These days, you will be hard pressed to find a recent car without a touchscreen. Ever since the iPhone proved that touchscreens don’t have to suck, we’ve seen massive adoption of the technology in all kinds of devices: tablets, laptops, watches, and even automobiles.
Here’s the thing, though. As useful and versatile as touch screens are, they aren’t always the right choice for every technology. Nowhere is this more true than in a car. Old or not, physical buttons are still the best option.
When driving, you should always pay attention to the road ahead. Roads are dangerous and complicated places, and drivers face changing conditions all the time. You should be able to keep your car centered in the lane while following the road around the turn and being aware of what other drivers (and possible pedestrians) may be doing at all times.
This is easy to manage when all of your attention is focused on the road ahead, and all the extra features inside your car should allow you to use them without taking your eyes off the road. Unfortunately, many car manufacturers seem to have forgotten what it’s like to use a touchscreen.
Taking your eyes off the road means you can’t react to anything that changes, whether it’s another car driving unevenly or making sure you avoid pedestrians and other things that might pass each other. on your way. The inevitable consequence of this is some sort of accident, which at the very least means damage to the car and an increase in insurance premiums. In the worst case scenario, you could very easily injure or kill someone, including yourself and your passengers.
Touch screens are not ideal for use without eyes
A button is a physical, tactile thing. You can find out what it is by touch alone. Most importantly, there is a physical sensation when you press on it. This means you can tell the button has been pressed without ever seeing it. Assuming you memorized the button layout in question, you could complete this whole process without ever having to use your eyes.
Touch screens are the exact opposite. They are smooth, shiny, and have no other discernible physical characteristics. The part of the screen that controls, for example, the air conditioner feels exactly the same as the place that controls navigation or phone calls.
You can memorize which zones do what, or train some kind of muscle memory, but the point is, doing something on a touchscreen is a whole different experience than pressing a button. Using a touchscreen invariably relies on watching what you’re doing, whether it’s finding the spot with the right icon on the screen or taking a second look at what you’re doing. check that the screen is recorded correctly.
On a phone or tablet, that’s fine. Chances are, you’re doing something that relies on staring at the screen anyway.
When driving, you can’t afford to take your eyes off the road for the few seconds you might need to do something on the touchscreen. Playing with a touchscreen on the center console is really no different than texting your phone.
Touchscreens aren’t all bad
That’s not to say touch screens don’t have a place in cars. As cars get more advanced and drivers expect more, some things are just too hard to do with a button-only system.
Navigation is a good example. Anyone who has ever tried typing with a TV remote can confirm that typing on a touchscreen is much more efficient and convenient.
Likewise, as cars become more and more advanced, features come with settings menus that wouldn’t look out of place on a smartphone. For example, Tesla has dedicated screens for software and hardware information and offers the ability to change settings for features like regenerative braking and autopilot.
That said, these are all things that would require a minimum of concentration and are not the kind of things you could or should do while driving.
At the end of the line
Equipping cars with touch screens should be a balancing act, ensuring that every part of the car is convenient and easy to use, especially the features you will need to use while driving.
My own Nissan Leaf is a great example of this, even though the center console and steering wheel are both littered with all kinds of different buttons. But these buttons have a purpose, whether it’s controlling audio, answering the phone, turning on cruise control, or even increasing the fan speed because my windshield is fogging up. I only use my car’s touchscreen for navigation as everything else can be handled with a button or a voice command.
I just wish more car manufacturers understood that there are better ways to control your car than by using a touchscreen. Just because Tesla is doing something doesn’t mean everyone should blindly copy it.
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