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Behind the wheel of a Tesla Model 3: It’s a giant iPhone – for better and worse (washingtonpost.com)
29 points by mhb 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 14 comments

I just can't get past the idea of replacing all the instruments and switches with a single giant touchscreen mounted in the center of the dash. This seems like a terrible design to me.

Physical controls don't move around, so you can find them without having to take your eyes off the road, and they respond exactly the same way every time you use them, so you can interact with them without having to do context-switching in your head. On a touchscreen controls can be there or not be there, or respond to input differently from one moment to another, depending on what mode the touchscreen happens to be in (here's Jef Raskin complaining about this very problem, 25 years ago: https://www.wired.com/1993/06/1-6-guis/).

And then Tesla takes that single touchscreen, which is bad enough all by itself, and moves it to the center of the dash, so now you can't even check your speed without looking down and away from the road. Aircraft designers have known for decades that you can improve pilot performance by presenting important information front and center via a heads-up display (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Head-up_display). It's like Tesla took all this research and practical experience and set out to design the opposite of what it cries out for: the world's first heads-down display.

And of course every other car manufacturer will rush to copy this terrible design, because (1) Tesla is cool and (2) people loooooove touchscreens. So the more touchscreens the better, right? Jam those touchscreens in everywhere! Soon you won't be able to flush your toilet without swiping through four levels of user interface (and eventually, three auto-playing video ads jammed between those levels). Sigh.

Having test driven a Model 3, my biggest concern is what the big screen will do to my night vision. It has a night mode, but I've found that even a normal car's small blue high beam indicator significantly shrinks my pupils on a dark road.

> every other car manufacturer will rush to copy this terrible design, because (1)[...] (2)[...]

(3) the cost is a tiny fraction of a conventional dash's.

My wife owns a Model 3 and I had the same thought going in, but after using it for a couple months it isn't a problem at all and actually I prefer it FAR more than my 2018 Audi A4 interface for example. Almost all of what you want to do in the Model 3 is one or two taps away. It is very rare to have to dive down deep into menus (except mirrors!)

I paid attention to how I drove for a while and realized the most common things I do are just these:

1. Look at a map to navigate

2. Adjust the AC/Heat (temp, speed, vents)

3. Adjust the radio (volume, change station, next track)

4. Check speed

#1 & #2. These first two are worse cognitive load in my Audi. The Audi navigation system and map are atrocious and the maps are horribly cluttered. The voice navigation is awful unless you only ever tell it to "navigate home". All of the AC controls are physical buttons but with digital displays that you have to look down at anyway to see what they are set to.

Navigation in the Model 3 is Google Maps. It is clean and the voice navigation is excellent. I can speak a street address to it and it'll get it. The AC is just as much cognitive load as my Audi (high).

#3 Radio: The model 3 has steering wheel controls for volume and next/previous just like other cars. Same cognitive load unless you go to browse for content and then both are high.

#4 Speedometer. I notice I rarely actually check this. Most people drive by feel. When you have to check it is only momentary and it is just slightly off to the right of your eye line. In other cars I often have to move my hands out of the way to see it. Also every dash in modern cars is loaded with garbage I don't care about. I would guess that 98% of people never look at their tachometer and yet it takes half the dash. Why is my speedometer even a dial? I just want the number in big font and easy to see.

> #4 Speedometer. I notice I rarely actually check this. Most people drive by feel.

On what do you base that assertion? It's funny also that modern cars IMHO have far less "feel" than older cars.

And it must be nice to live somewhere with no speed cameras! "It felt like 30" while doing 37 is not a valid excuse round these parts :D

I drive by feel. You have a lot of visual, auditory and mechanical cues as you drive faster. You also have other cars on the road so you know if you’re going faster or slower. If you drive everyday, you also notice other aspects of the car and when anything is slightly different the driving feels “off”.

I would argue this intuition happens for any activity you do regularly after several years. Like accidentally putting your fingers on the wrong keys in the home row.

It’s also different per car, so I rely on the speedometer more when renting. Older cars definitely feel faster than newer cars, and I think that is mostly due to weight and improved shock absorption. These things throw off your cues.

I asked a bunch of people and they all agreed. I didn't run a study or anything :) But when ~20 people all agree it does say something. I'm not saying doing it is right, just saying it is at least somewhat common.

I don't seem to have the ability to judge speed to within ~5% required to not break the speed limit and not frustrate other drivers.

Hence, I need to use the speedometer frequently.

My first car was an early 90s Honda Civic, and all of the controls for the heat and a/c could have their settings detected through your fingertips. I think it's a significant step backwards that you have to look at everything to know what mode it's in in more modern cars. It's the sort of thing that makes me doubt progress in general, like when Apple decided that they were going to make window controls only distinguishable by color in OS X.

On one hand, the connectivity is awesome.

But on the other hand, I haven't kept a phone in my possession for more than 3 or 4 years. And these are wayyy more expensive than phones.

I think there's a real market for "regular" cars powered by electric motors. Just take my truck, rip out the drivetrain and put in electric motors and battery. Same old door handles, same regular window buttons, same regular radio.

I'd drive that thing until the battery catches on fire (er, I mean the wheels fall off).

I have the opposite fear: that we're entering the age of car interfaces that have to be constantly updated. Like my grocery store changing its layout, I don't want to re-learn how do the only 4 things I do with my car's interface: change the A/C, Turn on NPR, set my destination, reject a phone call. If I could teach it to do all of these automatically, I'd turn the display off....

No question it's nice... But I can't seem to keep a mobile phone over a long period of time without it feeling more slow and buggy. I think the updates have everything to do with that.


This guy took an Audi S5 and put a model S powertrain and batteries in it. Even kept the quattro system!

There is a market for electric conversions, but the retrofit cost puts in out of reach for the consumer market.

Unlocking with the smart phone? "Smart" keys are terrible but this is just multiplying the troubles in the name of the coolness factor.

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