Remember when most cars worked pretty much the same, control-wise? Through the 70s, 80s, and 90s, you could plop yourself into virtually anything with four wheels (“normal” cars, at least) and instantly figure it out. If it was an automatic, the PRNDL selector was loud and proud on the center console or a sturdy steel arm reaching out from the steering column. Headlights, climate controls, radio tuning and volume … basically all the same. American car, maybe you pull a knob for the headlights. And the high beam switch might be on the floor (I’m a fan of that one, actually). But once you know, you know, and it’s not hard. Nor something you forget. Or have trouble instructing someone else how to do.
Today’s cars, not so much. Most recently, I was confounded by, of all things, a 2014 Honda Accord. Connecting my phone via Bluetooth was a three-step, two-screen process. WHY. But still, not too bad. Not remotely as bad as, say, the original BMW iDrive.
BMW presented fourth-gen 7-series drivers with a big ol’ knob, so obviously the idea was to turn it. But wait! You could also slide it side to side and fore-aft, like a very short joystick. And push it down, as a button. Slide through selections, click to choose a menu, rotate to choose within the menu–or was it rotate, then slide? Good thing nothing was labeled. And the UI you were controlling with the thing was, ehhh, not great. Even BMW owners with all the time in the world to get used to it (as opposed to finicky car journos) expressed continued frustration with the OG iDrive.
[Editor’s Note: This topic was brought about by the Jeep Wrangler YJ’s headlight switch placement. It is bad:
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Every experienced Acura’s True Touchpad Interface (TTI)? It looks like a trackpad, but alas, it is not–not if you associate ‘trackpad’ with responsiveness to finger-swiping. TTI didn’t respond to swipes, no matter how much it seemed to invite you to drag your greasy french-fry grabbers across its matte-black surface. No, the TTI had to be precisely tapped. But there was still some swiping yet to be done! A narrow strip of pad next to the not-trackpad is where you could drag your finger–now trembling with rage, presumably–to scroll through whatever you selected with your extremely precise taps on the other pad-thing. Cool.
And if we roll the clock back to the 1960s and earlier, it was very common for cars to have knobs and buttons that weren’t labeled at all (like the DKW/Auto Union above), and gave no indication whatsoever via form or location as to what might happen when pushed, pulled, or twisted. Maybe you’ll activate the choke. Perhaps your passenger will be ejected through the roof. You don’t know. What are you going to do, read the manual? Admit defeat and put Dymo labels on there?
And so, The Autopian asks: What Is The Most Frustrating User-Interface Or Control Placement You’ve Seen In A Car?
Image credits, top shot: Hugo Venter/Wikimedia Commons; luismolinero/stock.adobe.com