The pros and cons of vehicle touch screens
There is no denying the impact that smartphones and tablets have had on modern vehicles. Look in almost any new car and you’ll find a touch screen and maybe even a bank of capacitive touch buttons that seek to approximate the function of mechanical buttons. The appeal is obvious: a cabin with these design elements can look sleek and modern. But there are drawbacks that are not always considered.
Those who haven’t been in a new car lately may not know what to look for when evaluating technology. With this in mind, the experts at Edmunds have listed some pros and cons of automotive touchscreen interfaces to help you determine if this technology is of interest or a deal breaker.
PRO: FEWER BUTTONS EQUALS BIGGER SCREENS
Most people prefer a large screen to a smaller one, so when car manufacturers remove the buttons from the car, it gives them more room to expand the screen. And just as our TVs and smartphones have ballooned in size over the years, so have vehicle screens. For example, Lexus introduced its small SUV, the NX, in 2015. That model had a 7-inch central screen. Less than a decade later, the 2022 Lexus NX is available with an optional 14-inch touchscreen. The screens of some models are even larger. The Ford Mustang Mach-E has a 15.5-inch center touchscreen, and the all-electric Mercedes-Benz EQS offers a full dashboard that’s one big hyperscreen. Larger screens are more readable, provide larger touch targets to interact with, and make it easier to view a map.
CON: INCREASED LIKELIHOOD OF DISTRACTION
With touch screens, drivers must take their eyes off the road to perform most tasks. A simple task, like listening to a song on Spotify, caused drivers to take their eyes off the road for an average of 20 seconds, according to a 2020 study by IAM RoadSmart, an independent UK road safety nonprofit. United. For perspective, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration guidelines recommend that “devices be designed so that the driver can complete tasks while driving with their eyes off the road for 2 seconds or less.” The study also found that the impact on reaction time of using touch control, rather than voice control, was worse than texting while driving.
Drive any car long enough and you’ll know where things are just by touching them. Think of a physical volume dial, for example. You can locate and turn it without taking your eyes off the road. But that rarely works with a touch screen because you can’t feel a virtual button.
PRO: MORE FEATURES CAN BE ADDED TO THE VEHICLE
These days, a new car screen is expected to do double or triple duty. It should not only run the automaker’s software, but also display the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration systems. Imagine the number of buttons it would take to run all three systems.
From the automaker’s perspective, a touchscreen interface saves designers from having to figure out where to add more buttons and gives the interior a cleaner look. A great example is the Tesla Model S. Almost all of the vehicle’s functions are located on the central touch screen. Even features you wouldn’t expect, like the shifter, wipers and lights, are on the touchscreen.
The Kia EV6 is another notable example. It has a row of capacitive touch buttons that are used for the climate controls, but they can switch entirely to stereo controls with the push of a specific button. The problem is that if you want to adjust your temperature and it’s on the wrong setting, you’ll end up turning up the volume.
WITH: CENTRAL POINT OF FAILURE
It’s great to have more features in a modern vehicle, but the problem with having them all in one place is that if the screen goes blank, you don’t have access to any of those features. This has happened to Edmunds editors numerous times, as new car software is sometimes not fully integrated.
PRO: MORE CUSTOMIZABLE
Since the virtual buttons on a vehicle are not physically locked in one place, it opens the doors for customization. On the Tesla Model 3, for example, drivers can rearrange the location of the main on-screen buttons to match their preferences. Similarly, in the 2022 Lucid Air, drivers can create profiles containing their steering wheel, seat and stereo presets that can be instantly stored and recalled should another member of the household have different preferences.
EDMUNDS SAYS: Everyone has a different preference for how they interact with a vehicle’s technology. Experience automotive technology when you’re in the showroom, and if you’re not a fan of touchscreen interfaces, consider brands like BMW, Genesis, Mercedes-Benz, or Mazda, as they all have control knob interfaces.