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Touch screens on electric cars: a good idea or a bad one?

Touchscreens have revolutionized the driving experience, but are they really an asset for electric cars? Between comfort and safety, the integration of these devices is the subject of lively debate.

Indeed, in today's automotive landscape, large-format touchscreens have overtaken physical buttons and dials as the dominant feature of the dashboard. This trend, of which Tesla is perhaps the most striking example, extends to the entire automotive sector. Indeed, Tesla's electric models are known for their almost total absence of physical buttons, including windshield wiper controls. 

This article will explore the impact of touchscreens in electric cars, examining both their benefits and the challenges they present. 

This article aims to provide a comprehensive perspective to help you better understand the impact of this technology on our daily journeys.

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Technological developments in electric cars

For several years now, automakers have been moving away from physical controls to touch screens, despite the challenges this presents. This trend is driven by a number of factors, which we'll look at in this section.

The advantages of touchscreens for electric cars

In the automotive world, touchscreens have enjoyed a meteoric rise in recent years. These innovative devices have won over drivers with their elegance, ergonomics and multiple functionalities. But what concrete benefits do they bring to electric cars?

A sleek, modern design

Initially, touchscreens represent a real aesthetic breakthrough in car interiors. They replace the traditional analog knobs and dials, offering a sleeker, more modern appearance. This simplification of the dashboard helps to create a more convivial and relaxing environment, conducive to driving.

ve touchscreen
car touchscreen

Customization and connectivity

In fact, they enable drivers to personalize the driving experience according to their preferences. They offer advanced configuration options, notably for displaying information and managing multimedia functions. What's more, they facilitate the connection of smartphones and tablets, enabling occupants to enjoy their favorite content while traveling.

Advanced infotainment system

Touchscreens often house state-of-the-art infotainment systems, offering a host of features such as GPS navigation, digital radio, Bluetooth connectivity and voice control. These systems enable drivers to stay connected and informed while enjoying an enriched driving experience.

The limits and challenges of touch screens in electric vehicles

While touchscreens offer advantages in terms of design and cost, they also raise a major concern: safety. 

Operating a touchscreen distracts the driver, compromising road safety by source of distractionPhysical buttons, on the other hand, don't need to be looked at to be operated.

What's more, touch screens are also less intuitive than physical buttons, especially when driving. Their complexity is detrimental to the driving experience, making them difficult to use and navigate. To give you a concrete example, the touch screen on the Tesla Model S is the largest on the market. And with good reason: 17 inches diagonally (or 43.2 cm), that's a lot of information spread over a wide area, and a greater risk of being less attentive on the road.

Don't forget that touch screens can be sensitive to sensitive to variations in temperatureand even dirt, directly affecting their operation and making them less reliable.

A problem avoided with physical buttons, screens can require regular maintenance. regular maintenance and can be costly to repair or replace in the event of damage, posing challenges in terms of durability and long-term cost.

For all these reasons, a study has been carried out to weigh up the pros and cons of this technology. What are the pros and cons? 

Vi Bilägare's HMI system: what's it all about?

As we've seen, automakers today are increasingly opting for touchscreen controls, replacing traditional buttons. While these digital dashboards have their advantages, they are double-edged. That said, what is the real impact of this trend on user experience and road safety? Swedish magazine Vi Bilägare conducted a study to answer this question.

For this test, the journalists compared the human-machine interfaces (HMIs) of 11 cars equipped with touch screens with those of a 17-year-old Volvo V70, equipped exclusively with buttons. The aim was to determine which type of control was more efficient and safer.

The 11 cars are as follows: 

  • Mercedes GLB
  • Tesla Model 3
  • BMW iX
  • Volkswagen ID.3
  • Hyundai Ioniq 5
  • Dacia Sandero
  • Volvo C40
  • MG Marvel R
  • Nissan Qashqai
  • Seat Leon
  • Subaru Outback
  • Volkswagen ID.3

The drivers therefore performed a series of similar actions in each vehicle while driving at a constant speed of 110 km/h, including:

  • Temperature rise of 2 degrees
  • Activation of defrost and heated seat
  • Switching on the radio
  • Selecting a preset radio station
  • Resetting the trip odometer
  • Maximum reduction in instrument panel lighting
  • Switching off the touchscreen (or radio for the V70)

The results showed that it took a driver an average of 10 seconds to complete a series of commands in a button-equipped Volvo V70, while this time varied from 13.7 seconds to 44.9 seconds for cars equipped with touch screens.

ev physical button
DIGITAL ON-BOARD DISPLAYS PHYSICAL BUTTONS
Requires drivers to take their eyes off the road to interact with controls, promoting distraction and accident risk
Easier to find by touch and no need to take your eyes off the road to select them
Can be more confusing to use (menus and icons are not always clearly organized)
Generally arranged in a logical and intuitive way, making them easy to use

Carmakers should take these findings into account and continue to offer cars equipped with physical buttons, particularly for essential controls such as temperature and radio control. Touch screens can be used for entertainment or auxiliary functions, but they should not be the main method of controlling a car.

Based on these findings, the results of this test conducted by Vi Bilägare suggest that physical buttons remain a safer and more practical option for automotive controls. Touchscreens may have their place in cars, but they must be used sparingly and intuitively. In this sense, they should not completely replace buttons, offering a faster, more intuitive and safer option for automotive controls. 

Conclusion

Touch screens on electric cars have the potential to offer a more modern user experience. However, it's important to consider the potential drawbacks of this technology, such as driver distraction and difficulty navigating complex menus.

For automotive manufacturers, it's essential to strike the right balance between the advantages and disadvantages of touchscreens. They need to design user interfaces that are both easy to use and intuitive, while ensuring that essential controls are always accessible without distraction.

For professionals and individuals alike, it's important to do your research before buying a touchscreen-equipped electric car. Test the user interface and make sure it meets your needs. It's also advisable to choose a model that offers physical controls for essential functions.

In conclusion, touchscreens on electric cars are a promising technology, but they must be used with caution. Car manufacturers and consumers need to work together to ensure that this technology is used safely and effectively.

Maëlle Laurent
Maëlle Laurent

Committed to sustainable mobility, a sector revolutionizing the way we get around, I contribute to the energy transition through my articles.

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