Sunday, September 18, 2011

Hey automakers, you're driving me crazy. It's time for auto manufacturers to make a dash towards clarity.

When it comes to usability, it seems that automakers are going in reverse. Who will become the Apple of the auto industry? There's opportunity here for somebody.

A few weeks back I rented a Ford Focus, a compact car with an expansive user interface. Ford clearly stuffed a PC into the dashboard, not because it was useful, but because they could. The car had one screen, and then another, and even another. It had irritating glowing lights and buttons and more buttons and menus and sub-menus and sub-sub-menus. You had to dial and press and select and dig and find and figure. At times I was certain a DOS-prompt would pop up. Ford together with partner Microsoft took the simple and obvious and made it confusing and obscure. And this in an environment in which clarity could be a life-or-death situation.

When it comes to stuffing technology into a device, it seems the auto industry is going through the same growing pains that handset vendors went through earlier last decade. Car makers have discovered feature creep as if it were a good thing, and they are driving it hard onto the consumer.

I have to wonder if the auto industry has taken any notice of what has happened in the smartphone market, and how quickly vendors can be leapfrogged when a sleeker UI comes along. It's good to learn from your own mistakes; it's better to learn from the mistakes of others.

For your consideration, please check out this Engadget video (the link opens in a new tab) of a ludicrous concept in-car user interface from Volvo. All knobs and buttons are replaced with screens and menus with the goal of "cleaning up" to create a "nice, clean interior." But clutter comes in many forms. After watching the Volvo video, watch the hilarious "Macbook Wheel" video embedded at the bottom of this post by the Onion. "Everything is just a few hundred clicks away." Was this Volvo's inspiration for their "clean" UI?

Here's some advice for automakers: it's time to Focus on usability. We drivers can take the clutter of big, clearly-marked buttons. And for smartphone vendors, there's some great opportunity here to correct the mistakes being made by Ford, Volvo and their contemporaries. Give them a crash course in usability.

A mad dash toward tech heavy. Does Ford know how to Focus on usability?
The vast, space-aged, mind-boggling interface of a Ford. Blue screens of death?

Volvo's concept UI. It seems like everything is just a few hundred clicks away.
Is Volvo giving customers features they don't even realize they want?
(Click on the PIC below to watch the video. It opens in a new tab.)

Is this "the Onion" video Volvo's inspiration for their hi-tech interior?
"With the Macbook Wheel... everything is just a few hundred clicks away."
" cutsomers features they don't even realize they want..."
Alternative link if the embedded video below doesn't work:,14299/
or see,14299/

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