Are car entertainment units getting too complicated?

When the Toyota 86 was launched, one of the initial reactions from the media was that the dash layout was somewhat basic. For those who don’t enjoy the big...

When the Toyota 86 was launched, one of the initial reactions from the media was that the dash layout was somewhat basic. For those who don’t enjoy the big push forward to create the dash of the future, it was a welcome sight. So have car manufacturers gone too far?

Drive in the Sydney Morning Herald recently published a story about Ford in the US. The company has begun to sell vehicles with its revolutionary MyFord Touch system. It aims to kill as many physical knobs and dials from the dash and replace them with a touch screen system. The obvious requirement would be a bloody good UI and all the main features within one or two touches from the main menu in order to keep the driver focused on the road.

Sadly the introduction of the system has largely been met with disapproval. Drive quotes the Consumer Report in the US as saying,”MyFord Touch leaves the interiors of fitted models almost completely absent any conventional knobs or buttons. Instead, it offers a variety of different ways to enter commands: flush capacitive switches on the centre stack, a big centre touch screen, steering-wheel controls, and voice commands. But none are well designed, and combined they make the cars feel really complicated – especially when trying to perform the most common audio and climate adjustments.”

Not a promising sign. With so many features in modern cars, even at basic price levels, it’s no wonder manufacturers are struggling to create all-encompassing touch screen systems. Think back a bit when BMW introduced its controversial iDrive system – a method of having control over the majority of your car’s features with one dial and a screen. It was hideously difficult to use, to say the least and became a major distraction for drivers. Getting to the most basic features could take minutes.

BMW didn’t drop iDrive but improved it to a usable system. Perhaps it should have taken advice from its German friends Audi and Mercedes, who have equally impressive technology but still rely heavily on physical buttons.

With petrol-electric cars beginning to become more popular and manufacturers looking for an edge over the opposition, it’s no wonder that the dashboard is becoming a major focus for some. But for us, seeing and using the dash in the Toyota 86 was almost a relief. At first it’s disappointing. To have large dials and a lot of bare plastic takes some getting used to after driving some of the latest vehicles on the road. But in the end, it’s simple to make things happen in the cockpit and a minimal distraction on the driver. There is certainly argument enough to say that manufacturers should be looking at making sexier looking knobs and dials and adding more of them to the dashboard rather than trying to focus on touch screens. At least that way everything is in easy reach once you familiarise yourself with which dial does what.

At the end of the day it won’t stop car manufacturers from pushing the boundaries, but at what cost?

Categories
Motoring

Damian Francis has previously edited Australian T3 and F1 Racing magazine and wrote for GQ Australia and Men's Health. Unlike Nick and Trev, he has no kids, no mortgage and no wife, but lives happily on Sydney's North Shore with his girlfriend.
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