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🚘 Cars: whatever happend to the good old knob?

Old 07-19-18, 11:31 AM
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🚘 Cars: whatever happend to the good old knob?

Yep, I know this is a cycling website, but like it or not there times when a bike just won't do. Don't think so? Try moving just using your bike.

Anyway, I've been looking at cars lately in preparation for my next business vehicle and notice an alarming trend: touch screens. People all over the web are proclaiming them like they're the next new wheel.

In fact, I can't tell you how much I hate these things. As if them being slow and cumbersome (having to cycle through page to get to the A/C) isn't bad enough, they're finger print magnets.

There's a guy demonstrating how to use the touch screen in an Audi on video proclaiming its the greatest thing since sliced bread, and I had to turn it off the because I couldn't stand seeing all the nasty finger prints and smears all over the display. I almost hurled.

Thanks for reading.


Yes OCD, and what of it?
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Old 07-19-18, 11:36 AM
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I had a few rental cars lately that have big displays instead of groups of controls for Audio and Climate Control. It's a pain in the ass because I have to sit in the car for 10 minutes to figure out how to get stuff going before I drive away. In the past, I could get in a car and just exit the lot, confident that I could press the "on" button for the radio and the scan or presets to find a station. Now I have to figure out the navigation sequences so that I don't spend time on the road staring at the screen.
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Old 07-19-18, 11:46 AM
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Cars have long had bad usability design. Doesn't seem to stop them from selling.

When I was a teenager in the 70s my passion (and all my money) was in car stereos, and I experienced first hand the transition from the classic 2 knob stereo to the systems without knobs or only one multipurpose knob and a bunch of buttons. I was only a teenager but still knew the usability was degraded, and I was perplexed - how could these big companies make such a obvious mistake?

The current touch screens are a cost saving measure - you need a screen to show maps and the backup camera, so you might as well use it to replace physical controls as well.
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Old 07-19-18, 11:50 AM
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You are not OCD in this case... I fully agree with you... the cars of the past had knobs, slider controls and push buttons that you could find and adjust by feel. The new cars of today have "infotainment" screens that require a motorist to take their eyes off the road and glance at a screen to select or verify some aspect. Sure, there are buttons on the steering wheel, or on the between seat console, but even changing radio stations to preset stations requires you to look at a screen to verify the choice. In the old days, it was one of 5 or 6 physical buttons.

Even changing cabin temperature requires a quick glance to ensure up or down and at what temp. In the old days, it was a physical slider... and you could shove it a bit one way or the other without even looking.

Add to this the ubiquitous GPS screen, and again, folks have to take their eyes off the road to see what is next. (My wife's car is a recent model that has all this...) Even with turn by turn instructions, one may still need to know which lane to be in and how to set up for the next turn... not all systems are as good as google maps. We really don't use the GPS in the car because of both language issues (failure to pronounce the road name the local way... which can be quite confusing if they are Spanish or Indian names...) and the fact that it tells you to turn right at the moment you need to turn... Google maps turn by turn is far far better. Even better is what we actually do... I hold my phone, with google maps showing the way, and I look ahead and at traffic, and help to set up the next turn/lane change etc. But of course this doesn't work when she drives by herself.

Now couple all this distraction with narrower side windows, tiny "sport" mirrors and huge rearview mirrors and "A" pillars... and yeah, it is quite easy to see how pedestrians and cyclists are "not seen."
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Old 07-19-18, 12:08 PM
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Same thing has happened in Aeronautics. Now days your instrumentation is a matter of plugging in your computer. All in all you have to admire the beauty of an analog console. So too little knobs, dials, and switches in your car.

Anybody remember the 2D navigation device?
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Old 07-19-18, 12:13 PM
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Originally Posted by zandoval View Post
Anybody remember the 2D navigation device?
I had a 3D navigation device, a sextant. In this area, I do prefer modern electronics.
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Old 07-19-18, 12:40 PM
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I think touchscreen is better.

Have you tried to use a phone or GPS that doesn't have touchscreen? You have to navigate thru merriad of menus using 5/6 buttons. It's a headache and slow.

Touchscreen make that 10x faster.

I would agree buttons feel better. And work better in certain situations like when there's only a simple menu. But nowadays, there's too much info to arrange into simple.

Last edited by mtb_addict; 07-19-18 at 12:58 PM.
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Old 07-19-18, 12:47 PM
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The dying breed that is aftermarket car stereos, they still have buttons. Kenwood still makes inscrutable car stereos, which I kinda admire. I've never liked their ergonomics at all-- I mean, how about 27 buttons the size of half-TicTacs-- but damn they're consistent. Now there's 4x as many features, so it's 6 button presses just to find the fader. My in-laws just bought a used car with a newer Kenwood single-DIN. As impossible to understand as the ones from 20 years ago.

I drive a 2005-- still full of knobs and buttons.
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Old 07-19-18, 01:09 PM
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Originally Posted by mtb_addict View Post
I think touchscreen is better.

Have you tried to use a phone or GPS that doesn't have touchscreen? You have to navigate thru merriad of menus using 5/6 buttons. It's a headache and slow.

Touchscreen make that 10x faster.

I would agree buttons feel better. And work better in certain situations like when there's only a simple menu. But nowadays, there's too much info to arrange into simple.
For GPS features and smart phones... sure, touch screens offer some menu slimming... BUT... that means you have to look at the screen... IE, eyes off the road.

Things like radio and temp control were done quite well with knobs and sliders for decades.

Even with the infotainment screens... and not using the touch interface, but the control knobs and buttons (set up like a three button mouse), you still have to look to the screen to see what commands you have selected.

I see this dichotomy all the time when switching between my old '97 truck to the wife's 2016 car. I simply do not need to look at the controls in the truck to change airflow or temp. I have to look when in the car to make such changes. Neither radio is good... as the Truck contains a radio with about 16 tiny buttons... whereas the car has that infotainment screen... with a lag time, so even selected stations are not audibly verified for several seconds... so again, you are "encouraged" to glance at the screen.

So essentially, the more modern the vehicle, the more distracting they are... taking driver's attention away from the real task at hand.
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Old 07-19-18, 01:11 PM
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Oh, speaking of after market stuff... I often here radio commercials for aftermarket auto DVD players... I shudder at how these might cause distractions.
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Old 07-19-18, 01:21 PM
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Being a Canadian, and being stuck at night in a blizzard I can tell you I loath the idea of touch screens and lcd instrument panels. That bright light coming off your dash can actually make it much harder to see in those conditions.
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Old 07-19-18, 01:27 PM
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Can't you dim it?
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Old 07-19-18, 01:54 PM
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Originally Posted by mtb_addict View Post
Can't you dim it?

Likely you can... you know just rotate the knob used to turn on the headlights... D'oh... oh that's right, that knob is gone.

I finally figured out how to dim the display in the wife's car... first refer to the 450 page manual, then discover that the tiny little stick used to reset the travel odometer is also a rotating dimmer for the display. Oh how clever... to hide such a control in such an obvious manner and not even put a symbol next to it. I fooled them though... I read the damn manual.

I have no idea where your dimmer control might be.

In my old '97 truck, it is a round knob, on the dash, labeled "dimmer." How clever.
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Old 07-19-18, 02:18 PM
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I really miss windows with roller cranks. But those door locks that stuck up on the side were a pain in the arse, and a security problem.
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Old 07-19-18, 02:33 PM
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Technology makes us lazy. I remember driving with manual steering, and never thought it was difficult.
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Old 07-19-18, 02:52 PM
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Originally Posted by mtb_addict View Post
I think touchscreen is better.

Have you tried to use a phone or GPS that doesn't have touchscreen? You have to navigate thru merriad of menus using 5/6 buttons. It's a headache and slow.

Touchscreen make that 10x faster.

I would agree buttons feel better. And work better in certain situations like when there's only a simple menu. But nowadays, there's too much info to arrange into simple.
Huh???

How is it 10X faster to navigate through a bunch of screens to turn on the heat when you should just be able to turn a knob on the dash???
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Old 07-19-18, 02:55 PM
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I passed my drivers test in a car with manual steering, manual brakes and 3 speed manual transmission. It was a 4 door Hornet Sportabout which was their small hatchback wagon, so it was not exactly short.

Try doing a 3 point turn in something like that when you were 5"11" and weighed 128 pounds.
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Old 07-19-18, 02:58 PM
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There is way too much crap on cars today. I saw a feature where you have the ability to access Facebook while in the car. Why in the hell does anyone need to get on Facebook while driving?
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Old 07-19-18, 03:14 PM
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Can I have the old analog stereos with the push buttons that one pushes in, and the button manually moves the dial.

One issue that I have had in the past is driving a couple of different vehicles. Each stereo works more or less the same, but all the buttons or dials are different, so one has to always glance at the stereo to see what is what.

I could imagine with the new cars and touch screens, if one owned a Chevy, Honda, and Toyota... More or less all doing the same thing, but in entirely different ways, and no tactile feedback.

Plus, no "one-touch". For example, on Mom's Toyota, it takes about 3 buttons and menu choices to enable navigation. Why not one button? And muting the voice, is a half a dozen more buttons to hit. Even a phone has one button mute or volume.

And, of course the annoying thing. The car can auto detect a passenger. But, it locks out half the navigation controls when the car is moving no matter whether there is a passenger in the car or not.
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Old 07-19-18, 03:42 PM
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I specifically went looking for the least amount of technology possible in the last car I purchased: manual shifting, manual windows, manual door locks. There is a single disc CD player, and cruise control- that's about the extent of what I want when driving a multi-ton vehicle. How "plugged-in" do people really need to be, and how much help do they really need to back up, brake, and stay in the lane? Just a few years ago that would have meant you couldn't pass a driver's test, and shouldn't be on the road anyway .

Edit: I don't mean for this to be antagonistic. Read it with humor .
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Old 07-19-18, 04:03 PM
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Originally Posted by spinnaker View Post
There is way too much crap on cars today. I saw a feature where you have the ability to access Facebook while in the car. Why in the hell does anyone need to get on Facebook while driving?
If you're eating in your car and you want to post a picture of your lunch.
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Old 07-19-18, 04:42 PM
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Originally Posted by CliffordK View Post
Can I have the old analog stereos with the push buttons that one pushes in, and the button manually moves the dial.

One issue that I have had in the past is driving a couple of different vehicles. Each stereo works more or less the same, but all the buttons or dials are different, so one has to always glance at the stereo to see what is what.

I could imagine with the new cars and touch screens, if one owned a Chevy, Honda, and Toyota... More or less all doing the same thing, but in entirely different ways, and no tactile feedback.
Those were amazing mechanical devices. I wager far more difficult to design for a mechanical engineer of that day than an electronics engineer of today to design equivalent functionality.

Those old mechanical radios were a PITA to repair when they broke as I remember.
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Old 07-19-18, 06:30 PM
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I'm old school and will always stay old school. I drive a 5 speed manual and will always drive a manual. My stereo is a 6 y/o aftermarket JVC that I made sure had a knob to turn. No touch screen or anything. I will always drive a fuel driven car. No electric cars for me. Bleh!
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Old 07-19-18, 09:47 PM
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Originally Posted by spinnaker View Post
I passed my drivers test in a car with manual steering, manual brakes and 3 speed manual transmission. It was a 4 door Hornet Sportabout which was their small hatchback wagon, so it was not exactly short.

Try doing a 3 point turn in something like that when you were 5"11" and weighed 128 pounds.
Ha! At least my parents '62 Impala had power steering, letting me ace the parallel parking part, and an automatic transmission, with no neck jerk starts to worry about.
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Old 07-20-18, 01:59 AM
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Originally Posted by spinnaker View Post
Those were amazing mechanical devices. I wager far more difficult to design for a mechanical engineer of that day than an electronics engineer of today to design equivalent functionality.

Those old mechanical radios were a PITA to repair when they broke as I remember.
Sarcasm? I don't remember them ever breaking. Anyway, just wait until these things breakdown. Although if we're lucky they are likely to just be replaced -- at a handsome cost no doubt.

In any event, has anyone consider what will happen when your nanny smart screens -- that run the car -- decides to just shut down? Ninety percent of your controls will be gone. Will you even be able to drive the car?
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