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Reblogged:In Cars, 'Smart' Often Means 'Cheap and Dumb'

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By coincidence, my wife and I had to go car shopping this weekend on the very day Tech Crunch released a short opinion piece titled "Please Make a Dumb Car."

A major source of Devin Coldeway's complaints about modern automobiles has been a pet peeve of mine for some time: the near-ubiquity of touch screens on dash boards. These touch screens are bad enough during the day, because they replace simple, intuitive knobs and levers that a driver can operate by touch -- with unintuitive menus that require a driver to take his eyes off the road to use them.

At night, they're worse since the road is dark and the screen, however dim its setting, isn't. Not really.

The car my wife picked out -- which is hardly the worst offender by today's "standards" -- has heated seats. But if you're chilly, get ready to pull over (or drive distracted) and play guessing games: They're controlled from a damned touch screen via a toggle buried two layers deep in a menu.

Why not a simple rocker switch?

What is with so many moderns that they can't accept that a problem has been solved well, and move on?

Other even more ridiculous examples abound, because even setting aside the fact that touchscreens don't belong on dash boards, the touchscreens also suck as touchscreens:
AVvXsEgpV-F7qLGylG5t1-TeFh8K644VPzYyVZFmEamenivtUpdR22tdnvNB5AD5S0Ug8g83zuZGXmKVED0ivKViUb4Gsw-3PKcdSlTsWCLUNZ6X0kwtQtk9g9GL-RylNgEyLE5TPfdi5nc3M0hx-ey_2u2eXnsDCydsxYXeNHP7hBcuBCUEMxD31No=s320
Image by Randy Tarampi, via Unsplash, license.
Our Volvo doesn't let you adjust the volume when you're in reverse. That means if you're backing out of the garage and the music is blaring -- you can't turn it off! [I suspect this is because the display for the backing-up camera pops up and covers all the controls, like it does in our new car. --ed]

The Volvo UI pops up an almost full-display warning when it can't connect to the phone over bluetooth on startup. This UI takes priority over the rear camera. So I guess it's better to hit Timmy and his puppy when I'm backing out, so long as I know my phone's not connected!

The Volvo's headlights have "smart" auto-adjustments. That means I can't leave the high beams on, or force it to stay on low beams. It will decide for me! I think maybe I can disable this... somehow. [emphasis in original]
And, as if the cargo-cult ergonomics of dashboard touch screens aren't bad enough, most cars now even make politically-motivated choices on your behalf. Our new car has a setting enabled by default to turn its engine on and off instead of idling thanks to global warming catastrophism. It can be turned off, but until I buy an aftermarket chip to permanently disable this, we will have to do that every ... damned ... time ... we start the car.

The Tech Crunch piece isn't exclusively about this stupidity. It also considers some actual advantages to the latest technology that is being added to our cars, and it does offer an explanation for the prevalence of touch screen controls that goes beyond the faddishness I saw when I first considered the problem: The touch screens save money on parts.

So also: Pragmatism, goaded by the manufacturing costs surely worsened by regulation, explains what's going on from the manufacturers' perspective.

This is a significant -- but not insurmountable -- obstacle to reversing this trend. If enough customers objected to touchscreen controls for everything, and voted with their wallets, the problem would disappear.

But the following precedent does not encourage me on that score:
Cars now are like budget smartphones with wheels: loaded with bloatware, unintuitive and slow to operate.
I suspect that there is a mixture of economic and cultural factors behind the wide acceptance of dumbed-down, personal-agency-free mediocrity when it comes to technology, but I will leave my speculation at that for now.

-- CAV

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