Consumers Missing Out with Automaker Driver Focused Touchscreens

Automakers’ obsessive race towards outsized interior driver focused touchscreens are depriving consumers of the best in-car experiences.

That’s the view of automotive software company VNC Automotive which says the industry’s rush to replace conventional controls with touchscreen interfaces is at risk of alienating customers, compromising safety and drawing the ire of regulatory bodies. Since Tesla’s radical move to replace almost all of its vehicle’s cabin switches with a touchscreen, other automaker’s joined in the headlong race towards touch technology.

However, now connectivity the company, with its technology installed in more than 35 million vehicles worldwide, questions whether today’s touch-based interfaces are really the best solution. A recent study by the UK’s Transport Research Laboratory and road safety charity IAM Roadsmart found that drivers took their eyes off the road for as long as 20 seconds when asked to play a track from Spotify using a touchscreen interface, long enough to travel a distance of more than a third of a mile at 70mph. During that time, many drivers struggled to maintain their lane position, while some failed to respond to a simulated emergency event. Overall, reaction times increased by up to 57% when interacting with these devices; driving while over the alcohol limit by comparison only increases reaction times by 12%. Dissatisfaction with the proliferation of these interfaces is growing among drivers, and with the European Commission estimating that driver distraction is a factor in up to 30% of all accidents in Europe, it seems likely legislators will soon feel compelled to step in.

VNC suggests alternatives, such as BMW’s Gesture Control and voice control systems have promise although they remain some way behind the likes of Siri and Google Assistant, the latter often cited by OEMs as a key factor in their adoption of Android Automotive. Tom Blackie, CEO, VNC Automotive, said: “Car manufacturers are locked in a race. Not the kind that demands ever-increasing power outputs or shrinking zero-to-sixty times, however. Instead, the results of this contest are measured in inches.

“Having a giant touchscreen interface is really about saving hardware costs by implementing everything in software. Recently, though, there’s been growing disquiet as years of ergonomic study and usability experience are abandoned in the rush to cram everything onto a single screen.”

He welcomes the move by some automakers separating display screens that are driver focused from those to be used only by passengers. He said this marks a clear new digital democracy allowing delegation to others in the vehicle.

Blackie added: “Shifting the focus to the passengers in the vehicle allows each occupant to enjoy an individual experience. Once you make it easier for people to select their own entertainment, it frees the driver-focused interfaces of the burden of being both a control surface and a point of content consumption. At that point, we can redesign the UI and UX to regain the ease of usability that’s been lost.”

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in Europe. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_

One comment

  1. Avatar Jim 18th April 2022 @ 8:43 pm

    My wife and I hate these screens. Especially the ones that stick up above the dash or stick out from it, ruining the look of the interior.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *