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Being a muscle car fan, I have almost always driven older cars; I have never really paid attention to the entertainment systems when sitting in the newer ones, etc.

Recently, I'm driving a new rental in Europe (from Renault) and I have to say that this has to have one of most horrible user interface ever designed.

There is a video of this abomination here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wRV5sW8xzDU

  • buttons that you use all the time have the same sizes as buttons you almost never use.
  • on some screens, there are no indications of what is clickable and what is not
  • the menus show inconsistency in design and, in a few cases, you enter a subsection to have a single choice there. Maybe it was planned for more options?
  • the keyboard has a huge 'options' button where the space bar normally is and the 'space' button where the shift key is normally located. really fun to use
  • the gps search feature is incapable to rival with the iPhone 1.

etc...

the whole thing is powered by what seems like an 8bit CPU, uses a resistive touchscreen which is very unresponsive (yes, I know, that means it can work with gloves, and be horrible with fingers) and, on a good day it can maybe draw 3 frames per second if the map is not too complex.

when you connect an iPhone to the USB port, it starts playing music without asking; nevermind about charging only and there is no option to disable that.

I'm skipping a few of the other great choices. Essentially the design has completely ignored 10-15 years of UI development.

Before writing this question, I was reading an article that was covering cars from different manufacturers and it seems like it is a generalized problem.

So, my question is:

Since it is not conceivable that such a large company would willfully market something so bad to its customers, I was wondering if, in the automotive world, there are some software platforms that fit some, possibly legal, requirements and they have to build their systems on it? For example in Aviation you can't really 'just change code' without spending a lot of money to re-certify it.

I am assuming the unit with the display is totally separated from the car's main computer, so I can't see what the problem would be to have a different system.

What am I missing?

  • Ideally you can just talk to it and it understands – PhillipW Jan 15 at 19:31
  • i'm not sure it is better because at some point you want to see information and navigate it smoothly. Imagine talking to your phone to pinpoint some street on the maps, it would be very tedious – Thomas Jan 15 at 19:40
  • There are bits of the touch screen interface on my car that I never use as they would require too much time of eyes not on the road or having to pull over and stop every time I wanted to fiddle with the thing. – PhillipW Jan 16 at 9:16
  • Yes I think you touch an important point: keeping the users eyes on the road, not a typical design constraint but current systems require more screen times than the phone equivalents – Thomas Jan 16 at 11:29
  • I think I'll ask this as a general question... – PhillipW Jan 16 at 14:17
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Cost and simple lack of culture shift, most likely. I suspect that many car companies have not yet adopted any kind of well-honed, design-centered process for developing this sort of screen-based interface (unlike the decades of experience they have with all of the other interfaces in a car).

There are definitely companies that are working hard in this area, with mixed results. But because the context of use is so new and sensitive - how much should we require or incentivize drivers to work with these things? How can you make sure they are safe and usable while driving? - there is a lot of research to be done still. And it's kind of a built-in paradox: how to create a screen-based UI that somehow does NOT distract the driver?

It would be nice if, once some company created a really usable and appropriate solution for this sort of thing, it could be open-sourced or licensed to all of the others for use, rather than everyone needing to roll their own and "make a splash" with it. Heck, maybe some do that now and either the manufacturers customize the usability out of them, or it's just a sub-par system. There's clearly work to be done here.

I am NOT a fan of these interfaces, but we're going to have to learn to live with them until something better is developed.

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