Limiting Screentime

Good news for a change. Honda is switching back to rotary dials, Autocar reports.

2020 Honda Jazz, with added rotaries. (c) Autocar

It has been something of a Driven to Write hobbyhorse to not merely bemoan, but berate carmakers about the dereliction of responsibility they have for the people who variously operate their products. I speak of the wholesale refutation of years of ergonomic and haptic research into the user-functionality within vehicle cabins by the adoption of touch-screen interfaces.

There is little doubt (and even less evidence to the contrary) that the widespread and still-growing use of touchscreens is occurring primarily due to matters of fashion and cost – it now being both cheaper and easier to embed functionality within a touchscreen menu than engineer and build the tactile infrastructure we once relied upon.

In a similar vein to the party line uttered by the industry when the subject of crossovers and SUVs are mentioned, spokespeople from the automotive OEMs simply read as one from a prepared script: we are only responding to what our customers tell us they want. But of course you are.

Everybody likes to feel they are keeping up to date. There is little doubt that for a lot of motorists, the modern hi-tech interfaces are something they like in principle, or at least while its being demonstrated to them in the static environment of the vehicle showroom. But on the daily commute, in moving traffic, the necessity to take one’s eyes off the road, even momentarily, could take them straight to the scene of the accident.

This is even more of a potential issue for elderly motorists, whose reactions may be slightly slower than the younger, more tech-savvy folk these cars’ creators are (we’re forever told) aiming them at – despite the fact that it is they who are probably paying more attention to the road. Because frankly, if these interfaces don’t work for one customer group, they don’t work for anyone.

Middle-aged and luddite I might be, but I have had reason to curse the lack of intuitiveness, not to mention the time lag involved in carrying out what were once simple functions amid modern vehicles. Indeed, such is my dislike of this technology, that having been fortunate enough (at least when such things were still possible) to have had the choice of driving either a 2019-vintage techno-marvel or a 2006 (more or less) analogue creation, I routinely chose the latter.

Why? Because (a) I prefer to drive what at least feels like a mechanical device and (b), I can operate all of its functions on the move, without needing to take my eyes off the road or stop at the hard shoulder to scroll frustratedly through byzantine sub-menus to achieve what ought to take mere seconds to achieve.

Which brings me to a piece in Autocar this week, suggesting that Honda is backtracking on the use of touchscreens for heating and climate control in their recently announced 2020-model Jazz. While the previous-generation model had embedded these functions within that car’s media interface, the latest version has a nice set of rotary dials, just as, one imagines, the good Lord intended.

Project leader for the Jazz programme, Takeki Tanaka explained the rationale to Autocar’s Rachel Burgess. “The reason is quite simple – we wanted to minimise driver disruption for operation, as we received customer feedback that it was difficult to operate intuitively. You had to look at the screen to change the heater seating, therefore, we changed it so one can operate it without looking, giving more confidence while driving.

I would point out that were this to be future policy at Honda, it would be something to applaud them for. However, while this was not made clear, it does appear that other Honda models also feature a similar layout – even the new technology-laden all electric Honda E has a pair of rotaries for climate purposes. Honda isn’t entirely alone in this matter either – JLR too have re-adopted a similar layout throughout their more recently updated ranges.

It wasn’t lost on me however that Ms. Burgess couldn’t seem to supress a faint sneer from forming at the likely age group which are said to form the majority of the Jazz’s customer base. Because, while older generations are widely perceived as being less receptive to technology (a sweeping generalisation if ever there was one), she’s nevertheless displaying rather poor manners towards a sizeable subset of her audience.

While it’s probably difficult to obtain accurate data on the amount of accidents which are related to distracted driving, what we can be certain of is not only are they likely to be responsible for an increasing number, but that they are unlikely to be weighted predominantly towards one age group in particular. A distracted driver’s age after all is irrelevant.

Burgess states that in the fullness of time voice-operated controls are likely to put this matter to rest, but I remain unconvinced. I cannot be the only sentient being who really doesn’t wish to have to address the vehicle in which I’m nominally driving in a similar one-way discourse one tends to have with a disobedient puppy – with equally unsatisfactory results – simply to adjust the volume on Cheezy FM. (Other radio stations are available).

Some things simply don’t require reinvention. The motor industry increasingly needs to be reminded of a few universal truths (as I suspect they’re about to find out) – one of which being that they have a duty to the safety of their customers – a matter upon which (like so many things) the mainstream auto press remain mute.

We all need less screen time.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

45 thoughts on “Limiting Screentime”

  1. Agree you can’t beat rotary dials for basics such as HVAC controls, but I spent at least 5 minutes trying to work out if the IP controls are off set towards the passenger or if the centre console is offset towards the driver. Or is the photographer simply not sat centrally? Still can’t work it out!

    1. Good morning Robin. Here’s a photo of a LHD Jazz that shows that the “central” controls are, as you said, offset towards the passenger:

      That would annoy me visually, but probably doesn’t make a great deal of difference to their useability of the physical controls. The screen is, of course, even further away from the driver’s normal line of sight.

      Credit to Honda for refuting the lie that we’re all demanding touch screens, however. Eóin’s well argued piece is irrefutable, whatever the age of the driver.

    2. In fact, it all looks weirdly uncentered and unaligned in these photos. The question is, will you ever notice if you don’t sit in the rear central seat? As a driver, I guess it’s more important to have the dials in good reach of your hands than having everything optically aligned. Maybe it would all have been too close to the steering wheel if it had been centered. It’s not such a wide car in the end.

  2. That’s well said and argued. Shame it looks like they are sticking with a digital speedometer which is much harder to assimilate at a glance vs an analogue dial and pointer. Especially if the bifocals aren’t working!

    1. I don’t mind the digital speedo too much. In fact, I’ve gotten very used to my digital head up display and have started to find most dials rather annoying, especially if they’re not well made. They all have to go up to 250 km/h or more, resulting in the relevant are being very squeezed. The digits in the Jazz might be a bit small and too low set for my liking, however.

  3. I absolutely agree with this well written article.
    I hate touchscreens, not just in a car but in general but this nonsense is creeping in everywhere.
    Even the washing mashine we bought two years ago makes you tap through a dozen menu steps for a function that formerly was one rotary dial and a button.
    I cannot understand why VW chose those silly touchscreen elements for their Golf Mk8. Ignoring the fact that they seemingly can’t make this crap properly working and therefore can’t get the cars to the customers it is a shame that the Golf which for decades was a paragon of easy usability had to be changed this way.

    1. When even AMS can’t help but lambast the core aspect of a new VAG product, it must be truly horrendous.

      I already loathe the day I get a Golf VIII rental car.

  4. Remember the opprobrium heaped on poor Austin Rover when the facelifted Marina’s dashboard had the radio angled away from the driver:

    At least they didn’t claim that customers were demanding that feature!

    1. It’s like they copied the ergonomic angled dash from a contemporary BMW, but forgot to adjust it for right-hand drive!

    2. That was, possibly, one of the most stupid pieces of dashboard design ever. There must have been some reasoning for it?

    3. Hi, S.V. You might think so, but you’d be wrong! (As far as I know, anyway.)

      The photo above seems to have provoked an extraordinary reaction from Marco. I hope he’s ok…

    4. The distracting Marina facelift pictured above is the most anti-Bavarian automotive content I’ve seen.

      This works literally as literature disguised in design.

    5. The radio positioning is so ridiculous, you almost miss the positioning of the clock behind the gearlever and almost horizontal…

  5. What a lovely expanse of hard plastic !
    My father had one of those Marinas, a Diesel one. At some time, the differential had to be replaced… guess it couldn’t cope with the torque of the mighty diesel !

    1. 40 bhp (30 kW) at 4,000 rpm and 64 lb⋅ft (87 N/m) of torque at 1,900 rpm!

      Perhaps this is why the Portugal and Malta-only diesel Marina never got the 1.8 litre B series diesel developed for the Sherpa van.

  6. Hi Eoin, thanks a lot for letting me have a nice time, finally a clean and not too science fiction Honda interior. because of the interior i would never have bought the eighth generation honda civic.

    as for the exterior, not only bad maybe the c pillar is a bit heavy but otherwise it looks like a nice car.

  7. I like the new Jazz and Honda’s (and others’) use of the most appropriate technology for the situation is encouraging news.

    I recall that Mazda haven’t included touchscreen capability in some of their new models as they consider such technology to be too hard to use on the move and it’s interesting to see that the U.S. Navy’s turning away from using screens as a solution for everything. I wouldn’t think that Navy personnel could be considered ‘technology averse’ or dotards:

    https://news.usni.org/2019/08/09/navy-reverting-ddgs-back-to-physical-throttles-after-fleet-rejects-touchscreen-controls

    Ultimately, if enough customers moan about screens, manufacturers will respond by reinstating physical controls where doing so makes sense.

    Distraction is a serious problem, of course, and the road safety charity, Brake, attempted some analysis:

    http://www.brake.org.uk/rsw/15-facts-a-resources/facts/1131-distractionfacts

    1. Mazda have always kept rotary HVAC controls and buttons for heated seats, and even when they have touchscreens in the current models the primary interface is an iDrive style knob with all the other essential controls around it. It works brilliantly, a typically rational solution from Mazda.

  8. When the new Skoda Octavia was announced, I thought, “the only bad thing I can say about is the lack of rotary dials for the HVAC and the stereo volume”.

    I’d love to see VAG reverting to rotary dials (which the Superb kept) but I have no hope.

  9. Mentions should also go to whoever at Vauxhall/Opel insisted on rotary dials, instead of adopting the PSA screen-only approach. Auto Express complains about this in most PSA reviews, but it doesn’t seem to deter them

    This wouldn’t be the first time that Honda has been prompted to re-think the Jazz by customer reactions; they reverted to CVT after customers hated the i-Shift automated manual, I believe. (I have also heard that there’s a critical part for i-Shift that is now unobtainable)

  10. If there is a decent climate control behind the scenes then the controls become almost irrelevant apart from one or two well placed override buttons (front screen demist, rear screen demist). For non-climate control then I agree with the three dial solution!

  11. A good start in having rotary dials, but please compare with the Rover P6 (I can’t find a good photo, alas). To the right and left, a rotary control with a central vertical blade; in the centre, a rotary control with an indented triangular projection. I can’t remember what they did (I last drove the car in the ’80s, after all – wipers, lights, interior lights perhaps?), but I can remember how it worked. Any fool can tell left from right (the distance apart from memory being about a hand-span, an entirely natural distance, or maybe just over) and the central one felt entirely different. There was thus NEVER any need to look for the control you needed, day or night (they were I think gently illuminated at night, being green transparent plastic, again the correct colour for human eyes). The only car I have owned to rival it for interior ergonomics was the Citroen CX. The irony is that the iPhone was a success because it revolutionised the interface with a screen, but a screen on which your eyes would be focussed and at short range; car designers have copied this and applied it to a car, where your eyes should focussed somewhere else entirely and at long range. Touchscreens in cars are 100% moronic.

    1. Here’s a sharper image, showing the different switch profiles more clearly:

  12. With a few small modifications, maybe moving the HVAC controls so they’re a bit more centred, and we’re done!

    1. I don’t mind touch screens for setting obscure “set and forget” things, but I really do dislike them for operational controls. Trying to aim a finger in free air to hit the right spot and then look for feedback is too distracting.

      I don’t mind some of the newer electronic dashboards, but physical controls are so much easier to operate when driving.

  13. Contemporary ergonomy science should embrace one simple premise:
    Touchscreens (except small ones, replacing dedicated switches at very distinct locations) should be only allowed to be operable while vehicle is stationary.

    Period.

    Alas, this will never work in practice short-term, as the industry nowadays tends to embrace anything just to go with the flow, even if it is an obviously unsafe feature.

    Honda is just showing a sensible, clever way of working themselves around this conundrum everyone has inadvertently tangled themselves into.

    What intrigued me more, however, is triggered by something in the northern part
    of the opening photo in Eóin invigoratingly written article.

    It seems that the styling/ergonomy crew behind the 2020 Jazz have adopted a rather C3-Picassovian way of electing to beefen up and move “out of sight” the B-pillar,
    and use a thin, strip-like A-pillar. Whilst it’s seductive and convincing on first sight, if it’s anything similar to the C3 Picasso, then it is not actually that functional in real life usage – at least in my (limited) C3P experience: the virtual, ocular windscreen is positioned between the B-pillars, whereas the physical, glass windscreen acts just as an encapsulated space above the dash/bonnet (provided we all agree that in MPVs, the front part of the dash is actually a rear part of an imaginary non-MPV bonnet).

    The only visibility advantage stems from the rather retracted position
    of the (still overly thick in the 2020 Jazz, seemingly…) B-pillars. This solution
    is far from ideal, as in tighter corners (traffic lights) etc. it just exacerbates the problem. While it’s still way better than using A-pillars that grow massively
    wide at the base (eg. Hyundai Getz – an ergonomically perfect car otherwise,
    apart from this appaling visibility flaw), this solution is more of a “relocating
    the problem”, instead of actually solving it.

    Still, I was inspired and slightly surprised by the Honda guys actually borrowing
    a Citroen solution (which is not great, but apparently thus receives credit as perhaps the best-there-is so far).

  14. I also noticed that Picasso-pillar. From the outside it looks much less so, I think they try to disguise it as a standard item.

    When looking at photos, I found different grille treatments. I liked this one very much:

    1. That Jazz is the first Honda in years that doesn’t give me a headache to look at. Hopefully, a sign of calmer designs to come.

    2. Hello Alex & Simon,

      I find the new Jazz / Fit an attractive and interesting design. I think it’s quite ‘clean’ and ‘confident’ looking. I particularly like the front – it looks solid and characterful.

      The two videos below give a static tour and a test drive perspective from a Japanese dealer. Interesting to see the car being driven in its ‘home’ environment – it looks cold! The pictures show the view around the pillar -see what you think.

    3. It is indeed a nice design – miles away from the overwrought creations we have seen in the past years from Honda.
      In the 3/4 front shot however it’s not looking exactly right for my eyes. There are many lines surrounding the front wing in different angles, leaving some sort of “leftover” polygon shape:

      I think the shutline connecting the A-pillar and the headlight is the main culprit. In this picture it looks as if it’s steeper than the pillar, resulting in an odd, somewhat crushed impression of the car’s front.
      Incidentally, we also find a lower DLO line that tries to marry a high bonnet with a deep side glass. How successful is it in this case?

    4. Good morning, Simon. Good observation. I saw the ‘crushed’ effect too, but for a different reason: the panel on which the Honda logo is mounted looks like an extension of the bonnet that has been bent downward by a frontal impact. I also notice a crease pressed in the front wing below the bonnet shut-line that visually carries the A-pillar forward, then fades out. I suppose it’s meant to mirror the bodydide crease through the door handles that also fades out in the front wing.

      So, not perfect then, but we should be grateful for small mercies: a non-headache inducing Honda!

    5. Oh, and I don’t like the intersection of the tail light and rear quarter window. The upstep in the waist line at that point looks wrong and makes the E(?)-pillar look weak.

    6. Daniel: I actually like that bonnet-bend look. It gives the car a friendly and somewhat happy look.
      I have to agree about this pillar / rear light area. It’s not clear if they wanted two intersecting lines (the horizontal lower window line and the oblique one going from the trailing window edge to the front of the light) or rather something like on the newest Opel Astra. As it is now, it doesn’t look like either of them…
      Another feature I don’t particularly like is the straight rear edge of the rear door that crosses the wheelarch pressing. It’s not very obvious and thus not too disturbing, but I’ve seen that on some other cars as well and I’m always puzzled why they are doing this.

    7. Hi Simon. Yes, the Jazz has quite a personable ‘smiley’ face, which is nice.

      That rear door trailing edge shut-line cutting into the rear wheelarch is becoming more common, unfortunately. Here’s the Mk8 Golf, a recent offender, vs its predecessor:

      The Mk7 is better, but neither can touch the Mk4’s mastery of this area:

    8. I was about to post pictures of the Jazz the other day when the shaded area of the BX’s non-existent grille was talked about. Isn’t that the same kid of thing as in the BX ?
      I quite like that feature on the Jazz, it’s one of the first thing that caught my eye when I first saw it.

  15. I was reading that the expected price for this jazz will be from 22k eur, I wonder why I should buy this honda instead of the next Golf 8.

    1. Hello Marco, in the UK, the Honda starts from £18,890 and rises to £23,850. The Golf 8 goes from £23,875 to £29k or more, so not much overlap. I’m a great fan of Volkswagen, but the Golf is too big for my needs, these days.

  16. Anyone noticed how the shy, radius-disguised introduction
    of Hofmeister kinkiness in the Golf 6, has gradually worked its way into a full-fat HK on the current Mk8?

    On the Mk7 it grew proper in shape, but was short in length (proportion) to be properly considered a HK.

    It would be interesting to see what would you make of the impact its adoption has to the traditionally original & superior C-pillar identity of the (once) Bestseller?

    To my eyes it looks like a rather explicit sign of styling insecurity (or was it a case of consciously swapping a healthy dose
    of identity for a strong injection of linear tension?)

    1. Hi Alex,

      Yes it’s true but the first Golf had a kink too so it’s back to basics I guess !

    2. Intriguingly, and I hadn’t really noticed it before, but only the five-door Golf Mk1 had a proper ‘Hofmeister Kink’:

      The three-door had rather more indistinct ‘angular curve’:

  17. NRJ, Daniel,
    it must be a subconscious ill judgement on my behalf, as, whenever I visualize the Mk1, I actually think of the orig. 3dr car.

    The 5dr obviously has it, yet with the roof line & overall shape being so straight/angula, the kink is much less of a ‘stand out’ feature, than it is on the current-gen Golf.

    On the modern-era Golfs, adding a proper HK tends to induce
    a perceived ‘Bayerisch’ effect, so it’s somewhat worrying from the point of view of design purity that became a distinguishing feature of the Golf line.

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