This has been known in aviation for decades. It's called the "head-down time" problem. There are Boeing studies at least back to 1979 on this. It's why combat aircraft have heads-up displays. Pilot training is big on minimizing head-down time. There are multiple crash reports where the pilot or pilots were looking at something on the panels too intently and not looking outside enough.
Aviation deals with this in several ways. Combat aircraft have heads-up displays and "hands on throttle and stick" layouts, with all the important buttons on the throttle and stick. The car version of that is putting controls on steering wheel buttons and stalks, and putting the important displays on the rear view mirror or directly in front of the driver.
Aviation also uses "cruise mode" as a dividing line. Below 10,000 feet, commercial aircraft have strict rules on unnecessary chatter and distractions in the cockpit. The crew must be focused on takeoff or landing. Above 10,000 feet, things are more relaxed. One could make a distinction between urban and open road driving for cars, but it's not clear it would help.
Watch "Children of the Magenta". This is an American Airlines chief pilot talking to his pilots.
This is one of me and the SO's major bug bears. All the new cars sold here are touch screen only for everything, including climate control.
The thing is, people keep buying these because they show well in the showroom. Car manufacturers only import certain models in and they'll import what sells. Pretty soon I couldn't buy a non touch screen controlled model if I wanted to. What is the solution?
It's illegal to check your phone while driving because it's a distraction, maybe ban touch screens?
Activate right turn signal, the main screen changes to right side camera feed, to help with the blind spot, very useful.
When activating the left turn signal, there is no left camera or activation on the screen, you need to use traditional driving skills and just look.
Nothing wrong with traditional skills, but I liken this to arbitrarily swapping around cancel/save buttons in UI/UX.
There are still blind spots on the driver side that could be obliterated by a wide angle video feed, but some PM has decided for me, for whatever reason, that I need to use two completely different driving strategies in real time. First world problem I realize.
I'm sure it will also disappear from the Civic when the platform is updated. So, just wait a few years and buy a new Civic without the camera.
Which is too bad for us. Because my wife and I both love the feature on our Accord. It's a lot safer than craning your head back to see if a car is in the passenger side blind spot. When you're 20-something it's a lot easier to turn your head back to look in the blind spot than to do that when you're 60-something.
We have the 2013 Accord and thought seriously of buying one of the remaining 2017 models on dealer lots just to keep this feature. That's how valuable it is to my wife.
AKA Different strokes for different folks.
I do agree with your lament about how the interaction is different between left vs right lane changes. The UI is much different. But I personally had no problem getting used to the feature. Perhaps that's perhaps because I had 40+ years of driving experience with the old method. So, adding a new method was simple. And the key word is "adding". Only one of our cars has the feature so we still need to use the old method on the other cars. Aside: when you're in suburbia and stores and schools are all miles away, you will have multiple cars. Perhaps even a minivan. :)
I have mixed thoughts on driver assist technologies.
A Honda Jazz I drove once has the rear parking assist camera slightly off centre, so you park off centre if you rely on it. I didn't use it ever again.
A Kia Sorento I drove once had blind spot audio sensors on both sides - if you signalled, the car would gently tell you if there was something at or near your blind spot. Great... except you should be checking your blind spot anyway, right? I ended up ignoring it.
On the other hand, proximity sensors seem to me to be very useful for parallel parking in tight spaces. I'd miss it if it were gone.
I'm not sure what the consistent factor in all of these things are.
1) I have a modern car with a screen on the dash between passenger and driver, but it's touch function is disabled when the car is moving. You control it with a dial and buttons that is near the gear stick - and these physical items have edges and size differences so I didn't need to look down even when the car was new to me. For some car manufacturers this is obviously a priority.
2) When I first got a car with cruise control, I marvelled at how much extra time I was able to spend looking at potential hazards and the road ahead when it was enabled. Driving where I am in Australia there are kangaroos to avoid (I'm not joking), particularly at dusk and dawn, and the small moments I used to spend checking my speed are now moments I do not potentially look away at a crucial moment. It isn't just touchscreens that can be engineered to help reduce head-down time.
Seems like unfortunately only a few automakers understand this, like Acura  or BMW  and resist this trend.
The future should be taking example from aviation and building some AR with full windshield HUD or glasses (Google Glass/MS Hololens style). Then to keep control over that I would be fine with real buttons, touch-pad, track-point, or whatever which doesn't need my head-down after short self-training.
But it is not only hardware. I simply want undo feature in infotainment software! It is so irritating when I have ask passenger to take over control when I get lost in menu maze in traffic.
(hifi/stereo, thermostat, desk phone, etc)
Who really wouldn’t rather use a 1970s-80s silver stereo with buttons, compared to a cloud/digital player today?
If clutter is an issue, check the book “Dieter Rams: As little design as possible”
Obviously the overall experience on an iPhone is better than a blackberry, but the sheer speed and “lookahead” actions, where the input speed can exceed the UI state, is on another level.
The same holds true for a console type order entry screen (think old school pizza parlor unix). Of course the features are lacking, but using hotkeys and not waiting on UI, is an entirely different experience in regards to speed.
Preaching to the choir here I realize. More related to the story, I have a 2017 Honda Civic and every time I change the volume, my dev hat activates, thinking just wtf from a safety perspective.
Full disclosure: I’m 35, not too old and cranky yet
I don't know, the iPhone has more modern apps but for typing I've not found any touch screen phone which comes close to a BlackBerry 9900 keyboard, that was perfection to me. The newer models, such as the Priv and KeyOne, are not as nice to type on as the 9900 but still far superior to others.
That's why I still keep my '95 Rover Coupe:
Minimal interface with just 2 dials for vents and heating and 2 rockers for volume and fan speed, which are impossible to miss. Everything is tilted towards the driver so there's no reason to ever take your eyes off the road.
Everything else just gets out of the way.
I drive it daily without choosing between 8 suspension settings, 5 sport modes, the perfect climate control temperature, heated seats, driver position profiles, voice commands, cruise control, awkward bluetooth pairing or proprietary navigation systems, and I haven't missed any of those things during the last 3 years with the S2000.
Touchscreens are a lazy solution to handle (or hide) the insane arms race of features imposed upon the UI designers to compete with the market. More settings in the 2019 model? Just add another tab! The Tesla Model 3 is a prime example - a super minimal car in every respect, until you use the touchscreen.
There's zero consideration whether stripping features out would actually make a better car overall, so I can only see the trend continuing.
How is this obvious? My impression is that this only applies to casual users, i.e. Apple designs UIs mainly for lowly skilled users whereas others focus more on mid-range or power users.
Now I'll ask this as a long time fan of BB (in the past) and a person who's been using keyboard BB models daily with no interruption since the 6230 (circa 2003) up to this day: have you tried internet browsing on those things lately? It's better than nothing, I'll give you that, but just marginally. And that's not the only thing they don't do well. Even the age-old argument that physical keyboards are better/faster/whatever was destroyed a long time ago. Even after years of using the BB to the point I thought I'd get RSI I managed to be substantially more proficient with a virtual keyboard in no time. I can't imagine a scenario that's not the weirdest corner case where the BB does better.
Probably the only thing they might do better is typing while driving. Something that is more likely to classify a person as a power-loser. And that's because as this article says, touchscreens and controlling multi-ton vehicles don't mix well.
I think the argument of "professionals use Blackberry, amateurs use Apple" expired a looong time ago. Right around the time everybody gave up their Blackberry (including Blackberry) for an iOS or Android device. People should stop pushing that and try to find something else to make them feel important, smart, whatever.
Doing things the cumbersome way doesn't make you a power user. Doing them fast and well does.
But phones these days are primarily used for consumption and non-textual content creation.
But considering the total usage scenarios of a modern day smartphone such a narrow advantage tends to pale. To the point where claiming that a modern touch UI (iOS/Android) is for "lowly skilled users" can only be gratuitously insulting a vast majority of people, or simply an attempt to artificially elevating your own image.
While personal preference is up to each of us, issuing such blanket statements based on those preferences will invariably be wrong. If you need a Blackberry to tell people you're a "power user" then you are not a power user.
We need to stop thinking about touchscreens as futuristic. They're a one-size-fits-all, budget option.
The true "luxury experience" would be a custom, tactile control panel, designed not just around how it appears in design renderings, but also around how it feels to actually use.
So many glorious buttons with unique raised labels. But just about everything you actually need to manipulate is controlled by the four large knobs. If you need to change the clock or mess with the equalizer, that is modal, but I have to pull out and read the manual to remember how that works anyway...
My friend has a newer Edge and it's all touchscreen. You need a copilot to adjust the AC.
Whats even more fun is that they then went and realized that touchscreens while driving is dangerous, so now you can't change settings even with a copilot, unless you're at a complete stop.
It seems like clever combinations would be useful. Hands, feet, even arms and legs. Everything appropriately seems like what could design could look like.
The worry in my mind is whether good interfaces are the future. Perhaps the future is "good enough" interfaces. Once basic usability is achieved, the software developers simply have other agendas and no particular reason to further empower their users. Instead fluff, branding, corporate egos or whatever will prevail - look at the evolution of PC interfaces as an example.
So as long as the horrible Prius touch screens don't cause actually large numbers of crashes, they'll stay around in all their annoying "glory".
It seems like the lesson of Steve Jones career and the old Henry Ford saying ("If I'd asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse") is that UI advancement needs a lot of leadership.
Hold your steering Wheel with your legs so that you can change your radio station?
A car is largely a single purpose device. You always have the same few set of things you want to do in the car. Climate, Radio, Maps, etc. A touchscreen is a boneheaded interface for this device.
Imagine if your on-off lightswitches were touchscreens. If your stovetop interface was a touchscreen. If your refrigerator ice dispenser was a touchscreen (I've seen this). Completely moronic, every single one of them.
Mine have capacitive (or IR ?) buttons (similar to ). Easier to clean, inconvenient to use. I miss the knobs in my old place.
Of course, The pizza setting is two pushes away: first “my programs”, then “Single pizza slice”, and it remembers to run hot air all the time and then the grill for the last minute.
(Entirely unrelated: Does anybody know how to check the software version on these ovens?)
On my dodge, if I want AC, I just roll down the window. It never goes on the fritz.
Unsubstantiated claim of the year. "Everything there was to be discovered is already discovered".
Being forced to use foreign language to talk to my car system and playing accents until the system finally gets it, means I don't bother using it at all.
As for touch screens, having had a near miss with, I also avoid using them as much a possible.
I need tactile feedback.
I think it is an elegant solution (only allow ONE thing to be controlled by the touch screen at a time), however will require a lot of learning and remembering to get used to all the different gestures.
 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XVbuk3jizGM
From the article:
"even when our participants weren’t performing tasks associated with the touchscreen, their eyes were still drawn away from the road and towards the screen"
So even with a good UI a screen is still distracting drivers.
The problem with smartphones is that you never know whether a new push notification will appear or not - a message, an interesting news article, a hot deal - so the screen is always loaded with the possibility of bringing something new and interesting. That’s why I switched off email notifications. Messages are not happening so often for me that I check all the time.
A car‘s dashboard should IMO never show push notifications.
I know initially people's eyes will be drawn to the screen to check whether they are manipulating the right parameter etc., but over time, I would expect that the hand will just drop to the screen, (multi) touch and move without eyes having to leave the road.
For an extremely simply example, take the headlight control in my car . Thanks to the tactile click, I can feel that the control has responded to my input. Not only that, but it is near impossible to fumble and accidentally set it incorrectly. When people talk about touchscreens in their car, I like to tell them to imagine this switch was a completely smooth disc, could spin 360 degrees, and gives no resistance when turned. Now, try setting it to one of the 3 settings without looking at it.
 - http://images.gtcarlot.com/pictures/56272534.jpg
For the driver of a car, I guess the perfect presentation is: Small amounts of important information should be shown in a head-up display. All the rest in a display behind the wheel. The controls should be on the wheel.
Then some stuff should be redundant (hvac, media, navigation to enter destinations) in the center console mostly for the passenger. The display should be high, the controls low. There is a single good use for a touch screen: point on the map to select a destination.
Even with the simplified Carplay interface I find my eye straying from the road too often, frankly. I do find the voice controls useful, though.
Also muscle memory. When using an LCD one has to look at it whereas with buttons it takes a bit of learning at the beginning and after a short time then fingers go right on the spot without even looking or sometimes touching..
LCDs have multiple states so the location is not fixed. Muscle memory is not working very well in this case
Hope we can learn something from the past and innovate more.
As an anecdote, about 10 years a go I was interested into digital instruments (VSTs and such). After a few years I switched to real gear out of curiosity and was amazed at how much easier the UI/UX was and how well some things were thought out. I wanted to do something and my fingers would jump on the right buttons without even thinking. I surprised myself with this. This is very critical in some situations. Creativity can be hampered by something that steals your attention, even a few glimpses start adding up.. Same thing goes with safety.
I rented a new Mustang last month and the UI was almost all touchscreen, even for climate control. After a week with that car, I decided I don't want a new car, at least until they can figure out how to give me some of that tactile control back again.
The insights on voice control are good. It seems like a winner but in practice I never like it.
Why is the experiment testing any kind of interfering with unfamiliar controls while the vehicle is in motion?
The flaw isn't the UX, it's the tasks being performed and when they're being performed.
With a bit of practice, you could have the phone in your pocket, and send/receive without bothering anyone or taking your eyes off your task.
"Why digital maps in cars don't work"
"Why backup cameras in cars don't work"
"Why carphones in cars don't work"
"Why CD players in cars don't work"
"Why climate controls in cars don't work"
"Why cup holders in cars don't work"
"Why electric windows in cars don't work"
"Why cigarette lighters in cars don't work"
I think the Tesla big screen is the future and any talk of adding in gazillions of allegedly tactile buttons is defeatist.
Maybe it would be better if new drivers had VW Bus mode, i.e. no distractions, not even a map.
Then the features could be unlocked over time. Or the car could make you pull over to access the full menu system. If you are barrelling down the road at 70 miles per hour then you shouldn't be able to touch anything or be shown anything superfluous.
If you then pull over into the service station then the display should then kick into life, show more than the basics and become interactive.
Such a system could be adaptive, based on conditions different gadgetry could be shown. This would be a different design ethos to 'infotainment' and would require regulation or insurance premium fixes to make it a thing.
Interfaces are interesting to you because you want to design them the people driving to work could basically give two shits. The interface to the cars ui is the least interesting thing they could possibly imagine about their new car and if they notice it you probably screwed it up.
People like uninteresting interfaces that work like stuff they are already used to that are easy to operate preferably while cruising down the interstate at 70 miles per hour.
The last thing people could possibly want is an interface that silently changes state based on what the car thinks is going on because they will almost certainly just think its broken when it doesn't work as expected.
This also means that people will find that passengers can't use for example navigation while the car is moving because the car thinks is protecting the user from themselves. They will respond by grasping their phone in one hand while holding the wheel in the other so they can navigate or slightly better getting a little mount for their phone which will always be relatively new tech while their car quickly gets more obsolete long before the car outlives its usefulness.
The most amazing choice of words in the entire post is where you describe putting actual buttons as defeatist as if foisting crappy ui were a mission rather than an affliction.
Also, you're not qualified to offer an opinion on a touch screen in a car because you haven't tried one long term ;)
I do agree that tactile and predictable locations for the most commonly used functions improve the ability of the driver to focus on the road while operating them.
However, I doubt there are many customers willing to go back to the 12 disc CD changer days where you're randomly selecting discs to get the song you want, or manually scanning blindly until you hit a radio station with reception and the music you like.
We have streaming services and playlists now, and there is an expectation that those are available to you on the road.
We also no longer simply have a dial going from cold too hot for climate. We have basics like direction (feet, center, windscreen), circulating or external air, AC on or off, and then couple that with multi zone, and you end up in the same mess.
If we get rid of the screen but keep the functionality, we end up with an airliner cockpit. If you want to operate that blindly, I think that's more time than any customer would be willing to invest in learning, and we're in deeper trouble than where we started ("where is the damn rear right seat warmer adjustment!").
I do agree that the current state of controls are suboptimal though, but that's exactly the point. We should focus our efforts on optimizing that. For instance modal controls displaying selected mode in HUD, either in the instrument panel or on the windscreen.
I drive a comparatively simple Peugeot 308, which had a horrible touch screen, but not too much functionality. I agree that I check out more often than I should, but that's mainly when I want to know what song is playing on the radio. It took two years to discover a steering wheel shortcut to pick from a 30-station preset list of dab channels.
I doubt any level of modal tactile control would allow me to intuitively change the audio fader settings between "driver" and "all passengers", but then again, that's something I've learned to do while generally focusing on the road as it's a predictable series of touch screen presses. I'm sure it's not great to do that in terms of overall attentiveness regardless how focused I think I am, but given that the alternative is not having the option.. I'll take my chances. And so, I think, will other consumers.
Whatever can be done to improve the UX and reduce risk should be done however, and it should be a higher priority than style.
A '68 VW bus won't go faster than 65 (unless you drive it off a cliff).
Source: drove one across the US a couple times.