Print 34 comment(s) - last by Targon.. on Jan 10 at 8:54 PM

Ford MyTouch climate control screen
All your touch screens are belong to us?

With CES now in full swing, many automakers are loading us up with press releases on their latest tech wares destined for vehicles. We've already told you about Ford's 3 millionth SYNC installation and Tesla Motors is aiming for the fences with a 17" touch screen in its upcoming Model S electric sedan.

However, Consumer Reports is bringing a "cold shower" to the touch screen/touch sensitive button era that seems to be upon us. The publication, which tests vehicles based on a number of different categories, failed to recommend the Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX crossovers despite the fact that the vehicles feature new styling inside and out, improved ride/handling, better performance, and improved fuel economy.

Instead, Consumer Reports dumped on the two vehicles because of the "overcomplicated MyFord Touch driver-interface system". While the vast array of touch screen controls may appeal to the gadget generation, Consumer Reports isn't having any of it. The publication says that the MyFord Touch system is a distraction while driving, adding:

Those screens are controlled by two steering-wheel-mounted five-way switches not unlike those found on a television remote or cell phone 

If that sounds confusing, it gets worse: The system also recognizes and responds to voice commands. It all adds up to three or four ways to make what should be simple adjustments. None of the options works as well or is as easy to use as old-fashioned knobs and switches, and they can be more time-consuming and distracting to operate. First-time users might find it impossible to comprehend. 

Consumer Reports ends their analysis of MyFord Touch by stating:

We hope Ford returns to using tactile buttons and knobs again. Improving the touch-screen interface would also help.

Ever since the launch of the iPhone, it seems as though the most popular portable devices have moved to a touch-sensitive screens even when they seem like a step back in usability (see iPod nano 6G). Everything from smartphones, to remote controls, to iPads, to all-in-one PCs now use touch screens -- it was only a matter of time before these systems would be integrated into mainstream vehicles to take over a number of secondary controls (and not just GPS/audio systems).

Ford isn't alone, however, when it comes to high-tech user interfaces in vehicles. The aforementioned Tesla Model S will likely have issues of its own when it comes to providing useful tactile feedback to drivers and the Chevrolet Volt does away with many traditional buttons and knobs in favor of touch sensitive controls.

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hate to say it
By MindParadox on 1/4/2011 2:06:42 PM , Rating: 2
but i have to agree, touch sensitive screens require WAY more attention than old school analog buttons, especially on an MFD like youd end up invariably seeing in a car

hell, the incar bluetooth in my car takes like 4 times as long to call someone using it as opposed to simply pickin up my phone and usin the controls on it

RE: hate to say it
By mcnabney on 1/4/2011 2:20:12 PM , Rating: 5
What system are you using?

I hit one button on the steering wheel, say the name, then the type (office, mobile, home) and it dials. Five whole seconds and the hands never leave the wheel.

RE: hate to say it
By Souka on 1/4/2011 6:59:25 PM , Rating: 2
With my 5yr old car I just hit a button on the steering wheel and I say something like "call home" or "call work"

It'll repeat the command back to me, "call work" and I say "yes" to dial, "no" to cancel.

Soo complicated.... ;) Maybe I need a 17" touchscreen to make this easier while I drive... NOT!

RE: hate to say it
By mindless1 on 1/8/2011 12:23:24 AM , Rating: 2
You are both missing the point... anything is easy once you learn how, but some things should not require thought that takes away from attention to driving and IMO, cell phone calls are an exception because people should quit making cell phone calls while driving. No matter how great a driver they are, inevitably they aren't as good as they'd be if not on the cell.

RE: hate to say it
By Targon on 1/10/2011 8:44:26 PM , Rating: 2
And you miss the point that voice commands are a better way to control things, rather than reaching over to hit a button or switch. The touch screen makes sense, but as with all things, you shouldn't be trying to learn how to use your car while you are driving, and should learn the touch screen controls while parked.

Since the MyFord Touch system is an OPTION in most models that offer it, those who can't handle the idea of learning something new can simply go with a model that does not have that feature. The 2012 Ford Focus has the MyFord Touch system standard ONLY on the top end Titanium model, and optional for the Focus SEL. If you don't want the MyFord Touch then, go with the SEL.

RE: hate to say it
By RamarC on 1/4/2011 2:19:56 PM , Rating: 2
without my bluetooth earpiece, i don't even make calls on my android phone when driving. i have to look at the screen to unlock, and then look at it again to find the phone button or voice icon. answering is a pain too since you have to look at the screen to see who's calling and hit the answer button.

RE: hate to say it
By omnicronx on 1/4/2011 2:40:12 PM , Rating: 3
You are missing the point, (consumer reports seems to be missing the point too).

Complaining about multiple ways to access the same components when each is done in a distinctly different (depending on the situation) way is just ridiculous.

You can use voice controls while driving, which even if it takes longer is safer. Or you can use the buttons on the steering wheel for the most accessed functions.

The touch screen would be the fastest but just like basic buttons would be in a normal vehicle, but the entire point of the system is you are not suppose to use these touch controls while driving.

I can see the point consumer reports was trying to make if there were multiple points of entry for the same thing within the touch panel (which seems to be something MS likes to do with Windows) but that is not the case here.

Consumer reports is hardly a good representation of actual users either. I've heard nothing but good things from those using Sync or Mytouch systems.

RE: hate to say it
By omnicronx on 1/4/2011 2:46:23 PM , Rating: 2
Also look at the interior of say the upcomming Ford Focus

Not all of the traditional buttons are touch sensitive either.(look below the 8" touch screen)

Also look at how many physical buttons there are on the wheel itself.

RE: hate to say it
By Solandri on 1/4/2011 3:30:38 PM , Rating: 4
Complaining about multiple ways to access the same components when each is done in a distinctly different (depending on the situation) way is just ridiculous.

If you read the linked Consumer Reports article, they aren't complaining about having multiple ways to do the same thing. They're complaining that none of the options as implemented works as well as a simple knob and dial:

The center screen’s cluttered pages, tiny buttons, and small fonts make choosing the right spot to touch difficult. The screen can be slow to respond.

Touch-sensitive buttons are designed to respond to a finger tap or swipe across their surface. They look high tech but tend either to make bigger adjustments than you want or not respond at all—especially if you’re wearing gloves. Their small size make them difficult to find at a glance.

The steering-wheel-mounted buttons control screens closer to your line of sight, which saves some looking away to the center screen. But there is a learning curve to their layered menus, and they take more time to operate than a dedicated button.

They're on the right track. What we have right now is a bunch of designers going crazy putting touchscreens on everything since they're the latest trend. As a designer/engineer, you have to remember that these things need to be used only when they provide a superior solution. Buttons and switches excel at toggling between binary states (e.g. on/off). Dials excel at fine control along one degree of freedom (e.g. volume). Touchscreens excel when the user must choose among multiple degrees of freedom (e.g. menus, virtual keyboards).

Using the best solution when appropriate will lead to the best user experience. Trying to cram everything into a touchscreen just because you can is the sign of a designer who is trying to follow a trend rather than making the user's experience his top priority.

RE: hate to say it
By marvdmartian on 1/5/2011 8:42:42 AM , Rating: 2
Yep. If I want to turn my radio up or down in volume, or turn the heating/cooling temp up or down, all I have to do is reach over, without taking my eyes off the road, and turn the knob. Didn't take long after buying my car to know where the knobs were located, so I don't have to look any more.

Compare that to a touch screen. Even if you can use steering wheel controls, you're still going to have to look over at the screen from time to time, to ensure you changed things to your liking. That's a distraction, pure and simple.

Sometimes newer isn't necessarily better.

RE: hate to say it
By Smilin on 1/5/2011 1:36:52 PM , Rating: 2
BMW had the same complaints when they first introduced their touchscreen/joystick system. It took like 4 actions just to turn the heater fan down.

It's done right now though. Example:

There is a high/low/off switch for seat heating. One click, done. BUT... if you want finer control than a hardware button can provide then you can navigate the menus and get seat bottom vs lumbar heat adjustments independently...kinda nice if you aren't cold but have a sore back.

Same kinda thing on my old Acura.. The heat controls consisted of up/down (temp), a full/auto switch, and a switch to allow manual control in the back seat. Worked great. 95% of the time you just hit one of the above. If you want full manual control to choose a vent, choose fan speed etc there was a screen to navigate.

I haven't read the full Consumer reports, nor seen the new Fords so I can't offer much of an opinion. I will say though that these systems can be done right, and they can be done wrong and in either case they can always be improved. Ford should listen.

RE: hate to say it
By Drag0nFire on 1/4/2011 2:41:23 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah, I can live without knobs. But touch sensitive buttons really don't add anything for me, particularly in situations where you can't (shouldn't) look to see the button.

The two are not mutually exclusive (it is entirely possible to have both a touch screen and tactile buttons for important tasks).

RE: hate to say it
By Solandri on 1/4/2011 3:37:51 PM , Rating: 2
The two are not mutually exclusive (it is entirely possible to have both a touch screen and tactile buttons for important tasks).

Correct. The way it should be implemented (and the way I believe it's implemented on aircraft) is that a set of dedicated buttons and knobs underneath the touchscreen change their function based on what's displayed on the touchscreen.

e.g. If the touchscreen is displaying the graphic equalizer, the left button controls the bass and the right the treble. If you then switch it to the clock adjustment screen, the left would would change the hours while the right would change the minutes. Making the user press the right spot and move along the correct axis on the touchscreen for these types of one-dimensional adjustments is a step backwards.

RE: hate to say it
By walk2k on 1/4/2011 2:44:02 PM , Rating: 1
IMO any video screen in the front of a car that is visible to the driver should be required to automatically BLANK when the car is in forward motion, say more than 4 MPH.

Too many distractions! Your eyes should be pointed OUT THE FRONT WINDOW when you drive! THAT'S WHERE THINGS COME FROM WHEN YOU DRIVE! Maybe also checking your mirrors every few seconds... Not looking at a damn MP3 video entertainment system!

RE: hate to say it
By Slyne on 1/4/2011 3:21:13 PM , Rating: 2
I disagree... We're not talking about entertainment systems in the car here, but about a new kind of user interface.

Sure, anything new requires getting used to, but it doesn't mean it won't be more efficient afterwards, especially if you can tailor it to your needs, as is likely in the future with fexible sytems like this one. Contrast this to my "harcoded" car's knobs and buttons temperature control system: after 4 years I still make mistakes using it, and my wife has given up on understanding it: she just turns it off when she drives my car.

As for attention on the road, some drivers will look ahead with that blank stare, not pay attention, change lanes without using turnlights, and of course without checking their blind spots, and cut you off without even noticing. I can't be the only one thinking that it can't come soon enough that, all those people have to do in a car, is watch the entertainment system.

RE: hate to say it
By walk2k on 1/4/2011 5:19:55 PM , Rating: 3
No, we're talking about superflourous CRAP they cram into cars to try to turn them into mobile living rooms!

Car's "user interface" = the steering wheel and pedals!

That is ALL you should be concerned with while driving a car.

RE: hate to say it
By bodar on 1/4/2011 6:33:35 PM , Rating: 2
Don't know about you, but I hardly ever drive alone. So, my passenger(s) should not be able to change the volume or track or anything like that? That's absurdly stupid. Blame the user, not the tools.

RE: hate to say it
By mindless1 on 1/8/2011 12:26:51 AM , Rating: 2
Basically yes, your passenger should be a passenger, not the DJ distracting you, and "user" is driver of a car, not passenger so your point went nowhere.

RE: hate to say it
By cmdrdredd on 1/4/2011 10:07:42 PM , Rating: 2
Car's "user interface" = the steering wheel and pedals! That is ALL you should be concerned with while driving a car.

WRONG!!!!! I use a manual which has a I have another distraction point right? You're retarded

RE: hate to say it
By The Raven on 1/5/2011 2:06:45 PM , Rating: 2
Get with the times man: paddle shifters on the wheel. Again, steering wheel and pedals.

Wow this guy is a retard because he advocates safe driving but overlooks one detail. What does that make you then?

RE: hate to say it
By mindless1 on 1/8/2011 12:29:33 AM , Rating: 2
Factually speaking, yes any additional control you CHOOSE to have but aren't required to is an unnecessary distraction.

Calling someone retarded for /this/?... well good luck in life if that's the social skill level you have.

RE: hate to say it
By Dr of crap on 1/5/2011 8:57:42 AM , Rating: 2
While I can agree with your "blank stare and just blantently changing lanes",
You STILL have trouble with you cars controls that use knobs and switches!!??!!

I agree with the comments posted here about the touchscreen NOT being the best choice to use, and knobs and switches are better controls for in car use, the entertainment system and voice controls might be better served by this Sync system.

You are the kind of people that shouldn't even consider the Sync system, yet will be the ones that get it the most. And then cause accidents because it's "to hard" for you to master!

Maybe a good old Fairlane would suit you better!

RE: hate to say it
By inperfectdarkness on 1/5/2011 12:19:43 AM , Rating: 2
it CAN'T POSSIBLY be as bad as the i-drive mark1. not even remotely possible.

And then add the CYA Legal Idiocy ...
By Xaussie on 1/4/2011 3:26:33 PM , Rating: 3
My 2008 Acura TL has a voice activated navigation system which allows you to press a button on the steering wheel and then give verbal directions without ever taking your eyes off the road ... almost. The first screen is a warning notice about how you shouldn't be pressing buttons and looking at the screen while driving which can ONLY be dismissed by LOOKING AT THE SCREEN and PRESSING A BUTTON. I've nearly run into the car in front of me several times while doing this.

The intellectual giants who came up with this really should be doing something they could be good at, like cleaning toilets or picking up horse manure, instead of creating nonsense like this.

By Solandri on 1/4/2011 3:41:51 PM , Rating: 3
Actually, I suspect that warning was put there by the legal department solely to help absolve them of liability should you get into an accident while using the navigation system. There was zero concern for usability, irony, or hypocrisy.

By thekdub on 1/5/2011 9:51:43 AM , Rating: 2
My Garmin pops up with that same message. I usually press the button and set my destination (if any) on the device before I even put the car in gear and leave my driveway.

yes, these are a bad idea
By chromal on 1/4/2011 4:30:13 PM , Rating: 2
I think the author of this op-ed piece is actually pretty much dead-on right. You should and should be able to adjust your HVAC without taking your eyes off the road. I have been readily able to change blower and temperature settings by touch alone, and definitely don't need my eyes turning to and interpreting a screen. Besides, the damned screen is just something else to go wrong, and you'll be down HVAC controls if it does.

They need to stop building appliances and return to car design considerations. This is almost as bad as making people text message their cars to change the temperature. I don't want to have share the road with these designs.

RE: yes, these are a bad idea
By CList on 1/4/2011 9:31:08 PM , Rating: 2
Actually what they need to do is get rid of *all* of this stuff from cars - for entertainment and navigation purposes.

The simple fact is that there will soon come a time - perhaps *very* soon - when most people will have all the entertainment and communication and navigation needs they could want in a tablet/phone/wallet/wristwatch that they carry with them everywhere. Why should car makers spend r&d dollars on things that have already been developed by software companies? Why would people pay more for a car that does something poorly that the phone/tablet they already own does well? Soon the auto makers will have to accept the fact that the majority of people will need/want to spend their money on smartphone/tablet before they spend it on car upgrades and the car will ultimately just have have a big blank space on the dashboard with a USB cable sticking out of it where we can dock our favorite phones/tablets/apparati etc. ...and THAT will be our interface for navigation, calls, traffic, music, podcasts, etc... the same familiar interface we use at home.

...and all of the controls for the AC, heat, and chair location will be done in hardware - where they should be.


RE: yes, these are a bad idea
By Zoomer on 1/5/2011 11:07:57 AM , Rating: 2
What about config options like rear/left/right sunshade, internal/external illumination after off time, child lock settings, headlamp settings, etc? These set once options don't need dedicated buttons that just clutter up the console.

Only the clueless...
By Beenthere on 1/5/2011 10:29:36 AM , Rating: 2
Only the clueless, irresponsible and braindead would consider more distractions is a car to be a good idea. We know that in their lust for money, car makers, phone companies, etc. will cater to the braindead. We have an epidemic of stupidity and irresponsible behavior in America.

RE: Only the clueless...
By Targon on 1/10/2011 8:54:09 PM , Rating: 2
What do you consider distracting? How about the Prius that has that display showing where the power comes from? Did they mark it down for THAT distraction that did nothing useful for the driver?

The MyFord Touch system isn't really all that complicated to use, but I suspect that the people at Consumer Reports can't handle anything new.

Basic use, you hit one of the corners to pick which controls you want to control, from climate control to audio. Then you get a fairly simple control system for that feature. So, rather than 4 sets of controls all over the place, your controls are in ONE place. Voice controls are there as well so you don't even need to use the touch screen interface.

I don't know about you, but voice commands make a lot more sense, and those are included in any model that has the MyFord Touch system.

My X = Fail
By CList on 1/4/2011 3:18:42 PM , Rating: 1
A seemingly universal truism in UI / technology design is that naming something "My X" is a recipe for failure. IMO it sounds so corny and so redundant that it annoys users before they've even had a chance to try it. Of course it got a bad review; it could be the most brilliant system in the world, but with a name like "My Ford" people will feel a subconscious compulsion to hate on it.

Oh so many years ago when I did my first Windows XP install I saw the "My Documents" folder. I was like; "really?? MY Documents?? how stupid is that? If it's on MY computer, and it doesn't have anyone else's name on it - of course it's MY documents!". Pedant that I am, I proceeded to rename it, then and on the many re-installs of XP I did on many machines throughout the years. Microsoft has now, in Windows 7, realized that it's good business to make an OS that doesn't feel totally ghey, and so they've woken up and changed it to the less redundant, more polished "Documents".

Ford is so 5 years ago... I almost feel embarrassed for them. "My Ford", holy smokes man, who approved that one?


RE: My X = Fail
By cmdrdredd on 1/4/2011 10:10:42 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah, and while consumer reports is quick to hate on this system, it is the very best and most intuitive and easiest to learn and use system of controls ever put inside a car.

Consumer reports hates anything new anyway. They always fail.

By dubyadubya on 1/5/2011 4:37:07 PM , Rating: 2
IMO CR has gone down hill to the point they are laughable. In the old days CR tested all aspects of a product from all angles. In the last 5 or 10 years CR seems to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of products and their complexities. Add to this CR has never had credible opinions on vehicles and their testing methods are questionable at best. They must have 90 year old grandmothers doing their performance testing as CR's results are always worse than other mags reviews. Other car mags test car X 0 to 60 times and come up with 6 seconds. CR tests car X 0 to 60 time and gets 8 seconds, WTF. IMO the only use for CR is their reliability reporting and it must be taken with a grain of salt.

"This is from the It's a science website." -- Rush Limbaugh

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