2014 Acura MDX: Why I Hate Touchscreens
February 13, 2014
I'm not a regular user of seat heaters, but it was somewhat chilly when I headed off to work at 5:00 a.m. this morning. Our 2014 Acura MDX has them, so I stabbed the button that sits at the bottom edge of the touchscreen.
Well, that's not strictly true. What I mean is the seat heater failed to ignite.
Instead, another screen popped up, a screen that did more than simply invite a second button press. This screen offered choices. And each choice required me to shift the position of my finger away from the location of the original button.
From a driver distraction standpoint, this was bad. I'd just been drawn deeper into the task. I had to re-examine the screen to comprehend the new landscape, make my choice, move my finger accordingly and press a new button.
That's a lot of eyeball time at 60 mph. And if the goal was to make a simple task more complicated, they certainly succeeded.
The nature of touchscreens makes it virtually impossible to memorize the locations of the buttons on the menus, the submenus, the sub-submenus and the inevitable sub-sub-submenus because they could be anywhere. They are everywhere, in fact. There isn't a square inch on the typical touchscreen that isn't used as a virtual button for something.
Meanwhile, you learn the fixed location of a dedicated button in short order. In many cases you get to the point where you never have to take that initial glance away from the road to find what you're looking for. Even if you do make that glance, it'll be a fleetingly brief one.
Take my seat heater scenario. With a dedicated button I'd take a quick peek to guide my finger home, then press away. I may have to let my gaze linger while I press a second time to change the setting from "three" to "two", but even that'd be optional.
I'd get heat on the first press. If an adjustment was necessary, I'd be pressing the same button. There'd be no landscape to learn, no need to move my finger to another spot. It'd be much more straightforward, much less time-consuming.
Come to think of it, Acura could have accomplished this if they had programmed the top-level virtual button to operate like this. Perhaps the touchscreen is not the enemy. Maybe it has more to do with the temptation to overcomplicate things with pop-up menus, a state of affairs that's all too easy with a touchscreen.
At least the Acura's seats got toasty warm in a hurry. That part was great.
Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 5,420 miles