The saddest piece of news I have heard since learning that the BMW X6 sells better than the 5 Series Touring Station Wagon did in its best year ever - the X6 is ugly and goes downhill from there - is the list of vehicles chosen as finalists for the Car of the Year by something called 'Connected World Magazine.'
You'll get my point when you read the opening paragraph of the press release:
"Distraction-free driving, remote access to vehicles, gesture-controlled infotainment systems, blind-spot detection, and remote-sensing technologies, are just a few of the features that the editors of Connected World magazine looked at when selecting the finalists for the annual Connected Car of the Year awards."
Dear me; do these people know NOTHING AT ALL about cars?
Distraction is a mental issue, not a dexterity issue. That is a fact, not an opinon. Having our cars enable all this stuff makes us more vulnerable, not less.
And anyone reading this blog already knows there are no blind spots to detect.
Again, a fact, not an opinion.
The finalists include the Dodge Dart with the 'Uconnect' system (hint: get into any Chrysler product with Uconnect, and use the voice activation system to try and find 'Dundas Street'); Chevrolet Impala with MyLink (try to do anything with any MyLink-equipped GM car driving east on a sunny afternoon - the fingerprints make it totally unreadable); and several Ford products with the speclal-place-in-hell SYNC with MyFord Touch system (I spent three hours screaming at this thing in a Lincoln MKZ Hybrid on a drive down to Detroit a couple of days ago, trying to find a particular hotel. It said "No entries for that destination." OK, so Detroit is in trouble. But are there NO HOTELS in Detroit? Not according to SYNC wth MyFord Touch.)
Talk about a Hall of Shame.
Steven Jobs has a lot more to answer for than setting computing back 30 years (do you still need two hands to 'Forward-Delete' on a Mac? Come on... ) and making the dumbest Smart Phone ever (how they sold one of those things, let alone millions, remains a mystery; wish I had his Kool Aid. Then again, Celine Dion sells a lot of records - maybe you CAN fool almost all of the people almost all of the time.)
But Jobs made the touch screen a 'thing'. And while you can get used to a touch screen on a phone when sitting at a desk, it simply has no place in an automobile.
I know this makes me sound like a grumpy old man.
Yes, I am grumpy. About this, anyway.
Yes, I am old - older than I was, which of course beats the only available alternative.
But ergonomics is NOT opinion; it is science.
And these systems simply cannot be made safe to work when you're careening down a highway at 100-plus km/h.
Any control which requires you to look away from the road is a bad control, especially when that same function can be done using the shape and feel of a physical knob or lever which does not require visual confirmation.
Yes, we do have more functions in our cars these days. We probably shouldn't, but we do.
But there has to be a better way.
Voice activation is supposed to be that 'better way'. But after at least ten years of intense development, they still are pretty awful, witness my Uconnect-Dundas Street thing.
And again, the distraction involved is mental, not physical.
Collectively, we managed to beat back 'talking cars' in the '80s.
But have we lost the 'connected' battle?
But there has recently been one glimmer of hope.
On that previously-mentioned trip to Detroit to see an at-this-point-I-am-embargoed-from-telling-you-about-it vehicle, the chief designer for this automoible division pointed to two lovely shiny round chrome knobs on the centre stack.
They are for radio volume and station tuning.
Nobel Prize Committee, come and see!
He said all future products from this brand will follow this path, in response to massive negative feedback from the media (er, that would be me among others, athough presumably not 'Connected World Magazine') and, more importantly, customers.
What's next? A slot in the dash where you can put the 'key fob' so you don't lose it when it falls down between the seat and the centre console? Geez; maybe you could even twist it to activate the ignition so you wouldn't need that extra push button...
One of the hardest things for me to learn in this game has been that the customer is always right, even when (s)he's wrong.
That (s)he seems to be recognizing - even if only in this one tiny radio knob example - that maybe (s)e HAS been wrong and is starting to come around, reaffirms my faith in humanity.
It's either that or we go for the Google driver-less car.And if THAT doesn't scare you, nothing will.