[UPDATE] You can now try out the Car UI yourself in Safari on your iPad.
Well, the title says it all: »A New Car UI: How touch screen controls in cars should work«. I am not convinced that car user interfaces should work exactly that way but I have to admit that the user interface of this prototype is intriguing.
I want to specify what I like and what I don’t.
What I like:
- The look
- Whole display interaction – you don’t have to look where you are pointing
- Different types of control employ different ratios of control display gain – for instance, fine grain control for the volume but bigger steps for the choice of the radio station.
What I do not like:
- The visual feedback happens where you do not see it, as your eyes should be looking at the street. Complementing the touch screen with a head up display in the front shield should help a great deal. Touch screens in cars in general are a bad idea, as you have to look at them. Haptic feedback by real-life widgets like buttons or handles is always better than touch displays. If haptic feedback is not possible, a touch pad in combination with the mentioned head up display would be better as looking at the touch pad would not help you at all and thus you would not look at it.
- Using different numbers of fingers to trigger certain actions. As there is no clue why two fingers control the volume while five fingers control the air flow, how should I remember that? To put this into some context, I love using the app Cartunes to listen to music while driving. In Cartunes, there is a similar gestural control like in the car UI shown above: you interact with the whole screen by performing gestures. Tapping pauses/plays music, flicking skips tracks and so on. There are loads of additional multi-finger gestures, for instance, to trigger random playback but in a year of using Cartunes I never used them. (OK, sometimes I use them accidentally…) I just have not managed to remember them. When I opened up Cartunes for the first time, I was shown an initial demo which gestures are supported by the interface. Since then, no further visual cues. So I forgot them. If I needed them, I could try them out. While I am driving. I do not think so. (Graphical) user interfaces in contrast help you to externalize interaction knowledge while gestural interfaces force you to remember everything. Therefore, using a lot of gestures does not necessarily provide a usable interface – rather in the contrary. If you, however, use very few gestures (e.g., only tap and flick) triggering the really crucial actions, gestures help you in making a great interface. You can compare gestures in a touch UI for a car with salt in a soup: too few and it is boring, too much and everything is spoiled.
To conclude, from the visual appearance, the car UI shows where car makers should head. From an interaction point of view, using touch screens with lots of gestures in a car? Well, I am not sure if car makers should make too much use of this combination. But they will. Who will get it right?
The game is on.