August 18, 2022

Opinion: Why Infotainment systems are stupid

Back in the olden days (more than 20 years ago), cars used to be wildly different from each other. 

The differences between a Ford Taurus, a Mercedes E-Class, and Toyota Camry were so stark that it was nearly pointless to do any cross-shopping between them. 

It used to be that you could easily tell the difference between makes and models based on how well it drove, or how noisy it was inside, or the quality of the interior, and so on. Today, manufacturers have figured out how to make a car easy to live with and how to solve all those problems; meaning, so many cars on the road today are neigh-on identical. 

So, how do car manufacturers make their cars stand out from the competition? 

Well, the biggest difference between cars right now is the infotainment systems. Mainly, if it’s good, then you know you are in an Audi, if it sucks, then you know you are in a Honda. 

Car infotainment systems can be good! Sort of. They can also be completely infuriating. Take the new Volkswagen Golf GTI, for example. VW took the liberty of making the infotainment the only control center for the entire car (except the steering wheel and petals, obviously). 

They then seemingly looked at a mid-90s laptop and thought “that’ll do” and transplanted the brain from that into a car that went on sale in 2021.VW is not the only one guilty of this though. 

One of the best features of new infotainment systems is changing them to something else. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are the best features of any infotainment system, and their sole purpose is to temporarily throw out the original UI (user interface) and replace it with one closely based on your smartphone. 

These systems do a better job at managing crucial functions like navigation, music and making phone calls than the stock infotainment systems. 

Why car manufacturers have not simply copied these systems yet, I have no idea. 

However, as music, navigation and phone calls are all they really do, that means that more often than not, you must return to the stock infotainment to change the climate control, for example.

The worst thing about the stock systems is simply their limited capabilities. 

Carmakers, as well as many customers, if I am honest, are determined that the more stuff that is integrated into a screen, the better. Consequently, getting rid of every button and knob in sight. This is incorrect, in case you have not yet noticed. 

The only features that should be implemented into an infotainment system are music (but only what song is playing, what’s next and connections), navigation, phone calls, and various driving modes if the car has them. 

Everything else should be a button, knob, lever, or handle. Climate control, volume, seat controls, gears, all of them should be physical buttons (I’m talking to you, Tesla and Volkswagen).

Why? Button and knobs are easy because everyone knows how they work; they are simple. Plus, they don’t go away. The screen can only show so many features at once. 

So, when everything is in the infotainment, something is going to have to be put on the back burner in a sub-menu somewhere. 

Buttons and knobs do not have this problem because they have the whole interior to spread out. Plus, name a better example of short-term gratification than pressing or using a solid, tactile, satisfying button or knob. 

All of this is not even taking into account the fact that changing the volume means you have to take your eyes off the road and glare at your dashboard. Not only are infotainments by and large downright annoying, but some are so bad, they can be downright dangerous.

  • Josh Conturo is a reporter for the Chimes and a fourth-year studying Emerging Media with an emphasis on journalism, and loves all things related to cars, coffee, and comedy.

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