Dear Car Makers: Please Hire People Like This

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The interfaces in modern cars are, with rare exception, awful.

It’s almost absurd, really. The car is one of the most expensive things that people buy for themselves. It’s massive. It’s got a power supply that lasts for days… and yet, it’s one of the least “smart” devices in our lives. A three-year old tablet headed for the recycling bin puts the stock interface in most cars to shame.

The operating systems are slow, and often bug-riddled. If there’s a touchscreen, it’s almost certainly a crappy, low-res screen using yesteryear’s touch technology.

Worst of all, they’re dangerous. Over the last few years, touchscreens have become fairly standard in many new, mid-range lines. Which is great! The problem? Manufacturers didn’t really go about it right. Rather than seizing the opportunity to design something entirely new around touch, they just took all of the physical, oh-so-pressable buttons they once splayed across the dash and crammed them onto a touchscreen. Haptics? Sensible, spatial design? Whatever, we’ve got a touchscreen! Shiny!

As a result, actions that once required but a pinch of muscle memory (like, say, changing the station) now require you to take your eyes off the road entirely, lest you blindly jam your finger into the wrong button in that flat sea of glass.

Voice control is a strong contender here — perhaps more so than in any other space, really. But that’s yet another place where cars are lagging. As Google’s voice recognition approaches an almost terrifyingly accurate level, I’m still finding myself angrily shouting at my 2014 model car while it fails to figure out which of six possible commands I’m saying.

Thankfully, both Apple and Google have realized the massive space to be won here, and are actively working to take the manufacturers and their terrible design work out of the mix. It won’t happen overnight — but in just a few years, interacting with our cars should be a whole lot less awful.

In the meantime, let us all drool over this just-posted concept video by Matthaeus Krenn, whose LinkedIn profile lists his last job as being a product designer at Cue — the team behind the titular Cue personal assistant app that was acquired by Apple back in October.

Is it perfect? No. Amongst other things, it requires users to learn and memorize how to control an interface, rather than working in a way that they can discover naturally. Is three fingers A/C control or audio source control?

But we need more of this. We need more smart people thinking about how we interact with our cars, especially as touchscreens become more and more common. When we’re steering what is essentially a 2-ton metal missile down the street, skipping to the next song shouldn’t be a dangerous decision.