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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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.

“Then they pop up and say ‘Hello, surprise! Give us your money or we will shut you down!' Screw them. Seriously, screw them. You can quote me on that.” -- Newegg Chief Legal Officer Lee Cheng referencing patent trolls

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