Jalopnik published an article yesterday titled 'The Sad Death Of The Knob, Switch And Button'. Here's an excerpt.
... LCD dashboards in so many new cars here at the Detroit Auto Show are a genuinely great advance. Except for one big issue: Knobs, switches and buttons? They're now officially doomed.
Knobs are still around, albeit in reduced numbers, but it's very clear they're considered vestigial holdouts and it's just a matter of time before they're done away with completely. Looking at forward-thinking cars like the Tesla Model S demonstrates this, as its dash is basically just two big iPads, one in landscape orientation and the other in portrait.
A booth from Denso, a major supplier of auto parts and electronics, shows a prototype cockpit of the future — and it's all touch screens. Touch screens are great on our phones and tablets; so why wouldn't they be great in a car, right?
. . .
Have you ever peeked in the cockpit of an airplane and seen the levers in between the seats? Those levers have funny-shaped knobs: Spool-shaped, crown-shaped, star-shaped — it's the marshmallows from a Lucky Charms box. There is, of course, a great reason why they're like that: so pilots can know what lever is what just by touch.
That's exactly what is being given up when controls move to the touch screen. Tactile feedback and the ability to feel what a control is has long been part of driving.
Traditionally, we can feel and know what's a radio knob, what a climate control lever feels like, how the notches feel as we move them from one setting to another, and it's worked great. Even without any interior lights or dash lights I bet most of us could find and use the essential controls on our cars.
Touch screens are awesome for many, many things. They look great, they can show an incredible amount of information, but they should never be the only components on a dash.
There's more at the link.
Jalopnik is quite right about the problem of not being able to use a touch-screen control unless one can look at it - and that's frequently not safe to do while driving. However, there's another problem with touch-screens, one highlighted by blogger and author Frank W. James when he described his frustrations while trying to use a smartphone.
... the Droid locks itself every time you shut it off and to use it you first have to 'unlock' it through use of the touchscreen. It has command buttons on the bottom, but to unlock it you have to slide a finger across the screen. Why? The touchscreen works off the 'heat' of your fingertip. To do that you have to remove your gloves, but today I had to shut the chainsaw off first before taking the gloves off. (See where I'm going with this?) Okay, by the time I get to the almighty touchscreen, I have to unlock it as well as touch a 'green box' in the lower left of the screen to access my phone call, ONLY THE DAMN PHONE WON'T RECOGNIZE MY FINGERTIP. I missed the call, actually 'calls', because I've had calls from everywhere from California and beyond and who the Hell knows who they were because I couldn't get my damn phone to work.
You know most people have (counting their thumbs) ten fingertips. I have nine and some of those left are not in the best of shape. Maybe that's why this damn thing won't react to my touch. But all the Gucci features in the world are more or less meaningless if the damn phone won't work as, you know, a phone.
I was over at the county seat for a dentist visit after lunch and I stopped at the 'phone' store. I told the guy I want something with a real 'push-button'. Something you don't have to take a work glove off to get the damn thing to work. Can't do it. Droids only come in touchscreens. Which tells me right away whomever designed the Droid never had to 'sweat' at physical labor or with a machine to make a living for himself and his family.
I'm in the process of taking this collared shirt and cuff-link piece of s*** back to the store and I'm going to get me something that works for people who actually 'labor' and/or do physical work for a living.
Again, more at the link.
Seems to me that Mr. James' point applies equally well to touchscreens in cars. Many drivers are hard-working men, with the same sort of damage to their hands as Mr. James. Others will be wearing gloves, particularly in cold weather. How are such people supposed to use touchscreen controls - particularly when they can't even safely take their eyes off the road to look at them?
Methinks our automakers had better rethink this one - quickly . . .