Gasp... pure touch interfaces aren't what consumers want

electruck

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There's been much lamenting over the demise of physical controls in automobiles of late. While I fully appreciate the benefits from an auto mfr's perspective, it really isn't optimal from a UX perspective. The auto industry, which usually lags well behind tech trends in portable electronics, is still shifting toward pure touch based interfaces. Meanwhile, somewhat ironically, the company that mainstreamed touch interfaces and pushed them so hard for so many years is finally realizing they were wrong all along and have been restoring support for other forms of input. Perhaps in another 5-10 years we'll start to see the return of buttons and knobs to the dash board.

https://www.theverge.com/2020/3/19/...-vs-surface-pro-trackpad-mouse-inputs-history

Don't get me wrong, touch input is perfectly fine for some automotive controls... but a few buttons, knobs and switches could go a long way toward a better UX.
 

jimcgov3

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Watch this video if you haven't already. RJ talks about physical buttons and how pointless they could become based on a simple software update. Touch controls are the future and for those that disagree should take their iPhones or Android phones out of their pockets and see physical buttons are gone on those as well with the exception of power and volume control and even then there is a touch control to do both...

At the 12:20 mark is where RJ starts the touch UX part.
 

EyeOnRivian

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Don't get me wrong, touch input is perfectly fine for some automotive controls... but a few buttons, knobs and switches could go a long way toward a better UX.
FWIW there still may be some physical controls on a Rivian as we really don't know yet where Rivian will land with the final version of the steering wheel, or for that matter anywhere else in the vehicle. I would actually prefer to have a few common and multi-purpose, physical controls. E.g. up/down and left/right controls that provide very common and basic functions, e.g. volume control, screen navigation, f/trunk release, etc. No amount of future feature and software upgrades is going to be limited by having these physical controls. And if they don't provide the function(s) needed to support the new feature(s) then it still can be developed into the software as virtual controls via the display.

I don't necessarily subscribe to the example of our smartphones. First, just because we can (or have) doesn't mean we should. Many things get introduced, take off in adoption (mostly because we don't have a choice and are forced to use what's presented) to only get improved/altered later on. Next, space on a smartphone is clearly at premium which makes it very difficult to have many physical controls and be able to support the myriad of features it can perform especially with the aid of third party apps. The physical space in an automobile is clearly more conducive to having physical controls, not to mention the safety aspect of operating a mutli-ton vehicle versus a smartphone (and hopefully not a the same time ;) ). I'm not suggesting it should end up a looking like an airplane cockpit, but some basic and intuitive physical controls can make operating some of the vehicle functions easier, more convenient and in some cases safer.

Overall not a fan of, as they say, having all your eggs in one basket, where all the controls are at the mercy of a working touch screen. It clearly has its benefits but also it has its drawbacks. Clearly an individual's preference and mileage will vary.
 

ajdelange

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I expect much of the lamentation comes from latter day Luddites. Even so I also expect that more open minded people will have some objection at first simply n=because they are used to buttons. There are some things you will always have/want buttons for. I looked around my X and here's what they have as buttons or levers:

2 Scroll wheels on steering wheel each of which has two auxiliary buttons
Horn
Windshield wiper control stalk
Gear shifting stalk
Autopilot control stalk
Steering wheel adjustment stalk
Mirror adjustment controls
Window lock controls
Rear view mirror adjust
Seat adjustment controls
Glove box open
Emergency blinker
Emergency door open handles

Everything else (I probably forgot something) is on the main touchscreen - door open and close, temperature, fan, fresh/recirculate, suspension mode and height, steering responsiveness, tow mode, sentry mode etc. etc. I won't say this is the perfect mix but it is pretty clear why things are done the way they are. On a modern car there are just too many functions to present with buttons. My Lexus has many of this type of function controlled by buttons and it is, relative to the Tesla, a big PITA when it comes to using them. So no, people don't prefer buttons once they have some experience with the touch screens. But there will always be holdouts, of course.
 
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electruck

electruck

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Watch this video if you haven't already. RJ talks about physical buttons and how pointless they could become based on a simple software update. Touch controls are the future and for those that disagree should take their iPhones or Android phones out of their pockets and see physical buttons are gone on those as well with the exception of power and volume control and even then there is a touch control to do both...

At the 12:20 mark is where RJ starts the touch UX part.
Oh yeah, quite familiar with the video and RJ's point of view. Spoke with him at length about the subject in Mill Valley. I call complete and total BS on any notion of "here's a new feature, that knob you used to use is no longer needed." Sure, with a software defined interface you can absolutely add new features that didn't exist at the time of manufacture but controls for the stereo, heater, windows, doors, etc are operating fundamental parts of the car that aren't ever going to get removed after the vehicle has been delivered thus offering physical controls for these features incurs zero compromise of future flexibility. They do however add cost and complexity. It is this cost and complexity as well as the esthetic desire to declutter the dashboard that have driven touch interfaces in automobiles.

Yes, smart phones do without physical controls for the most part. This is a compromise in favor of their diminutive form factors. But even then, they still have physical controls for the most basic and common features - power and volume. And of course there is the huge market for accessory Bluetooth keyboards. When you start moving up to larger portable device, such as tablets, Apple argued fervently for years that touch was all you needed. Well, guess what, Apple has seen the error of their ways and is now backpedaling and admitting that a mouse and keyboard have their place after all. Why, because touch is an ineffective form of input for certain tasks. Moving up in size to desktop computers, touch interfaces are almost non-existent. If touch was such a superior interface, it would be pervasive across all device types and not relegated primarily to the little things carried in your pocket.

My biggest problem with touch interfaces is accessibility (or the lack thereof). I spoke at length with RJ about this and how the pure touch interface means my wife will no longer be able to adjust the radio volume, change stations, control her seat heater, etc, etc on her own - at all. Sure, Apple has demonstrated with great success that touch interfaces can be accessible (and I still thank Steve Jobs for insisting that Apple devices be accessible) but auto manufactures have chosen not to build in accessibility. Just because the visually impaired aren't the primary operators/drivers of the vehicles today (and that will most certainly not be the case if level 5 autonomous driving ever becomes reality) doesn't mean they shouldn't still be able to operate the same features as anyone else sitting in the passenger seat. But according to RJ that ship has sailed for this generation of Rivian. He did indicate they were exploring some haptic feedback for future vehicles (that by itself won't help accessibility or benefit those with diabetic neuropathy) and indicated that Alexa would be able to control most everything. This is actually a great capability but does have its own issues. For example, good luck getting Alexa to answer your request to turn down the volume when you're jamming to some tunes a little too loud. Or over tire noise on rough pavement or cobblestone. Or consider having to interrupt a conversation with others in the vehicle because you need to engage in another conversation with Alexa to control something that should have been operable by physical control. But no, to use Alexa you must first ask your passengers to shut-up so that you can give your vehicle some verbal commands. That's gonna work great for people with a truck load of kids. And obviously, Alexa is of limited use to the hearing impaired.

I'm not fundamentally opposed to touch screens, as I've stated, they're great for certain things. My current Volvo has a great touch screen setup that I love... but at least it also has physical media and volume controls. These are great as it means my wife has access to these things and allows her to be the Director of Entertainment when we're riding together. Unfortunately, the seat heaters and climate settings can only be controlled by the touch screen and are completely inaccessible to her. Climate controls aren't too big a deal as with auto climate this is largely set and forget. But seat heaters she should be able to control on her own. Even for me, it takes multiple taps through the menu to adjust seat and steering wheel heaters. This was much easier to control in my old Volvo that had dedicated physical controls and my eyes were diverted from the road for far less time than with the touch screen interface.

It's really all about providing the right mix of controls but it seems automakers are struggling to find the right balance. Too many buttons can be cluttered and overwhelming. Touch screen only interfaces suffer in part from the problems discussed above. Touch screens can cover the bulk of functionality and allow for future flexibility but it's not the safest way to operate frequently accessed features while driving nor is it remotely accessible as currently implemented. Alexa can also cover most all functionality but it's not effective or appropriate under all circumstances. Things a driver needs to adjust most without taking their eyes off the road deserve physical controls. These are often placed on the steering wheel which is great for the driver. Media and personal zone climate controls should be accessible to all passengers.

To summarize... a few buttons for certain key things would enable safer driving and allow key vehicle features to be accessible to everyone while still allowing for a relatively clutter free dash and the ability to add new software defined capabilities over-the-air.
 

jimcgov3

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***BLUF***

Echo Auto solves all the problems of NOT having physical buttons for those that A) will use it and B) those not afraid of the "privacy" concerns.

Alexa, (insert command) Done.

And for those that don't want to use it, I got nothing.
 

Pherdnut

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I actually don't agree with RJ on that point about physical buttons becoming useless as new features are added. There's no reason you can't have physical UI that can be applied to multiple applications in a generic way. But most of that is already done with steering wheel controls in modern cars.
 
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