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Death of the Button? Analog vs. Digital

Zonk posted more than 7 years ago | from the long-live-the-knob dept.

Technology 329

mattnyc99 writes "Instapundit's Glenn Reynolds is sick of navigating menus to turn up the heat—while he's trying to drive. His take in the article (as well as a a no-holds-barred podcast) is that modern tech product designers should get back to analog controls before iPhone users get sick of looking down at their touchscreen everytime they dial without a dial. It may be up to you: Whither dangerous auto technology, or long live the touchscreen?"

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Why is the IDrive confusing? (4, Interesting)

mjmalone (677326) | more than 7 years ago | (#18549517)

The author complains about BMW's idrive control [wikipedia.org] (more info here [bmwusa.com] ), but I think it is a good solution to this problem. It's a universal control that gives you a tactile interface without tons of buttons and knobs. Once you get used to it, it's actually pretty easy to use.

The problem with analog controls is that you can't add/remove them easily once a device is made. BMW, for example, updates the software in their vehicles periodically, adding and removing features. Without some sort of universal control system this is much more difficult to do.

Re:Why is the IDrive confusing? (5, Informative)

Achromatic1978 (916097) | more than 7 years ago | (#18549641)

A nice system, definitely. Mind you, I like the one in my Prius: press button on steering wheel. "Say voice command." "Temperature, x degrees" "Temperature set to x degrees.", or "Restaurants" "Showing all restaurants in area.", or "Cruise Control, 60mph." "Cruise control set, 60mph."

Re:Why is the IDrive confusing? (2, Informative)

AaronW (33736) | more than 7 years ago | (#18549749)

I was about to say the same thing with my Prius. Most of the common things I need to do I can do from the steering wheel, and in addition there is still an analog volume control (for quickly adjusting the volume). Now there are still times I need to hit the touch screen, but usually not often. The main things I usually need to adjust are the radio and climate control, and both are easily settable on the steering wheel for 90% of the things I need to do. It took me a little while to adjust to the new controls, but now that I'm familiar with them I do not need to take my eyes off of the road.

Re:Why is the IDrive confusing? (5, Funny)

El Torico (732160) | more than 7 years ago | (#18549797)

I tried "Arm photon torpedoes." on our Prius, but all I got was, "This command is only available on the map screen." I should bring up the tactical display first I guess.

That's a manufacturing "problem". (4, Insightful)

khasim (1285) | more than 7 years ago | (#18549649)

The problem with analog controls is that you can't add/remove them easily once a device is made.

That's a manufacturing "problem".

Consumers are concerned with control.

Making it easy for the manufacturer to crank out more units or less expensive units or whatever isn't important when the consumer has more difficulty USING those devices.

Apple did great with the iPod. Most companies aren't as focused on the customers.

Re:That's a manufacturing "problem". (2, Interesting)

mjmalone (677326) | more than 7 years ago | (#18549927)

When I said BMW upgraded their software I meant _after_ you buy the car. They're not going to install a new console every time they upgrade the software while servicing your vehicle. All I'm saying is that there is little point in having a programmable computer without some sort of universal input device attached. It can be analog, or tactile, or whatever you want to call it, as long as it's adaptable.

While the iPod UI is very good, it's a poor comparison. The iPod is a special purpose device only needs to do one thing.

Re:That's a manufacturing "problem". (2, Insightful)

AuMatar (183847) | more than 7 years ago | (#18549979)

FUnny- so is a car. So is a car stereo. So is a car environmental control. There's no need for a general computer in a car.

Re:That's a manufacturing "problem". (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18550389)

Funny, you're a stupid nigger

Re:Why is the IDrive confusing? (3, Insightful)

wirelessbuzzers (552513) | more than 7 years ago | (#18549655)

I think the problem is that it's hard to use without looking at the screen.

Re:Why is the IDrive confusing? (1)

Lockejaw (955650) | more than 7 years ago | (#18549671)

I've never used an iDrive control, but I can definitely say the (rather simplistic) menu system in the Prius is more than I want to deal with while driving in even light traffic.

Re:Why is the IDrive confusing? (4, Insightful)

Rob the Bold (788862) | more than 7 years ago | (#18549711)

The problem with analog controls is that you can't add/remove them easily once a device is made. BMW, for example, updates the software in their vehicles periodically, adding and removing features. Without some sort of universal control system this is much more difficult to do.

And the problem with "digital", or maybe more appropriately, "soft", controls is that you can't feel them. Like they say: "'iDrive', you work this thing." There are many situations where it's safer, better or more appropriate to locate a control by feel. If you can't feel it, you're losing some sensory input.

A self-deforming input device that could form itself into buttons or whatever would be a neat solution to reconfiguring your input device. Too bad I have no idea of how that could be accomplished.

Re:Why is the IDrive confusing? (3, Interesting)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 7 years ago | (#18549925)

A self-deforming input device that could form itself into buttons or whatever would be a neat solution to reconfiguring your input device. Too bad I have no idea of how that could be accomplished.

Place actuators behind a flexible display device. With a large enough array of them, you could describe nearly any raised shape.

The simplest form would be to assume that the buttons will conform to a set division of the screen space. e.g. 5x5 blocks that can be actuated up and down. A more complex form would look like those pin tables where you can push on the arrays of pins to outline your hand. This could easy give resolutions as high as 50x50 pins.

Re:Why is the IDrive confusing? (1)

rthille (8526) | more than 7 years ago | (#18550341)

You must have missed the Tactipad. [tactiva.com]
Of course, 'immersive' probably isn't what you're looking for in an automotive device, and I think it's going to be a _long_ time before the tactile feedback is combined with the screen. But then again, I think for automotive applications tactile and auditory feedback is probably better than visual. On a cellphone on the other hand, it's just make them more annoying (unless the user was using a headset...)

Contextual Menus are Evil (5, Interesting)

DingerX (847589) | more than 7 years ago | (#18550067)

It's not a tough interface design problem.

Heck, you can probably make an 80/20 rule for it:
1) 80% of the time, users are interacting on 20% of the function.

Come to think of it, it's simpler than that:
2) 80% of the time, users want one of four functions. Oh yeah, and might as well throw in
3) with a button interface, users can "spatially remember" three distinct buttons without looking (or training).
and
4) with a dial, that "spatial memory" becomes 5 discrete positions, and a whole mess of sweet intension/remission levels (=volume, tuning have much higher response times).

So design-wise, you want 5 dials maximum. Of those dials, four are fixed in function, and one changes the paradigm (and presumably some of the other dials' function). The main things anyone would want to do are there, and they're there at the first level.

If you wanted to have a similar arrangement with keys, you'd need between 10 and 25 keys. It would not make sense.

Re:Contextual Menus are Evil (1)

sconeu (64226) | more than 7 years ago | (#18550539)

Screw menus. A lot of things you can have analog controls for digital input.

The classic example is a car radio. On my 2005 Camry (and my wife's 2004 Pilot), the tuning and volume control is digital, but the actual buttons are good old-fashioned analog knobs, that simply control the digital input.

The best of both worlds.

Re:Why is the IDrive confusing? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18550073)

>The problem with analog controls is that you can't add/remove them easily
>once a device is made. BMW, for example, updates the software in their
>vehicles periodically, adding and removing features. Without some sort
>of universal control system this is much more difficult to do.

Ya know, one might think they could figure out a simple control scheme that works before they deploy the cars.

Is that too much to ask?

WTF is going on if someone needs to "update" the controls of their car and add more "features"? If I'm shelling out 40K+ on a vehicle, they dang well better have figured out a decent control scheme ahead of time. That means using some buttons and knobs where it makes sense.

A car should just work. Period. It's frozen. My car doesn't need "feature creep".

Back in the day, we got a pull knob for choke and we liked it! I've no idea how to choke a car today, and Lord knows I've wanted to. Or at least the stupid yitwits who "designed" the thing.

You know what I hate? Voice control with kids in your car. Example, say "XM Channel 60", and right after that one of cretins will yelp out a "NINE!". Good thing my cruise control isn't wired in, thank you Jesus.

Apple should take a stab at creating a decent car-human interface, at least for the entertainment and climate controls.

Re:Why is the IDrive confusing? (5, Insightful)

Bagheera (71311) | more than 7 years ago | (#18550187)

The author isn't the only one who complains about iDrive. Most (though obviously not all) BMW owners who've got it in their cars complain about it. Most of the auto-Media reviewers complain about it. Some of the dealerships complain about it.

Why?

It sucks.

The concept wasn't bad. The implementation blew chunks.

(I understand the latest versions don't suck so bad, and I admit to not having worked with one on a couple of years.)

As for analog controls, in a vehicle at least, not having them change is kind of the point. Do you really want to activate the wrong thing because the manufacturer moved it? Or, worse, plow into another vehicle because you were reading the new menu rather than watching the road?

As for adding analog controls, it's trivial. Most modern cars have several places already available to add new switches as needed. Even when they don't, there's pre-fab mounting systems available. It's even possible to modify the existing ones in a lot of cases.

Sorry. Touch screens and the like are awesome for PDA's, phones, media remotes, and a bazillion other devices. They do not belong in a vehicle's control system. There is a reason that aircraft flap levers and landing gear controls -feel- like little flaps and wheels on the end. You don't need to look at them to know you've got the right control. Where you find touch screens is in the controls and devices that aren't used in situations where the operator's attention needs to be on the vehicle. (HoTaS, anyone?) Same thing goes for ground vehicles. If you've got to take your eyes off the road to operate the control it's a bad idea. Period.

Re:Why is the IDrive confusing? (1)

Mr. No Skills (591753) | more than 7 years ago | (#18550285)

Maybe its the only solution to the real problem - too many features for the driver to deal with.

The Wikipedia article is pretty negative on the approach - "iDistract". The BMW video is very positive, and states the knob is where your arm "normally rests" (and we remember from Driver's Ed that both hands are on the wheel?).

I think navigation and entertainment systems are becoming too overwhelming in cars, and the interior design oriented around a large center display screen is horrible. But who am I to talk - I'm still trying to get over the windshield wiper control being moved to the turn signal...

Lights-Wiper-Choke-Wheel-Key-Heater-Fan-Volume-Tun ing

The knob? (3, Funny)

sczimme (603413) | more than 7 years ago | (#18549567)


from the long-live-the-knob dept.

Well, there's a sentiment we don't see every day.

Re:The knob? (1)

gzerphey (1006177) | more than 7 years ago | (#18549635)

which is a shame because last time I checked... knobs were very important to the average Slashdot reader

Re:The knob? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18550251)

And wizard's staffs

IN SOVIET RUSSIA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18549569)

Car control YOU!

Easy (1)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 7 years ago | (#18549571)

Putting aside for the moment that you shouldn't be dialing while driving, the solution is voice dial. I used to use it on my Nokia phone all the time. Unfortunately, Motorola can't do voice-rec worth a damn, so it's back to the address book for me. :(

The upshot is that the address book can play back the name of the person I've selected, so I don't need to look down. :)

Re:Easy (1)

slapout (93640) | more than 7 years ago | (#18549663)

That's true. It makes me wonder about the iPhone. With any phone now, I can pick it up and dial with one hand. But with the iPhone, will it require two?

Re:Easy (1)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 7 years ago | (#18550423)

One day, your car will be driven by the computer, and then this will be moot. For now, though, I'd imagine you'd get a car with an in-dash or on-steering-wheel bluetooth device to provide mechanical controls. I can't imagine trying to dial on a touch screen device while driving. It's hard enough to dial a normal cell phone.

You need dedicated analog controls if you are expected to be able to operate things without looking, either to avoid distraction or because you need to do something very quickly by rote (e.g. photography). Most of the time, however, touch screens are a really good thing, as they allow the continued evolution of the interface, the addition of new features, and the nearly infinite customization of the interface to suit an individual user's usage patterns.

Voice recognition (3, Insightful)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 7 years ago | (#18549585)

For everything but the volume control/mute button on the stereo.

"car, turn up the air conditioning and close the windows."

Oh, and gags to keep the kids quiet.
 

Re:Voice recognition (5, Funny)

Cyberax (705495) | more than 7 years ago | (#18549619)

Car, open the door!

I'm sorry, Dave, I can't do it.

Re:Voice recognition (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18550021)

> Car, open the door!
>
> I'm sorry, Dave, I can't do it.

"Come on, HAL, open the damn door!"
"Very well, Dave."

(The door opens, and Dave is immediately sucked out the side of the car. Clinging onto the handle for dear life as the car starts to wander across four lanes of traffic, Dave struggles to make himself heard over the howling wind.)

"AAAAAAAaaauuuGH! FUCK! CLOSE THE GODDAMN DOOR!"
"I'm sorry, Dave. I can't do that. Your door is a jar."

Re:Voice recognition (1)

stratjakt (596332) | more than 7 years ago | (#18549781)

No, I don't want voice recognition. It's annoying, and it's hard to have a conversation with your passenger when you have to talk to your car.

Re:Voice recognition (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18550087)

I must say it does work quite nicely in my Jag. I was a sceptic, but I've grown to value it as a feature. You have to push a button to make it listen, so conversations don't fuck it up.

Re:Voice recognition (3, Funny)

Ant P. (974313) | more than 7 years ago | (#18549789)

But what happens when you tell the car to "double killer delete select all"?

Re:Voice recognition (3, Insightful)

pilgrim23 (716938) | more than 7 years ago | (#18549881)

Knob. K.I.S.S. is by far the best aproach for controls. Ask any pilot. Example: a fuel control for the left tank...should the control point left up down or right when the engine is on the left tank? Ask John Denver. An Autromobile is a analog device, on an analog road controlled by a human being via analog controls. Design engineers should stick to pretty body changes and leave proven control designs ALONE.

Re:Voice recognition (1)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 7 years ago | (#18550093)

It doesn't matter which way it points as long as it points towards the gauge. When you're flying, what matters is whether you have selected the tank that has fuel in it, not which side the tank is on. Left versus right only matters when you're refueling it... and presumably if you stick the filler into a full tank, it will automatically shut off, and you'll say "Oops, that's the full tank" as you put the nozzle into the other one.

Re:Voice recognition (4, Insightful)

pilgrim23 (716938) | more than 7 years ago | (#18550263)

John Denver crashed due to a incorrect setting on the gas tank. I am not clear on the exact setting but, the crash report pointed to the cuase dealing with a tank behind his seat and a unclear direction for the "Which tank am I currently set to". Flight Ergonomics are a very well studied subject. example: guages on planes are designed so that All at 12 O'clock is good. meaning: you do not have a gas is full to the left, oil pressue is ok if that on is pointing a little to the right, engine temp in good range, it points down, etc. No, all in the same position means all is OK. And THAT was my point; changing controls radically practically insures improper use, and courts disaster. Non-knob controls fit this.

Re:Voice recognition (1)

yourlord (473099) | more than 7 years ago | (#18550151)

"car, turn up the air conditioning and close the windows."


ahh, but that is ambiguous. Does that mean turn up the temperature it is trying to maintain (increase from 70F to 75F)? Or does it mean decrease the temperature it is trying to maintain (70F to 65F)?

It's that kind of misinterpretation that will cause problems.

programmable buttons (1)

Twillerror (536681) | more than 7 years ago | (#18549591)

We need a mixture of the two. We need a setup of buttons, nobs, etc that the developer can tweek.

In a lot of car stereo's have a control where you change the bass and some other feature like fade by depressing a turn nob.

Give me a simpler nob, and then let me change what I'm changing on the flat screen by picking volumes settings versus picking surround sound settings versus some other set of settings.

The default up and down control will be the temperature, but a simple change on the touch screen will make it fan control...a little off road practice and you won't have to look down much.

Re:programmable buttons (1)

couchslug (175151) | more than 7 years ago | (#18549775)

"We need a mixture of the two. We need a setup of buttons, nobs, etc that the developer can tweek."

Bingo!

That's why aircraft cockpits are designed with a mix of manual switches (with positive DETENTS you can feel for position), analog guages (easier to read for general information), Heads Up Displays, and MFDs (Multi-Functional Displays) whose switches can have different functions depending on the page selected and "tweakable" br reprogramming.

Controls or displays that take your concentration away from vehicle operation are dangerous.

Re:programmable buttons (2, Funny)

eln (21727) | more than 7 years ago | (#18550055)

It's gratifying to see that you're already taking the first step toward simpler interfaces by eliminating unnecessary letters from the word "knob".

Touchscreen phones (5, Funny)

stratjakt (596332) | more than 7 years ago | (#18549625)

I can speak to this somewhat, because I am a moon man from the future and have been dialing my phone via touchscreen for a couple years now.

My futuristic moon man technology is called a "Treo 650". You guys arent advanced enough to pronounce that correctly, but trust me, it's a complete rip off of the iPhone in every way. In my time only the richest kings of the undersea realm of europe can afford a true iPhone.

This device I speak of, has a touch screen, and dialing with it requires you to look directly at it.

However, it is fortunate I am so poor and underprivileged, as this device also has an analog keypad, with numbers affixed to some of the keys. The central of these numbers is marked with a little nib, enabling my advanced moon man fingers to dial by my tactile sense alone.

I wish you great success with your iPhone, this is a new technological age for humanity. You are about to behold the awesome power of "a phone that can play mp3s and also has a camera in it".

I pray you use this technology wisely.

Re:Touchscreen phones (1)

blhack (921171) | more than 7 years ago | (#18550409)

Clearly treo is in violation of an Apple Copyright.

Who Cares What Wing Nut Glenn Reynolds Thinks? (0, Offtopic)

TastyWheat (302413) | more than 7 years ago | (#18549673)

Seriously. The guy is a disturbed political nut job on par with Ann Coulter and knows nothing about technolgy other than he has a blog which only he's allowed to post on and pretty much nobody reads. This idiot was and still is a huge War Supporter. Frankly most people are sick of Glenn Reynolds, the Right Wing's Ward Churchill.

Re:Who Cares What Wing Nut Glenn Reynolds Thinks? (1, Informative)

TastyWheat (302413) | more than 7 years ago | (#18549809)

It's only flame bait if there was actually anybody who cares about Glenn Reynolds on Slashdot. I guarantee there aren't many Reynolds supporters here except the few wingnuts that came here because Reynolds posted on his blog that he got cited here.

Posting a topic that says Glenn Reynolds is sick of Computer Menus is like saying Ann Coulter is sick of iPods.
Who cares what either of them think about such things. They are totally irrelevant in the tech world.

I'm extremely disappointed that Slashdot has given a hate monger such as Reynolds credibility in anything having to do with tech.

Re:Who Cares What Wing Nut Glenn Reynolds Thinks? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18550145)

Well, you have pretty much shown you are the hate monger. Ironically, he's a libertarian, and not one of those evil "convervatives" you couldn't wait to take a shot at based on your programmed "liberalism". I am not a libertarian, but I have seen plenty of that sentiment on Slashdot, so I suspect he might be more read by Slashot readers than you think. They could do far worse in blog reading than www.instapundit.com

Slashdot libertarian central (1)

SuperKendall (25149) | more than 7 years ago | (#18550281)

Sorry, but Slashdot is pretty much libertarian central - you are just visiting, this is our home. There are vast numbers of us, and we all have low UID's.

Re:Who Cares What Wing Nut Glenn Reynolds Thinks? (5, Interesting)

miketheanimal (914328) | more than 7 years ago | (#18549831)

Seriously. The guy is a disturbed political nut job on par with Ann Coulter and knows nothing about technolgy other than he has a blog which only he's allowed to post on and pretty much nobody reads. This idiot was and still is a huge War Supporter. Frankly most people are sick of Glenn Reynolds, the Right Wing's Ward Churchill.
Maybe thats true, bit in this case (and I speak as a bleeding-heart pinko leftie) the guy is right. Designers seem to think that because thay can put a computer in it, it has to *be* a computer. I want analogue. Oh, and before anyone makes any luddite assertions, I'm a shit hot programmer who can juggle a 296,077 line (according to slocount) program in his head with ease. Technology belongs in its place and nowhere else.

Re:Who Cares What Wing Nut Glenn Reynolds Thinks? (-1, Offtopic)

Bassman59 (519820) | more than 7 years ago | (#18549843)

Seriously. The guy is a disturbed political nut job on par with Ann Coulter and knows nothing about technolgy other than he has a blog which only he's allowed to post on and pretty much nobody reads. This idiot was and still is a huge War Supporter. Frankly most people are sick of Glenn Reynolds, the Right Wing's Ward Churchill.

Who modded this post flamebait? Reynolds is a complete wacko wingnut fucktard. His opinions about technology are as worthless as his opinions about politics.

Re:Who Cares What Wing Nut Glenn Reynolds Thinks? (1, Insightful)

corbettw (214229) | more than 7 years ago | (#18550059)

Who modded this post flamebait?

Typically lefty, you agree with the sentiment, therefore it can't possibly flamebait. After all, only wingnuts can be hate-mongering racists, right?

Re:Who Cares What Wing Nut Glenn Reynolds Thinks? (-1, Flamebait)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 7 years ago | (#18550553)

I was wondering why nobody had mentioned that Glenn Reynolds is a complete whacko who isn't taken seriously by anyone. I'm very curious how this article linking to Instapundit got on Slashdot's front page. He's the genius who thinks the solution to the Middle East situation is assassinating all the Iranian scientists (I'm not kidding, he really said this).

I'd like to see some of the other stories that "mattnyc99" has submitted, or his previous comments. I'm betting he's either a wingnut or a sock puppet. Instaturd is s well known as a sock-puppeteer.

Good example (4, Insightful)

MobyDisk (75490) | more than 7 years ago | (#18549691)

Computers are now being put into embedded devices, but they shouldn't look or act like computers. My prime example is the digital camera:

My mom was an amatuer photographer who used a fully manual camera in the 70's. I bought her a very easy to use Canon Powershot with the same features, and she was completely lost. Imagine this: She wants to set the f-stop, aperture, and exposure time. On her old Miranda [geocities.com] that was a switch, a knob, and a slider (or something like that). Now, it's switch to "M" mode, then arrow left to one setting, then arrow up and down, then arrow right, then repeat for the next setting... it takes 10 times longer, and the buttons are much smaller and harder to push. She can't just go by feel while looking at the screen or viewfinder.

Buttons are not the universal replacement for all settings for the same reason that the mouse cannot replace a keyboard and vice-versa. There are multi-modal input devices which map better to some things than others. Use the most appropriate input for each setting. It actually makes it easier.

Oh, and more buttons isn't the answer.

Re:Good example (5, Interesting)

L. VeGas (580015) | more than 7 years ago | (#18549953)

Yes. Cameras controls are a real problem these days. It's partly an issue of trying to be all things to all people. You want it fully automatic? Sure. You want to set everything yourself? Can do that too. Or try "sports mode" or "night mode" or "fashion mode" or "crowd mode" or "jewel mode" or "monkey mode". Okay, I made that last one up.

Pre-digital photographers had at minimum a basic understanding of film speed, depth of field, aperture size, and shutter speed. If you knew these four things, you could take any SLR manufactured before 1990 and use it immediately. Now, every camera has to be figured out. Every camera has a different interface. And I'm talking about the point and shoots.

The worst thing is when they are in some useless "mode" like "sepia/old fashioned" or "birthday candle" and you are missing a great shot because you can't figure out how to turn it off.

Rant. Rant. Rant. Young whippersnappers. Etc.

Re:Good example (1)

91degrees (207121) | more than 7 years ago | (#18550109)

Now, every camera has to be figured out. Every camera has a different interface. And I'm talking about the point and shoots.

Yeah, but no. Fully auto is usually the same interface. Point camera and press the button. And automatic is good enough for most people, especially in a non-SLR.

Re:Good example (1)

L. VeGas (580015) | more than 7 years ago | (#18550255)

That's true only if you can figure out how to turn it into auto mode in the first place.

Re:Good example (1)

MP3Chuck (652277) | more than 7 years ago | (#18550013)

Well ... thing thing with the PowerShots like most Point 'n Shoots is that they're really meant to be used in fully automatic mode. Sure, it's got manual mode, but she's gone from an SLR to a fancy toy.

I haven't used a DSLR, but I'm willing to bet they're a lot closer to what your mom is used to using ... both in form and in function.

Re:Good example (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18550121)

Form yes, function no. Most digital SLR's have the same problems as the point and shoots. You end up navigating through menus to get to a lot of options. There are more buttons on most, and there are some quicker ways to do things, but the old manual cameras are a significant amount faster and easier to use than todays digital equivalents.

Re:Good example (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18550075)

Yeah, but you (and she) are missing the point. You dont need to set all those variables. The device knows better than you possibly could how much aperature and exposure you need; because it was designed and implemented by professional engineers. The availability of methods to set all that manually isnt an afterthought, its an actively discouraged activity that must yet be shown to be possible in marketing literature for the unenlightened consumer, who still thinks they know what they want better than some design exec.

Seriously, I hunted for years for one of the digital backs that would have fit my nikkormat manual camera, and finally gave up. The olympus e500 i switched to is as close as is available for less than car prices; it can be set to allow manual focus adjustment after the autofocus has satisfied itself it's done its job.

The impulse to protect the cutomer from themselves isn't dead yet... if we all stop swallowing this crap from the manufacturers and start beating the snot out of the designers, occasionally, perhaps the tide can be turned.

Re:Good example (1)

Diamondback (111383) | more than 7 years ago | (#18550247)

I think you're missing the point. What if you know what you want, and the camera isn't giving you what you want? Do you think the team of design engineers would magically know how to read your mind as a photographer?

If you bought a cheapie HP digital camera, you will be stunned and amazed to find that your picture will look the way it does and there is nothing you can do about it. If you buy a compact digital snapshop camera with full manual controls, you may be able to get the picture you want. If you buy a DSLR, you can probably get that same picture without trying to manually focus using one of those 'focus zoom' boxes, squinting in blinding daylight at an LCD the size of a postage stamp while pushing buttons with your fat fingers.

Re:Good example (1)

greetings programs (964239) | more than 7 years ago | (#18550105)

You should have gotten your mom a Canon 30D or at least a Rebel XT, not a powershot.

Re:Good example (5, Informative)

skintigh2 (456496) | more than 7 years ago | (#18550107)

I have a Canon Rebel, which is a film SLR, but it has the interface you just described.

My parent's 1970's Canon is soooooooo much easier to use, it has knobs for the settings, it has a field-of-view diagram on the lens (I have to guess with mine), a split for perfecting focus on what you want in focus (I have to trust the autofocus or just eyeball it) and I know it's been dropped onto rocks in a flowing stream at least once and survived (I have not tested that with mine).

My camera's interface is a tiny LCD and microscopic buttons. You can see the settings more clearly when you look through the viewfinder, but then you can't see the tiny buttons you need to press. And the worst part: if stop pressing buttons long enough to arrange your shot (10 or so seconds) the camera times out and deletes all the settings you spent the last 5 minutes perfecting.

Re:Good example (3, Insightful)

AaronW (33736) | more than 7 years ago | (#18550211)

I have the same problem with point and shoot cameras and hence use a DSLR. I can quickly change just about any option on the camera by holding down the appropriate button and turning a knob. Need to change the ISO? Takes 2 seconds. Need to set the shutter speed or aperture? Just turn the knob. Or focus? If I want to manually focus, I just grab the focus ring. Similar for zoom. Manual zoom is much faster and easier to control. Point and shoot cameras are great if you don't care about adjusting anything or worry about focusing, exposure, etc. My other big problem with them is the lag. I like the fact that my DSLR takes a picture when I push the button without delay, making action shots very easy. I can point my camera, frame the shot and click within a second by having everything as a separate knob. Even manually setting all of the exposure settings only takes a couple of seconds if I don't use the automatic mode.

The best part is I can work most of these settings without having to take my eye off of the viewfinder. Same thing with a car. I should not have to take my eyes off of the road to change the radio station, adjust the volume, change the temperature, etc. In my case, my car has both menus and a touch screen as well as all of the common controls as individual buttons on the steering wheel, and each button has a different feel so I don't need to look down. It took a bit of learning where all of the controls are, but now it's second nature. Once in a while I need to use the menus, but not very often. And there are many other functions that I can control by voice. I.e. if I don't want to take my eyes off the road to see what the temperature setting is, I just press a button and say "temperature 72 degrees" and it just does it. Or with the navigation system I say "address" and speak the address. If I'm low on gas, just say "gas stations", etc.

There's a simple way to get what he wants (2, Funny)

Sunburnt (890890) | more than 7 years ago | (#18549701)

Fund a study of these things as a driving distraction. If they're equally as or more distracting than cell phones, you should be able to lobby a bunch of key, high-income municipalities into instituting an eventual ban on operating touchscreens while driving. Voila, the engineers of taste rediscover analog charm.

OK, maybe it's not that simple. It's still possible.

Money (4, Insightful)

Detritus (11846) | more than 7 years ago | (#18549715)

It isn't a question of design aesthetics, it's a question of money. Knobs cost money. Analog potentiometers, even bad ones, cost money. Shaft encoders cost money. What you see in modern product design is the result of a ruthless campaign to cut parts costs. A front panel composed of a microcontroller and bunch of flimsy switches is the result.

Re:Money (3, Interesting)

91degrees (207121) | more than 7 years ago | (#18549949)

That's true. I recently bought a cheap radio. I was surprised that even though it had an analogue tuning knob, it had a digital frequency display. Presumably LCDs and chips can be made so cheaply that a sliding plastic indicator actually involves a significant increase in the cost.

Re:Money (1)

Paperweight (865007) | more than 7 years ago | (#18550307)

Knobs don't cost much money. What's 50 cents of knobs on a $200 camera? They do cost much more when considering the extra manufacturing labour time to put them it all together. In other words, it's not the expense of the parts, its the number of them.

Dangerous at high speeds... (0, Offtopic)

creimer (824291) | more than 7 years ago | (#18549785)

I had a friend who was too cheap buy a brand new car with a warranty so he had a string of clunkers. One clunker had an electronic dashboard that was cool as long as he was not driving faster than 50MPH. The dashboard just shuts down. Nothing like speeding down the highway when you don't even know how fast you're going. I'm surprised he never got a speeding ticket in that death trap.

Re:Dangerous at high speeds... (1)

vux984 (928602) | more than 7 years ago | (#18550005)

One clunker had an electronic dashboard that was cool as long as he was not driving faster than 50MPH. The dashboard just shuts down.

Sounds like a FEATURE to me.

At 50mph you should be looking at the road with your full attention, not at the dashboard.

A dashboard that shuts off at that speed and only comes back on if there's a problem like over heating or oil pressure etc would help keep your focus where it should be.

Re:Dangerous at high speeds... (1)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 7 years ago | (#18550143)

And you're supposed to stay under the speed limit magically?

Re:Dangerous at high speeds... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18550549)

The problem with this is that drivers end up checking the speedometer to see if they can adjust the air conditioning.

They also need to make a mental note: to wait until they are travelling at the correct speed and then make the adjustment.

It turns a simple operation into one that requires the driver to make a decision.

The word is (1)

Lewrker (749844) | more than 7 years ago | (#18549787)

"whether"

What we need is tactile touch screens (4, Interesting)

Pfhorrest (545131) | more than 7 years ago | (#18549805)

What's really needed to solve this dilemma (dialing-while-driving issues in general aside) is a technology which will allow software to subtly deform a touch screen to give tactile feedback. So buttons actually stand out from the screen a bit, etc. I seem to recall there being a technology like this in one of the later of Asimov's Foundation books (Foundation's Edge of Foundation and Earth, I don't recall which): the main character had an inclined, desk-like board on his ship which was a tactile touch screen. I imagine some combination of flexible (and probably elastic) LCDs and something like those toy pinboards (where you've got thousands of tiny dull metal pins arrayed on a board, and you can make impressions of your face and whatnot in them) could accomplish this. The hard part would be controlling all those tiny pins electronically; making the LCD elastic enough to keep snug to the contours of the pinboard would probably also be tough. But imagine the possibilities! You could actually feel the smooth, round curves of... er... those shiny Aqua buttons in OSX.... yeah, that's it. Though other possibilities may help popularize it faster. :-)

Pfhorrest for mayor! (1)

Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) | more than 7 years ago | (#18550039)

I've been asking for that all of my life. I have no idea how to do that, but my thought was always some sort of electrically responding gel, rather than pins. In any case, PLEASE SOMEONE make that. I would gladly pay a large amount of money for it.

What we need is to start reading again. (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18550523)

"What's really needed to solve this dilemma (dialing-while-driving issues in general aside) is a technology which will allow software to subtly deform a touch screen to give tactile feedback."

Or you could try reading below "0" for a change. Or even better read the April edition of Popular Science, and save me the trouble of repeating myself.

the folly of youth (5, Insightful)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 7 years ago | (#18549841)

When I was getting ready for my freshling year at college, I bought a slick new stereo system. I was so proud of how modern and futuristic it was: it didn't have any knobs! But as time went on, I discovered how awkward it was to use a slider to adjust the volume, or the bass and treble. And holding down buttons for the digital tuning was a pain. I've since replaced it with a stereo that has knobs for all these inherently analog controls, and I'm much happier with it.

Anyone notice what the main control on the iPod is? It's fundamentally a knob (implemented digitally). And that's no small part of the product's success.

Re:the folly of youth (1)

symes (835608) | more than 7 years ago | (#18549945)

Quiet agree. And for those of us with a little time on our hands here's [historyofthebutton.com] a fasinating history of the button. Personally I like things to be tactile...

Same thoughts exactly (1)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 7 years ago | (#18549901)

This just in time for my modern mobile phone rant. [slashdot.org] As I say there, I want some controls to be for one single purpose, so I know exactly where they are and what they will do each time precisely. Likea volume control. Or a tuning control. Or a button that switches between ring modes on a phone (please make them hard to push, it is ridiculous that these buttons are always pushed by themselves when the phone is in the pocket.)

I bought a car two years ago, that came with a CD player that was also an MP3 player but all I wanted was an AM radio for the talk shows, I don't even want FM. This CD player had a face that turned itself forward when the car started and backward when the car was turned off (to prevent theft I suppose.) Well, the darn thing broke and even the radio was impossible to get. So I decided to buy the cheapest simplest radio, with just turn knobs for controls. Who would want to steal that anyway? Well, apparently it is impossible to get anymore (maybe it's just Toronto?) The simplest thing today plays CDs and MP3s and who knows what else. It has all the LEDs that shine and stupid buttons. Forget tuning, even volume control is 3 different buttons (up/down/mute and the mute doesn't really mute, it just lowers the volume somewhat.) It looks like a spaceship. I couldn't get a normal new radio and I was right to hate this one as well, it broke on me a month after I got it and I never even put a CD in once.

The thing is whizzing as if the CD is stuck in it, but it's empty. It stops playing by itself once in a while. I just hate it, but it was the cheapest the simplest thing in Canadian Tire that was available. I know, I should have searched online and bought something from a 'third world' country, something that must be still available, something that just tunes onto a radio station and stays on it without doing anything else. Something with a knob volume control. I develop software for living and I am just tired of overly complex and intrusive technology all around me. It's stupid what is happening.

End of radio rant.

Re:Same thoughts exactly (1)

stratjakt (596332) | more than 7 years ago | (#18549941)

You're shocked that theres no AM-only radios out there?

You do realize that that market consists of only you, don't you?

Go to a nice stereo shop, you can still find a decent headunit with the knobs you're accustomed to.

Re:Same thoughts exactly (1)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 7 years ago | (#18549963)

I am not surprised that there are no AM radios only, I don't mind an FM radio in it as well, but I do mind a radio that is not a radio and breaks after a month of use because it is just not done well and it overly complex for what it is.

Re:Same thoughts exactly (1)

NeilTheStupidHead (963719) | more than 7 years ago | (#18550437)

I see piles of these all the time in those warehouse-like stores packed with suplus and obsolete electronics and mechanics. My local Princess Auto often has stacks of AM and FM tuners that are a cheap source of electronic components.

Re:Same thoughts exactly (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18550473)

> I know, I should have searched online and bought something from a 'third world' country, something that must be still available, something that just tunes onto a radio station and stays on it without doing anything else. Something with a knob volume control. I develop software for living and I am just tired of overly complex and intrusive technology all around me. It's stupid what is happening.

http://www.standardautowreckers.com/ [standardautowreckers.com]

Toronto-area self-serve junkyard. Not every salvage yard works like this, but if you're in the US or Canada, there's probably at least one yard within an hour's drive that does. It's not quite the third world, but it's pretty close... in a good way. Bring a toolbox, find something that looks interesting, pull it out, and pay about 10% of what you'd pay anywhere else. Fun way to spend an afternoon.

MP3 players are small enough these days that you can probably wedge one into any OEM stock radio. Use the MP3 player as a preamp, and the radio's built-in volume control and amplifier to drive the speakers.

This guy did it using a radio from a 1773 VW beetle [ururk.com] (PDF warning).

You get the UI you want, and the stereo thief turns up his nose at the cheap-ass OEM radio in your car... oblivious to the fact that hiding behind those retro knobs is a well-hidden USB port and a 4GB flash card. (...or even an 80GB hard drive, but I'm not brave enough to trust a hard drive to the heat, cold, and vibration of an automotive interior.)

touchscreen shmouchscreen (2, Insightful)

stratjakt (596332) | more than 7 years ago | (#18549915)

Remember the 80s? Remember the fancy cars with digital readouts for speedometers, and some would even talk to you and tell you when the door was open?

Remember when you went in a recent car and saw analog speedometers, and tachometers.

The irony, is they aren't analog - they're displaying a readout of a digital signal. But the "needle" guage is something you can monitor with your peripheral vision. It's safer, people prefer it, and it looks nicer - frankly.

You have to look at a touchscreen, you have to waste seconds analyzing it. You have to read a digital readout, recognize the numbers "72" and realize you're going 72 mph. Whereas I can know if the orange needle gets past "12 o-clock ish", I'm going too fast.

Of course, I can guage my speed by feel like most good drivers, I knwo what gear I'm in and can feel how hard the engine is working, so it's not a perfect example.

But the displays that came with computers are awkward, and unintuitive by nature. The interfaces we have already gotten accustomed to are, in many cases, just perfect as they are.

My A/C is a knob, one side is red, one side is blue. It's easy to reach down and adjust it without taking my eyes off the road.

ETC

Re:touchscreen shmouchscreen (1)

fishybell (516991) | more than 7 years ago | (#18550007)

My A/C is a knob, one side is red, one side is blue. It's easy to reach down and adjust it without taking my eyes off the road.

You can feel color?

pinnacle of analog controls? (4, Insightful)

fred fleenblat (463628) | more than 7 years ago | (#18549919)

I'm going to nominate the Advent 201 cassette deck here. I got one as a hand-me down from my dad and it was really something special.

One of the design goals was that the user should be able to operate the unit in complete darkness going only by feel. To that end, controls were placed far apart, on a couple different planes of the unit, had distinct shapes, and switched in different directions. Stateful controls changed position enough that you could feel what state it was in without looking. There were no status lights (other than the VU meter) to look at as I recall.

Here's a picture:
http://www.positive-feedback.com/Issue16/advent.ht m [positive-feedback.com]

Anyway, ever since then I've always felt that user interfaces should be tactile and show their state in a physical sense. You should be able to make changes even with the power off, and you shouldn't have to look at indicator lights to figure out what's going on.

While a lot of appliances don't require this level of UI "analogness", it is something that should be carefully considered for automotive instrument panel design, since that is definitely a "must be operable in total darkness" situation.

Digital Cameras (4, Insightful)

gcantallopsr (451114) | more than 7 years ago | (#18549973)

Digital Cameras, Pro or Semi-Pro (i.e. not the point & shoot ones) with...

  • ... a conventional screen and 4 to 16 tiny buttons, and lots of navigation = crap.
  • ... a touch screen, and lots of navigation = crap.
  • ... lots of buttons and wheels simulating good old analog controls = really usable cameras.

    Why? Well, you don't need to look at the controls to operate them. That's good.

Don't go backwards! Improve touchscreen technology (1)

objekt (232270) | more than 7 years ago | (#18549987)

Get one of them newfangled touchscreens with active tactile feedback. It's the wave of the future.

how about redundant controls? (2, Interesting)

willutah (556976) | more than 7 years ago | (#18550009)

On a similar vein, I sure wish DVD player makers like Sony would put all of the controls on the console as well as the remote. I hate the fact that losing the remote means only being able to play, stop, or eject.

Re:how about redundant controls? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18550235)

I hate the fact that losing the remote means only being able to play, stop, or eject.

Or pay out the ass for a new one - if you can get it. [replacementremotes.com]

That's why I buy one of those $10 remotes for: volume, channel changing, play-stop-rewind. Then, when I do have to program the thing, I use the remote that came with it. I learned the hard way when I used the DVD/VCR remote all the time and then wore it out - couldn't get a replacement.

More buttons! (1)

Dr. Eggman (932300) | more than 7 years ago | (#18550049)

More buttons, knobs, and bring back switches! I wanna here the clack of my radio dial changing. I wanna here a clicking noise to tell me the volume's on but the channel's out. The sound of little keys eching out a slashdot post as I dri...

...that's odd, my car seems to be losing altitude. ALTITUDE!? AAAHHH...+++Carrier Dropped+++

Um, don't talk on the phone while driving? (2, Insightful)

ismism (947992) | more than 7 years ago | (#18550177)

Come on, it's just plain stupid to try to talk on the phone while driving. Period. Studies have conclusively demonstrated it, so just don't do it becuase you're going to run over my kid and then I will have to kill you.

There should be more studies like that. (1)

Etherwalk (681268) | more than 7 years ago | (#18550545)

> it's just plain stupid to try to talk on the phone while driving. Period. Studies have conclusively demonstrated it,

I wanna be a stupidiologist when I grow up. Then I can do those studies!

Whither (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18550205)

You're aware "Whither" means "to where", right? Actually, I'm going to go with no, you're not.

Digital doesn't mean buttons (1)

edschurr (999028) | more than 7 years ago | (#18550259)

I have similar complaints. I checked a few grocery stores looking for a cooking timer, and they all used buttons. So I stayed with my semi-functional timer that has a dial. What is the sense in using buttons to add or subtract time when you could just spin a dial? Whenever something goes digital, it also goes for simple digital inputs which are totally inappropriate for many things. Sometimes I get the idea that I should be the one designing everything...

car menu (3, Funny)

Khashishi (775369) | more than 7 years ago | (#18550267)

Main Menu:
a: Accelerator (30%)
b: Breaks (0%)
c: Steering (+23 degrees)
d: Extra menu

Please select a control: [abcd]

This isn't new (1)

overshoot (39700) | more than 7 years ago | (#18550279)

Back in the 1970s (yeah, I know) I was working for the automotive group of $BIG_SEMICONDUCTOR_COMPANY and some genius had the idea of replacing the speedometer dial with a digital readout. Some of us pointed out the (now obvious) drawback that tenth-of-an-mph precision isn't valuable, but read time (as in, eyes off the road) most certainly is.

Needless to say, the customer ended up with way-cool digital readouts. For one model year.

I don't know if they quietly settled the lawsuits, if any, or what. Notice, however, that the experience was profound enough that the auto industry seems to have actually learned from experience. Since "quick on the uptake" is not something anyone would have called Detroit in the 70s, the trauma must have been pretty severe.

Are there any low tech cars? (1)

edxwelch (600979) | more than 7 years ago | (#18550297)

I hate all that stuff too. I prefer not to have any microprocessors in my automobile. Does anyone make low tech cars anymore?

Digital Fails so much though (1)

JiveBay (1065744) | more than 7 years ago | (#18550299)

Thats why cars in the 90s got rid of Electronic Displays for all your gauges and the AC and went back to anolog readouts and buttons you could turn. My mom had a Chrysler New Yorker that had all digital readouts and one time on a long trip everything went black. All the readouts were digital (gas, speed, temp, oil, odometer, battery). It wasnt a fuse that went out, or a loose cable, the whole thing had to be replaced. Ive also seen stereos with electronic buttons fail so many times its not funny. I always look for analog switches as they are less likely to break, and when they do its a little easier to fix.

The solution is voice dialing. (1)

Anonymous Cake (1068146) | more than 7 years ago | (#18550323)

Open the pod ba- er... I mean open the trunk.

Some things just need to have a tactile response.. (1)

Yoooder (1038520) | more than 7 years ago | (#18550343)

Touchscreens are great, but some things require a tactile response. The best (personal) example I have is those laser-projected keyboards for Palm-Pilots. It looks like a dock for the Palm, and projects a full keyboard onto the surface in front of it, which you then type on as normal. I hate the thing. I tried one for 2 weeks and my typing skills never got better than they were in 9th grade (not pretty). Plus to add to it, striking your finger tips on a desktop several hundred times a minute hurts. It's hard to appreciate the fact that the depression of a key on your keyboard actually acts as a cushion/shock absorber until you lose that.

Analog all the way. (1)

Foamy (29271) | more than 7 years ago | (#18550465)

As a scientist I am repeatedly amazed at how converting the interface of a piece of equipment from analog to digital is a huge step backwards.

Take the lowly centrifuge for example.

In the analog world, you would turn a knob (rheostat) to an indicated RPM; turn another knob to an indicated time, then turn it on (or the timer turns it on automatically). Speed is indicated by a needle. Fast, but if absolute accuracy is needed then you have to fiddle with the machine once it gets up to speed.

In the hybrid analog/digital world (what I prefer), you hold a button down a button, then turn a dial to set your speed. Same for setting the time. Push the start button and you're off. Fast, accurate, easy.

In the digital world, you have digital readouts and a touchpad. You usually hold down an up arrow to increase speed and the algorithm, goes from 10... 20.... 30... 40... 500... 5000... 16000 RPM in equal time intervals. So if you need 7500RPM, then you usually overshoot it by a few thousand, then hold the down button overshooting by a few hundred, then back up and you're over by another hundred, then you painstakingly push the button a few more times to get to 7500RPM. Repeat the entire procedure for the time and the temperature if necessary. Then figure out how to start the machine. Usually another button that only responds after being held for a prescribed amount of time. The advantage is that the speed, time and temp are accurate. Downside is you pull your hair out getting it set. This is especially painful if you spend 1 minute setting up for a 1 minute spin.

Don't get me started on PCR machines or spectrophotometers... or Glenn Reynolds for that matter.

Volume (1)

cybereal (621599) | more than 7 years ago | (#18550477)

The worst thing about computers these days is how much media stuff they try to do without giving you a good natural feeling interface to something as simple as volume control.

http://www.griffintechnology.com/products/powermat e/ [griffintechnology.com]

Solves my problem. I really prefer being able to twist a knob to adjust volume. I realize it's a simple thing, but it makes the whole computer a lot more human. Clicking buttons, dragging things on screen, or keyboard shortcuts have never felt right. Twist the knob and the volume is adjusted: perfect. This is great particularly in games, or when watching a movie or anything like that where volume can be an issue. Regular computer use with beeps and bongs isn't really the driving factor for my desire of a regular ol' knob for volume.

Keypad vs. touchscreen. (1)

colinbg (757240) | more than 7 years ago | (#18550547)

I used to think the touchscreen was a modern solution to the keypad because no longer were you constrained by a static button interface, you could change button layouts and use graphics instead of just numbers and letters. However, when my local grocery store switched from a keypad to a pen touch screen for the chekout console, I found myself amazed at how much more "labor" intensive and slower the checkout had become. Now instead of punching in my choice and pin, I have to pick up the pen and wait (because the system is much slower)to enter in my selections when the keypad had a tactile interface that was simple. In some instances, the keypad and analog button interface just works better!
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