the steering wheel as a rotary encoder and have a button that momentarily disconnects it from the wheels. On a straight piece of road it wouldn't be a problem to disconnect the steering for a few seconds.

You obviously wouldn't want it to activate in a corner so as a safety feature you could make it only work when the steering wheel is straight. Apart from that you have the perfect input device for analog settings like music volume, seat adjustment, cup holder temperature, etc.

Re:Never a good idea.. (2)

crutchy (1949900) | about 2 years ago | (#40982839)

erm...

Re:Never a good idea.. (4, Insightful)

DJRumpy (1345787) | about 2 years ago | (#40983065)

Temporarily deactivate the steering wheel? You're kidding right?

The obvious answer is voice recognition. It's already headed there with navigation systems since they are attention intensive without voice feedback. Simple commands like "set the temperature to 70" or "turn the fan to high", or "tune to station 97.1", etc.

Coming up with multi-function devices on top of current device screens just compounds the problem. They all take attention away (primarily your eyes) from the road. Steering wheel controls are a small step in the right direction, but adding more and more buttons requires someone to memorize them, and each successive button adds a higher chance that someone will mis-remember a button, look down to try and find it among the numerous controls already there, and again you are in the same bad situation.

Voice commands allow true independence from moving your feet or hands from the controls (assuming a successful implementation).

Re:Never a good idea.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40983087)

So instead of taking the eyes off the road, you are taking the steering wheel off the car ?

What if I need to rotate the car's wheels in a hurry, while the steering wheel happens to be rotated ? Suppose I hit/release the button that engages the wheels back to the steering wheel - should they just snap into the rotate position, treat the current position as zero, or ignore the steering wheel until it's back in the default position ?

Either option can result in a fatal accident, some easier than others.

As long as the car has no auto-pilot, you can't lose control of the car even for a moment.
If there is an auto-pilot - sure, get to the car, say "work", and play with the touch interface as long as you wish.

Re:Never a good idea.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40983161)

erm....

Re:Never a good idea.. (1)

c (8461) | about 2 years ago | (#40983103)

> turn steering wheel to the left => reduce stereo volume
> turn steering wheel to the right => increase stereo volume

You don't think accelerator and brake would be more intuitive? While holding down the function key, obviously, which would be implemented as a small pedal to the left of the brake.

Re:Never a good idea.. (3, Funny)

crutchy (1949900) | about 2 years ago | (#40983175)

definitely need a CTRL pedal and an ALT pedal, so that you can bail out of a nasty situation by pushing CTRL, then ALT, and then BRAKE... just hope it isn't followed by a blue scream of death

Re:Never a good idea.. (1)

advocate_one (662832) | about 2 years ago | (#40983229)

my car already has a "magic wand" stick just below the wiper control stick for controlling the car stereo. Anti clockwise it's volume up, clockwise it's volume down, pull inwards it's auto tune to next station, push forwards it's auto-tune the other way and I believe there's a function for pushing in on the end as well. If you've got the CD player running, then the push and pull function selects next or previous track.

Re:Never a good idea.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40982357)

The Tier 1s will just be replaced with new Tier 1s.

Out with Harman and Continental. In with Sony and Samsung.

Re:Never a good idea.. (1)

21mhz (443080) | about 2 years ago | (#40983085)

Harman is actually up to speed [harman.com] with touch interface development.

Re:Never a good idea.. (3, Informative)

hattig (47930) | about 2 years ago | (#40982433)

Good post, and certainly describes the future of the car dashboard - hopefully in the near term rather than the long term!

Certainly a single display can replace all of the current dials, and also instead of, e.g., "Engine Warning" icon lighting up, it can say "Your O2 sensor is broken". When using steering wheel functions (only buttons needed are "function select" and "home (back to standard dash display)" ("up"/"down","home", left hand side of steering wheel) and "function adjust" ("up"/"down"/"disable", right hand side of steering wheel)) or voice control, the display can alter to show what you're changing directly, or even better it can be reflected off of the windscreen so the driver's eyes are never off the road. Maybe a "back" button. Hmm, pretty close to the buttons on an Android phone really.

All of the centre console gubbins can be eradicated. Who needs a bulky CD player when you can slot in a $20 32GB SD card with your entire music collection on it, or just have the car get the music off your phone/tablet (which in turn could be pulling it from your server at home)?

And current smartphone platforms are more than adequate for all this already, from a hardware point of view, but maybe the software isn't quite there yet for car control. Still, the latest version of Eclipse is available in a version for car application development, so things are clearly moving in the right direction.

I think the primary input has to be voice, with steering wheel buttons as a backup. Using buttons to select using the dash display will still take the driver's eyes off the road, whereas "turn on air conditioning", "volume down 50%" simply won't. Even if you need a "speech control" button on the steering wheel.

In fact, the Microsoft Steering Wheel is 100% buttons, all square and different colours, each controlling directly their own function.

Tell me you're joking (5, Insightful)

Viol8 (599362) | about 2 years ago | (#40982623)

"Certainly a single display can replace all of the current dials,"

Sure it can, but that doesn't mean its better.

""Engine Warning" icon lighting up, it can say "Your O2 sensor is broken""

They could do that already in the LCD or VFD screens that most cars have. They don't because car manufacturers want you to take it down the dealers and pay for a diagnostic.

"or voice control, the display can alter to show what you're changing directly"

Oh wonderful, so you change the radio station and suddenly your speedo vanishes. Genius!

"Hmm, pretty close to the buttons on an Android phone really."

We're not talking about phones or toys , we're talking about large powerful vehicles which can kill people if the driver is distracted by playing around with silly technology-for-its-own-sake gimmicks.

"Still, the latest version of Eclipse is available in a version for car application development"

Excelllent , so we can look forward to some really reliable efficient java apps running our cars can we? I can't wait. Actually I'll probably have to when I'm stuck at the side of the road with a java exception dump showing on the dashboard.

"I think the primary input has to be voice, with steering wheel buttons as a backup"

I think you're talking out of your arse. Why would I want to have to press some push to talk button (unless the computer can figure out when you're talking to it) then fucking DESCRIBE what I want the car to do such as turn down the volume when in 1 second I can reach over and do it myself on a proper volume control without even looking??!

"In fact, the Microsoft Steering Wheel "

Now you're just trolling.

Re:Tell me you're joking (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40982757)

"or voice control, the display can alter to show what you're changing directly"

Oh wonderful, so you change the radio station and suddenly your speedo vanishes. Genius!

That is easy enough to fix. Have a button or grip on the steering wheel that mutes the audio and then allows for voice input.

As far as critical controls, the glass cockpit idea is probably a good guide. It allows multiple indications, but it doesn't hide the critical ones in any mode. There is a lot of space for indications that aren't often used. Most alarms don't come in routinely, but they still take up space. If your oil temperature gauge is in the center of band and not moving, do you really need to see it (you can have it return if it drifts). And door indications don't convey useful information 99% of the time. Keep the speedometer, turn signals, and fuel gauges in the same place in all modes. And let other indications come in as needed (such as navigation, music, and climate control settings or whatever else you desire)

Re:Tell me you're joking (3, Insightful)

Viol8 (599362) | about 2 years ago | (#40982875)

"Have a button or grip on the steering wheel that mutes the audio and then allows for voice input."

You're missing the point - voice input is inefficient and doesn't work well. Its an order of magnitude quicker to press a button or 2 than describe what action you want done.

Re:Tell me you're joking (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40983045)

It depends on the use. Volume controls should be on the steering wheel. Finding a specific song should be a voice control. Plotting navigation or setting a specific climate control setting should be voice controlled, but perhaps bumping temperature should be a knob.

If it is complex and requires you to take your eyes off the road for a couple of seconds it should be done with voice control. The technology may not be mature yet, but this is where it should go when it does mature.

Re:Tell me you're joking (1)

hattig (47930) | about 2 years ago | (#40982967)

I think you've missed pretty much all the points I was trying to make in your quest to nitpick.

we're talking about large powerful vehicles which can kill people if the driver is distracted by playing around with silly technology-for-its-own-sake gimmicks

The point about voice control and steering wheel controls is to REDUCE DISTRACTION over the current UIs, and especially reduce the amoutn of time the driver is looking away from the road.

so you change the radio station and suddenly your speedo vanishes

I guess there's a patent or something preventing the ability to show multiple things on a display at once. Hint - the speedo can remain, but maybe the less frequently used dials can temporarily be replaced with the tool-specific UI. How often do you look at the rev counter, temperature or fuel gauge? How often do you look at them whilst you are looking at the radio to change station/CD/volume?

Maybe using the example of volume control wasn't sensible, but I had the naive thought that Slashdot readers could extrapolate or imagine more complex use cases, such as configuring the in-built GPS.

And WHOOSH for missing a joke too.

Re:Tell me you're joking (2)

Viol8 (599362) | about 2 years ago | (#40983169)

"The point about voice control and steering wheel controls is to REDUCE DISTRACTION over the current UIs, and especially reduce the amoutn of time the driver is looking away from the road."

So dump the silly UIs that manufacturers brought in and go back to buttons. Its quite easy to mentally know where a button is without looking after a very short time. Do you think F1 drivers keep looking at their steering wheels to figure out which button to press when they're doing 200mph?

"And WHOOSH for missing a joke too."

Fair cop.

Speedo (3, Funny)

tepples (727027) | about 2 years ago | (#40983129)

Oh wonderful, so you change the radio station and suddenly your speedo vanishes. Genius!

That could so be taken the wrong way [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Never a good idea.. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40982731)

I think the primary input has to be voice

Have you ever tried to use voice control / voice input on a phone in a car? I have, many times and I finally quit trying. At first, I thought maybe the problem was my cheap BT headset. So I tried another, and another. I now have a nice Jawbone one. I've tried a few models of phone too. I'll quite clearly say, "Call Cherie Clark on mobile" and the phone will say something like "call 777-123-4567?" (which is not a number even in my contact list). I'll try four or five times - and I'll finally get it to admit it knows who Cherie Clark is, but it will then insist on calling her home number instead of mobile. Yes, this works fine if the car is not moving and the AC is off. It even works in heavy commute traffic at 5 MPH or less - again with the AC turned off or down. But at 55+ MPH with the AC on it is about useless and an exercise in frustration.

I'd love to see this voice input system in the car. As long as it is only in other people's cars.

Re:Never a good idea.. (1)

hattig (47930) | about 2 years ago | (#40982909)

Clearly it would be a voice input system that actually works in the car environment, built into the car (not your phone). A pair of microphones (one for noise cancellation) in the steering wheel would probably do the job.

Clearly programming the GPS with "Find me directions to XYZ" is far easier than navigating a UI with a few buttons, maybe using a touchscreen to get the destination in.

Re:Never a good idea.. (4, Insightful)

FireFury03 (653718) | about 2 years ago | (#40982737)

instead of, e.g., "Engine Warning" icon lighting up, it can say "Your O2 sensor is broken".

Don't be silly, how then would the main dealer be able to charge you a £100 "diagnostic fee" for the 30 second job of plugging an ODB II reader in?

Re:Never a good idea.. (1)

Joce640k (829181) | about 2 years ago | (#40982803)

I think the primary input has to be voice.

The day I have to go around shouting at all my household devices to get them to do anything is the day I no longer want to live on planet earth.

Re:Never a good idea.. (1)

hattig (47930) | about 2 years ago | (#40982925)

We're talking about voice control for non-simple UIs within a car environment, where the driver should be concentrating on the road and not looking and moving hands around a physical or touchscreen UI.

We're not talking about setting the volume on your home hifi, or configuring the microwave.

Or is your car a "household device"? You must have wide hallways.

Re:Never a good idea.. (2)

dlingman (1757250) | about 2 years ago | (#40983019)

Who wants to yell at household devices? I'll pay a thousand bucks right now if I can get a module that does voice command -> doing things implanted in my kids.

Re:Never a good idea.. (1)

Lord Lode (1290856) | about 2 years ago | (#40982713)

> and are working to come up up with more tactile solutions.

Working on? Don't the tactile solutions exist for over a century already? Buttons, wheels and handles.

Re:Never a good idea.. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40982787)

I agree in think touch screens in cars are terrible. If you want high tech controls auto manufacturers should use buttons with oled displays that can be redefined on the fly.

Re:Never a good idea.. (4, Funny)

Joce640k (829181) | about 2 years ago | (#40982791)

Ultimately, the car is likely headed to a system where there are multiple dumb screens networked into a single "smartphone"-like compute platform for the vehicle. The screens provide independent interfaces but can display common shared applications being run by the compute platform

What about blind people? They have no problem using real buttons, how will they be able to use the new 'smart' system?

Re:Never a good idea.. (5, Insightful)

BiggerIsBetter (682164) | about 2 years ago | (#40982825)

What about blind people? They have no problem using real buttons, how will they be able to use the new 'smart' system?

They probably shouldn't be driving anyway.

Re:Never a good idea.. (1)

tepples (727027) | about 2 years ago | (#40983207)

Still doesn't mean they can't be a passenger in the front seat.

Re:Never a good idea.. (1)

DigitalSorceress (156609) | about 2 years ago | (#40982929)

I agree...

I'd like to see decently tactile steering-wheel mounted buttons with up/down/left/right, ok, and cancel/back
(sort of like my beloved MX-950 universal remote control) so I can keep my eyes off the controls, and ... well, perfectly, a HUD on the windscreen, but if not that, then a decenly readable screen which is close enough that I'm never ever fully removing my view from the road, and with a UI designed to show just what's needed at a glance and not get too complicated. I think modern mapping GPS a-la Garmin Nuvi / TomTom units are a good example here)

I think it's a mistake to get too close to even iOS ... iOS id admittedly a lot more streamlined than say a PC desktop, but it's still a bit too busy and detailed to really make a great car interface. It's one of those trade-offs - you want simple and intuitive and minimalist for the driver.

Most folks I know get to know their car's controls well enough to activate them mostly by feel... touchscreen interfaces are really not going to allow for this unless they come up with a way to make them haptic.

I love my MINI, but I have to say that the iPod/Sirius interface is incredibly clumsy and doesn't make for easy use while driving.... Yes, one shouldn't be fiddling with stuff instead of paying attention to the road, but there's always a trade off between "the right thing" and "what people do" (admit it, no matter if you should or not, everyone tends to reach over to change the radio station/volume or adjust the heating/cooling while driving - since folks are GOING TO do stuff like that, making the interfaces as intuitive as possible and getting their focus BACK to the road as quickly as possible should be key concerns. /rant

Re:Never a good idea.. (4, Insightful)

Lumpy (12016) | about 2 years ago | (#40982349)

Which is why Siri and Google both are epic failures on their voice control. If I ask for something verbally and the phone returns something to display, that is a complete EPIC fail.

And it seems that caddilac also wants to follow this epic failure path. although not as bad as companies like kenwood or Clarion. Ever try to use one of those aftermarket stereos? Their UI designers and programmers are some of the WORST in the industry.

Re:Never a good idea.. (1)

gnasher719 (869701) | about 2 years ago | (#40982505)

Which is why Siri and Google both are epic failures on their voice control. If I ask for something verbally and the phone returns something to display, that is a complete EPIC fail.

Google for "Siri Eyes Free".

Re:Never a good idea.. (1)

contrapunctus (907549) | about 2 years ago | (#40983171)

hold the phone to your ear when using siri to get audio feedback instead of visual feedback.

Re:Never a good idea.. (3, Insightful)

Z00L00K (682162) | about 2 years ago | (#40982351)

Even push buttons that aren't easily identifiable by touch is a problem. If you can't identify with touch you must take your eye off the road.

And too many push buttons in a row all identical is a nightmare.

Re:Never a good idea.. (1)

hattig (47930) | about 2 years ago | (#40982507)

Definitely, in my mind the best place is on the steering wheel, in a line defined by the sweep of your thumb. You could probably fit four on either side of the steering wheel. The default resting place for your thumb should have the most important button in terms of car UI control - probably "home" to immediately show the standard dashboard display (or "On"/"Accept"), and "Off"/"Reject" for rapid turning off of things, like audio, or rejecting incoming phone calls to the in-car phone.

Note that they should be on the front of the steering wheel, because behind the steering wheel we already have the stalk controllers, and gear changers on more advanced manual cars.

Re:Never a good idea.. (1)

zippthorne (748122) | about 2 years ago | (#40983095)

Keep the touch screens, ditch the driving [slashdot.org]

Re:Never a good idea.. (1)

Compaqt (1758360) | about 2 years ago | (#40982557)

A voice of sanity!

Seriously, I'm beginning to think that we may need a new economic model.

What was the problem that they were attempting to solve?

You've got all these teams of engineers and designers, and so somebody comes up with a crazy plan to totally redesign the UI of a car. Oops, did I say user interface? I meant user "experience".

Interface is when you go to Walmart. The interface for paying for your stuff is take your shopping cart to the line. Experience is when you go to Nordstrom's. You sit on a sofa and they take your card.

Everybody wants to give an "experience" these days.

Re:Never a good idea.. (1)

jafiwam (310805) | about 2 years ago | (#40982561)

Using touch screen controls on a car is akin to texting on your mobile; taking eyes off the road to see your dashboard or stereo controls is an inherently bad idea.

Yup. On it's surface, in the middle, and after analysis the touch-screen in a car idea is monumentally stupid. MAYBE for electronic screens in the back for kids.... but then you have the "greasy non functioning screen" problem.

The problem is especially compounded when your market is old, probably can't see so well up close, and somewhat technophobic in the first place.

A better system would be an advanced aircraft like screen, square with simple large graphics and buttons around the edges that change usage depending on the mode. The computer and programming wouldn't be any harder, and you'd have a solid switch. Glance for the color (mode) press third down on the right edge to have the nav map bring up directions for getting "home".

God says... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40982179)

10:25 And it came to pass, as soon as he had made an end of offering
the burnt offering, that Jehu said to the guard and to the captains,
Go in, and slay them; let none come forth. And they smote them with
the edge of the sword; and the guard and the captains cast them out,
and went to the city of the house of Baal.

10:26 And they brought forth the images out of the house of Baal, and
burned them.

10:27 And they brake down the image of Baal, and brake down the house
of Baal, and made it a draught house unto this day.

10:28 Thus Jehu destroyed Baal out of Israel.

Re:God says... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40982221)

Well I guess that you could say...

*SUNGLASSES* ...that they failed to post Baal.

YEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!!!!

Re:God says... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40982381)

Well, Baal is dead, Qetesh killed him.

Re:God says... (1)

crutchy (1949900) | about 2 years ago | (#40982353)

hahahaha.... "smote" (reminds me of shrek the third)

Well (1)

Mashiki (184564) | about 2 years ago | (#40982181)

I've got something already similar in my GMC Terrain, plenty of things are done by touch screen and with nearly 8mo behind the wheel on it. I don't have a problem. In fact, I can do everything right off the steering wheel without anything besides a casual glance at the centre console. If anything, if more of it was done by touch screen I'd be happier, there's enough damn buttons there to make me think I'm getting in a plane and I'm preparing for takeoff, there is information overload with the design. My only real complaint? When the console dies, it takes the entire system with it. Mine died, oh about a 2 months after I had the car. And it spent 15 days in the shop waiting for a replacement to come in.

After a bit of ingenous thinking, I figured out that it might be a good idea to lean on the dealership and have them talk to CAMI in Ingersoll, and get the part directly from there. Because well...GM had this brilliant idea to fuck Canadian owners over and ship all the replacement parts as a priority to US customers, leaving us Canucks high and dry. Which means that I was only left without my car for 19 days instead. On the upside, I did get XM free for two years for that screw up, along with a $400 maintenance voucher.

Re:Well (1)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | about 2 years ago | (#40982973)

The lack of a physical keyboard reduces the utility of tablets and phones to commuter toys for me. Trying to replace perfectly functioning physical main vehicle operation controls with touchscreens reduces that vehicle to a deathtrap.

M-B system (3, Interesting)

AliasMarlowe (1042386) | about 2 years ago | (#40982187)

Our Mercedes cars have a system [wikipedia.org] which uses a knob which you twist/push in the center armrest. It's far superior to a touch interface for the GPS navigator, and mp3/radio control (even video once the car is stopped).

Stuff touch interfaces for this kind of thing.

Prius (5, Informative)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | about 2 years ago | (#40982215)

All the important stuff is duplicated on the steering wheel. If I'm busy and the passenger wants to fiddle with the air conditioning, I can direct them to the touchscreen and I don't have to do anything. This to me is the ideal situation. The passenger can play with things that don't endanger anything, I can concentrate on avoiding the BMW driver who thinks that the little propeller sign on the front of his car means that he can pull out in front of people without looking.

Re:Prius (1)

hAckz0r (989977) | about 2 years ago | (#40982535)

not only are they duplicated on the steering wheel, but they are well designed and many will deactivate (greyed out) while the car is in motion to prevent accidents.

Un fortunately this forces the driver to pull off the road just to select a predefined destination in the navigation system. Which would cause more accidents? pushing two buttons or pulling off and back on a busy highway?

fwiw I never tried the voice control to see if navigation is deactivated by voice when the buttons are greyed out.

Re:Prius (1)

MacBurn11 (2430370) | about 2 years ago | (#40982937)

Well in many countries it's not allowed to use your mobile phone while driving, and reprogramming your navigation system falls into the same category. And pulling off and on a highway doesn't really sound worse than not paying full attention to the road for a minute or so while driving 120km/h.

Re:M-B system (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40982263)

That system is as bad as the BMW's with their stick down by the center console. Nested tree in a car environment is just horrible.

The best solution I've seen were devices that offer both touch and hard buttons (most after market units employ this idea.. such as the Pioneer AVIC series). These units have the normal touch screen while also have a knob for volume and one for seek/presets or variations of this design.

Also, some units, such as Alpine units, provide a feedback when you touch a button on the touch screen that provides a tactile feedback that *feels* like you actually just clicked a button. It's really interesting in how it works, but it gives you that same sort of "confirmation" a normal radio would provide.

Heck, some even employ voice commands such as the Pioneer AVIC Z series of units (it's been a bit since I've been at a shop that carried Pioneer so I'm not as familiar with their brand spanking new models and lines). Kenwood also has units that provide these capabilities (I'm not sure if the Sony and JVC units with that newer CarLink or whatever it's called that uses bluetooth and wifi to link the radio to your phone and had the capability to actually display a compatible phone's display on the radio also do voice commands)

Anyhow, just something I've been personally involved in working in the mobile electronics for the past 16 years (anymore just weekends doing remote starts doing IT during the week)

Re:M-B system (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40982807)

The BMW system is really bad. I've used last month on BMW 640. Also I used touch screen from Ford Mondeo and it is much easer and better.

Re:M-B system (1)

aurispector (530273) | about 2 years ago | (#40982817)

"UI" problems have been implicated in the crash of at least one Airbus airliners. The yoke had no feedback mechanism so the actions of the pilot are felt at the copilot's yoke. Hence the pilot and copilot could be taking opposite actions and not know it.

Boeing took the opposite approach - everything you do at one yoke is replicated on the other.

Personally, I like cars with manual controls. By touch you can tell how the heat is set, etc., without taking your eyes off the road. And if you do look, the settings are immediately obvious from the position of the controls.

Menu systems are idiotic in cars.

Re:M-B system (1)

sunderland56 (621843) | about 2 years ago | (#40983205)

Our Mercedes cars have a system [wikipedia.org] which uses a knob which you twist/push in the center armrest.

The knob in the center console was copied from the BMW i-drive system, which has been the subject of derision from the automotive press for years. Basically, it's a mouse instead of a touch screen - so you still need to have your eyes on the screen, watching the cursor instead of the road. Whenever a bad UI is discussed in any car, they usually end up by saying "at least it's better than i-drive".

No kidding (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40982203)

Lack of tactile feedback is a bad idea when you are driving, because it forces you to look at the controls instead of the road. It's a fad, just like the days when they started replacing rotating knobs for stereo volume with a more awkward control that was linear, or even worse, a series of digital buttons. An analog knob is much easier to control. The companies pushing for an "all touchscreen" interface are pursuing a bad, unsafe design. The programmability of a touchscreen is great, and you can fit layer after layer of complicated control in the same space, but it's at the cost of ease of use. Touchscreens should augment regular in-car controls, not replace them.

Touch is a fad (5, Insightful)

hairyfish (1653411) | about 2 years ago | (#40982211)

Ok not a fad, but its required application is far lower than the current hype curve that everyone seems to be jumping on these days. Touch works in a phone where you have a casual short-use, multi-function device. But it doesn't work on a desktop where you need to input data 8 hours a day, it sucks on a volume knob where you want analog-like gradient control, and it has no place in a car where you should be looking at the road. The worst example I can think of is those stupid shopping mall store directories that are now interactive touch screens. What is wrong with a paper map? It works, anyone can use it, and most importantly many people can use it simultaneously. Technology for technology's sake, it is the bane of my existence.

Re:Touch is a fad (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40982965)

That touch interface for a mall is really going to be popular when it is flu season.

Re:Touch is a fad (3, Insightful)

MacBurn11 (2430370) | about 2 years ago | (#40983041)

I wish it was...I already hated touchscreens when they came to mobile phones and mp3 players, so i couldn't use them anymore without pulling them out of my pocket. On my touchpad it is fine, even in that map scenario a touchscreen could be useful (selecting a target and showing the fastest way from the current location to it), but in a car a touchscreen is a possible security risk, what with not paying attention to the road and so on.

Knobs and switches (2)

Bazman (4849) | about 2 years ago | (#40982231)

My 1983 Series 3 Land Rover has big chunky knobs and large switches for everything. Engineers have been happy with those things for the user interface for a hundred years, why change now?

Reliability? Not judging by the 'my car UI failed after 3 months and spent two weeks getting a replacement' post.

Probably marketing (look at the gee-whiz dashboard! See its shiny goodness!) and maybe even insurance (so they can tell if you did indicate or were fiddling with the radio before crashing) and also built-in obsolescence (oh, you need an upgrade, $$$ plz kthx, no, nobody else can fix it) unlike on a car with knobs and switches where anyone can replace a switch.

I hope these touch screens work with gloves on...

My Land Rover does have two switches on the centre of the dashboard that I have no idea what they do...

too much iWhatever (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40982243)

blablabla iPhone blablabla ios blablabla iPod blablabla

seriously, not everything has to be like your iPhone. kudos to you for realizing that but it should be quite obvious.

Touch controls... (1)

blahplusplus (757119) | about 2 years ago | (#40982259)

... were always over-rated. I hate having to repeat the same actions on touch interface devices because it doesn't register your motion. Buttons are nice, simple and consistent. I mourn the unpopularity of button based devices, I never understood why anyone would take a touch based MP3 player over one with well designed and placed buttons. I always hate accidentally causing music to skip or change songs on touch based devices.

Re:Touch controls... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40982331)

Buttons are nice, simple and consistent. I mourn the unpopularity of button based devices, I never understood why anyone would take a touch based MP3 player over one with well designed and placed buttons. I always hate accidentally causing music to skip or change songs on touch based devices.

Completely agreed, both with you and the bit in the summary about the clickwheel iPods. I'm still using a clickwheel one that I've had since something like 2007 because 1) it still works and 2) I dislike the touchscreen ones now. With the one I have, I can change volume, pause, and change songs without looking at the device - in fact, I can do most of that without even reaching into my pocket, since the buttons work even with a layer of fabric between my fingers and the device.

Of course, I can do the same things with an iPod touch if I pay a premium for special headphones that add physical controls, I just don't want to, because I already have nice headphones. Seems Apple knows physical controls are superior, too, and are willing to charge you extra for them.

Re:Touch controls... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40982879)

I mourn the unpopularity of button based devices, I never understood why anyone would take a touch based MP3 player over one with well designed and placed buttons.

Well, because my touch-based mp3 player can also read email, surf the web, maintain todo lists and calendars, play games, etc.. Music was pretty far down on the list when I got an iPod Touch.

Who thought this was a good idea? (4, Insightful)

KozmoStevnNaut (630146) | about 2 years ago | (#40982265)

Any car interior design that requires you to look at a display to change a setting, or even worse, require you to navigate through various menus through a joystick or a touchscreen to change settings, should have been scrapped at the prototype stage.

On one hand, we have stereo controls mounted to the steering wheel, a brilliant invention that allows you to adjust the volume, change which station or track you're listening to or even pick up the phone, all without ever taking your eyes off the road. My car is slightly older so it uses a third stalk for these functions, but the basic principle is the same. You can adjust the stereo without ever taking your eyes off the road. +1 for road awareness!

Because the designers of my car didn't have their heads stuck up their asses, the climate control unit has big buttons that are easily distinguished by touch. Any combination of heating, cooling, vents, defrosting, AC etc., I can do without ever looking at the controls. That's good UI design, with proper tactile feedback that you just don't get with touch controls.

But now it seems we're moving in the opposite direction. Everything needs to have a touch display and fancy animations to further distract people from the act of driving. It sells due to the "ooh shiny" factor, but should be considered a danger to road safety on par with eating while driving.

Re:Who thought this was a good idea? (1)

Trepidity (597) | about 2 years ago | (#40982281)

I'm guessing it may save costs also; although touchscreens are initially more expensive, it puts all the UI into software.

Re:Who thought this was a good idea? (1)

justcauseisjustthat (1150803) | about 2 years ago | (#40982419)

I'll bet ya $10,000, 80% of the people still look at the dials/knobs etc in the console before reaching for them to change a setting.

Re:Who thought this was a good idea? (1)

jimicus (737525) | about 2 years ago | (#40982513)

Even so, I've never had to turn a series of dials just so I can reach the dial that lets me change the cabin temperature.

Re:Who thought this was a good idea? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40982599)

I'll bet ya $10,000, 80% of the people still look at the dials/knobs etc in the console before reaching for them to change a setting.

Sure but in that case a short glance is sufficient and usually the changing itself is done with the eyes on the road.
On a touch panel with no tactile feedback and a menu driven structure you'll have your eyes glued to it the whole time (or go back and forth a lot) and it probably takes longer than with a dedicated dial as well.

Re:Who thought this was a good idea? (1)

KozmoStevnNaut (630146) | about 2 years ago | (#40982755)

Yes, but the knob or button is right there and can be found at least partly by touch.

No such luck with a touchscreen where you have to focus on the screen to find the control you want, possibly even in a submenu somewhere hidden.

Cameras (5, Insightful)

backwardMechanic (959818) | about 2 years ago | (#40982269)

Think of a modern digital SLR versus an old pure-mechanical film version. The modern design is a pretty impressive balance between keeping the old layout for things you want to find quickly without looking (knobs, buttons, dials), and adding a load of new features that you don't need very often (menu based). Car UI designers would do well to learn from this approach.

Re:Cameras (1)

neyla (2455118) | about 2 years ago | (#40982345)

True, allthough you need easy access to some of the "new" settings too. For example digital cameras can adjust ISO-value, you can't do that with a film-based camera without swapping film.

And still, changing it rapidly is handy, hell I've even wished for iso auto-bracketing on occasion (like there already is for exposure on decent cameras except prosumer Nikons)

I'd prefer more wheels instead of yet another shift-button for the existing wheel, but I guess the shift-button is easier and/or cheaper to implement

Still gets tedious: wheel for aperture. Shift+wheel for shutter-speed. another_shift+wheel for iso. third_shift+wheel for flash-mode.

Re:Cameras (1)

the plant doctor (842044) | about 2 years ago | (#40982361)

Hear, hear!

Wish I had mod points right now, you're absolutely correct on this.

they're bad even on phones (1)

kenorland (2691677) | about 2 years ago | (#40982293)

For most people, a Nokia/Blackberry-style keyboard is still more effective for text input than any touch screen keyboard, and even more so compared to Apple's awful iOS screen keyboards. (Touch is good for browsing and menu selection, but once you have decided on a capacitive touch screen, building a good UI for those purposes is easy.)

Touch has caught on as much as it has because people make a tradeoff between screen size, weight, style, and ease of input, and ease of input ends up at the bottom up on that list. That tradeoff may make sense for phones, it makes no sense in cars (or on the desktop), where you have the space.

Re:they're bad even on phones (1)

cyber-vandal (148830) | about 2 years ago | (#40982375)

Swype is a very good way around the crappiness of touch keyboards but that's not available in the walled garden.

Re:they're bad even on phones (1)

N3Bruce (154308) | about 2 years ago | (#40982399)

For pure ease of use back in the days when it was legal to use a cell phone while driving, the best phone I ever had in that regard was the old style Nokia 82 series. You could dial blindly with one hand and be accurate most of the time. Things went downhill, first the tactile feedback went to hell with subsequent LG and Motorola phones, then got worse with the tiny buttons on the alphanumeric keyboard on a Blackberry style Samsung phone, which was just about unusable behind the wheel. Don't even get me started about my current phone, a basic touchscreen model with Android. Trying to use the voice command is a joke, I am not the only one who feels this way, when I ride with others when they attempt to voice dial, and as often as not become exasperated after multiple failed attempts or wrong numbers.

Re:they're bad even on phones (1)

umghhh (965931) | about 2 years ago | (#40982405)

That is already more logic than a normal indi-h-vidual can take without overheating his/her brains or going directly into hit the interlocutor in the face mode.

It is also in direct contradiction with "if I have a hammer then everything is nail" approach

Re:they're bad even on phones (1)

borgar (31365) | about 2 years ago | (#40982525)

Phone designers have seem to have this insane need for removing all "real" buttons. I have a HTC HD mini which is mostly ok (leaving a side that it's a Windows mobile). But since they insist on putting in cameras on these things I really would like a physical button on the side of the phone to take picures. Having to push a field in the middle of the touch screen is not even remotely a good idea. I've always had this impression that it's preferable to keep the camera reasonably still when taking picures.

Re:they're bad even on phones (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40982963)

Phone designers have seem to have this insane need for removing all "real" buttons

1. Cost savings. Costs savings. Cost savings.
2. Multiply by 10 million devices.
3. Profit!

The challenge is feedback (3, Interesting)

LordFolken (731855) | about 2 years ago | (#40982303)

Switches offer tactile feedback, both that it was pressed and what position it is in. You can find it blindly after some practice.

Touch-screens try to augment this (badly) with vibration, visual or audible cues. This is fine on a phone. In the car the audible works good. But you never know whether you have pressed the right thing.

Also touch screens are fine as long as you are on a smooth road.. but as soon as it gets rough you will have difficulty to operate them.

In Airplanes its even worse. I fly gliders as a hobby.. in the mountains the acceleration forces are so great that you can't even reach the dash properly. Even less hit a certain spot on a flat surface touchscreen. It requires a lot more attention and concentration than "just hitting a switch".

Surprise? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40982321)

not really ... for a touchscreen like we currently have it, you have to look where your finger is ... if you have buttons you can feel them with your fingers.

Blind leading the blind (0)

justcauseisjustthat (1150803) | about 2 years ago | (#40982407)

All the blind people buying iPhones must just be idiots because they can't use them at all. [dumb]
Accessibility is a question of design/feedback, not different shaped surfaces.

Haptics biotches! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40982415)

A flat smooth panel does not have!

The reason why I like 3 knobs adjacent in a row for climate control, and 2 knobs and 10 primary buttons differentiated by shape and positioned sensibly on my radio. Like a good qwerty keyboard, you know what's what by feel and position without ever having to look.

Some things are best left old-school.

Clickwheel when blind (1)

Lt.Hawkins (17467) | about 2 years ago | (#40982451)

Absolutely, the clickwheel was superior to touchscreens in some situations. One thing that pissed me off about the iPhone (when I had one) that kept me going back to my 1st Gen iPod Nano was that the touchscreen was, for me, useless on a plane. If I was dozing on a plane, I couldn't skip forward or go back with my eyes shut. I had open my eyes and turn on a bright screen, which was annoying both for me, and for others during a long-haul, overnight trip. Adjusting volume was easier too, though that is possible using the hardware volume buttons.

For a dedicated music player, the click/touchwheel was hard to beat.

I've had an idea for touchscreen "blind music control", but I think it'd have to be implemented on the OS level, if the hardware even supports it. Specifically, keep the LCD off, but the touch sensor on to recognize gestures. Gestures that are not rotations of each other, e.g. _| and |_ should help the device differentiate between commands, regardless of orientation.

I Loathe Touchscreen Interfaces (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40982483)

And I have loathed them for more than three decades. The first one that I dealt with was an Intel based minicomputer system in around 1980, it actually ran a pretty decent RTOS. Read and Control a few hundred devices. Now. The "Engineers" decided we needed Touchscreens, with multiple layers of screens. Oh, and no mouse.
    It was a disaster. We demanded, and with great resistance, we got the knobs, and buttons, and the multiple meters that we needed. The "Engineers" were pissed, so every couple of years, they tried to sneak the Touchscreens back in. Even two years ago, on new systems running VxWorks, they were pushing Touchscreens. They are still a disaster, especially with those who are color-blind. You still had to go through multiple screens, peering at the filthy touchscreen, while $10,000 worth of welded vacuum bellows were twisting into a pretzle behind your back.
    For passive, brainless stuff, like watching videos, listening to music, or reading Slashdot, Touchscreens are probably ok. But anything more active...
    Look at a Formula 1 steering wheel. It's full of knobs and switches. No Touchscreen. (Unfortunately not much room for an Airbag either.) It sort of goes back to the evolution from Batch, to Multitasking, to Real Time systems. Touchscreens are still Batch. Oh, and by the way Siri, I don't need to know the route to the nearest Pizza Hut. It's one block down, catty-corner. I can see the sign.

Re:I Loathe Touchscreen Interfaces (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | about 2 years ago | (#40982921)

We need touchscreens with a memory plastic surface layer that pops 100dpi bumps up and down around GUI widget borders. Then you can feel what's under your fingertips, and your hand will navigate and remember what to do without the eyes or visual concentration needed in the loop.

JUST THINK OF IT (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40982515)

as evolution in action

Re:JUST THINK OF IT (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | about 2 years ago | (#40982905)

When it kills people who just can't get out of the way fast enough, the evolution isn't heroic.

Well duh (2)

DrXym (126579) | about 2 years ago | (#40982587)

Putting a UI into a vehicle which requires the user to take their eyes off the road to locate and touch a virtual button on a smooth surface is a car crash waiting to happen. IMO the pinnacle of this insanity has to be the Tesla Model S which sticks a 17" tablet in the middle of the dash. It might look great on paper but I wonder how many accidents will be caused by people fiddling with the screen and it's functions when their eyes should be on the road.

It's okay... (1)

wbr1 (2538558) | about 2 years ago | (#40982635)

beginSarcasm {
It is a GM car. OnStar will soon be driving for you, or at least report to the police what you were doing and stop the engine for them.
return trollModeration }

Designing for the (ignorant) masses (1)

james_van (2241758) | about 2 years ago | (#40982775)

One of the big problems in design these days (in all manners of design, including UI's in cars) is that the average consumer has no idea that things like this are a bad idea. They don't think about how tactile feedback, or how much they'll have to take their eyes off the road, or auditory input with visual output, or any manner of things that people like us (/.'s) think of. They think that touch is high tech, and therefore better (regardless of the implementation), they put form over function, they want the newest and flashiest, even if it isn't the best. Good design takes a back seat to "cool" design more often than not, because the mass public only wants what's new, shiny and cool. Every now and then, good design and cool design intersect and everybody wins, but it's rare.

Eyes on the Road and Hands Upon the Wheel (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | about 2 years ago | (#40982891)

Cars should all be required to include speakerphones for mobile phones, both Bluetooth and wired, that override the radio and pick up / hang up on voice command. When they've mastered that, they should get into heads up displays projected onto the road view. And move all dashboard buttons/knobs to the steering wheel, where they should be physical so hands can work them without eyes.

Carmakers divert $billions and MPGs into safety because we regulated them into protecting us instead of killing us. We have to add views and controls to that regulation, or they'll kill us all with these distracting toys.

And patrol the roads with unmarked cars cruising to bust people holding their phones while they drive. That should be a $500 fine, then a $1000 and a suspended license, then a $2000 fine, revoked license for 2 years and jailtime - all of which should be to car insurance what smoking 2 packs a day is to medical insurance.

Re:Eyes on the Road and Hands Upon the Wheel (1)

MtViewGuy (197597) | about 2 years ago | (#40982939)

Interestingly much of the MyFord Touch interface is done completely by voice command. That way, you don't need to even take the hands off the steering wheel most of the time.

No duh. My phone touch screen is difficult to use (1)

Ajax4Hire (800732) | about 2 years ago | (#40983015)

No duh.
My phone touch screen is difficult to use.
When Capacitive-Touch works it works well but there is always limitations.
Gloves, calluses, skinny vegetarians and calibration all give Capacitive-Touch big problems.

To be successful in the car, buttons must be the size of coffee cups.
And you gotta have positive feedback on select that works for everyone (blind, deaf and any other lack of human sense).
Yes, blind people do ride in cars and may be asked to press a button.

touch the byteboyz with a hickory ax-handle (1)

noshellswill (598066) | about 2 years ago | (#40983107)

But do not touch the ivory knobs on my 1955 Delco AM fully manual radio.

Legal disclaimer? (1)

sunderland56 (621843) | about 2 years ago | (#40983231)

Every in-car satnav I've seen has a legal disclaimer saying "dangerous to use while driving" which you need to accept every single time you get in the car.

Do these new touch-screen interfaces have the same thing? Do I need to accept legal responsibility before turning on the A/C? What about things like Facebook and Pandora, which are highly distracting and have nothing at all to do with vehicle operation?

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