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