Short blog posts, journal entries, and random thoughts. Topics include a mix of personal and the world at large. 

Not a fan of giant screens in cars

Warning: ‘old man yells at cloud’ rant coming up.

It seems I’m the only person who is not wild about the latest trend of ginormous LCD screens permeating into modern automotive interiors. I’m not referring to the regular display for navigation and the sound system, but rather the giant screens automakers are utilizing to do absolutely everything, looking like an iPad glued to the dashboard.

I reckon the genesis of it started in the Tesla Model S, with a 17-inch center screen serving as proxy to perform even the most basic of functions, such as adjusting the fan speed. Admittedly it was quite the party piece for Tesla, especially when contrasted to the traditional buttons and knobs of its contemporaries. Unfortunately, novelty have begotten standardization, and as the Tesla brand proliferated and gotten more popular, other automakers are seeing fit to copy the big screen implementation. Because customers want ‘cool’.

And the trend have thoroughly trickled down to the masses: the new Subaru Legacy can be optioned with a nearly 12-inch infotainment screen, absolutely dominating the entire center dash like a Tesla car. In a way it makes sense: smartphones are giants touchscreens, so presumably the transition to having them in cars to control functions is a natural extension of something we use every single day.

However, it gets worse. LCD screen in cars have encroached into the instrument binnacle as well, with manufacturers seemingly in a competition to replace as many items of the interior with touchscreens as possible. The latest Audi and Land Rover products are already there - Audi wants to replace the wing mirrors with screens, too - and Mercedes will soon join them if spy shots of the next generation S-Class are good indication.

An interior that is entirely screens: that is a future I don’t particularly want. I shall cling to the mechanical dials and physical buttons of my GT3 as long as I can.

Why are automakers so massively embracing these screens? For sure part of it is to emulate the same wow-factor of a Tesla Model S , but I surmise the base reason, as with any capitalistic endeavor, is to save on costs. In a world full of laptops and smartphones, LCD screen technology comes relatively cheap; all automakers have to do then is develop the software. Modern cars are full of computers anyways so integration is likely not difficult. I’m sure it’s far less complicated and expensive than engineering individual physical buttons and dials, with relays and switches for each single item.

If car manufacturers save on cost, does the customer as well? I’m going to guess no. A broken interior button is a cheap fix, but an entire screen module? That sounds painfully expensive. In using our computers and phones daily, we know all too well that screens aren’t the most durable of things. And there’s another problem: those devices also have tendency to periodically freeze up, necessitating a hard reset. I can’t wait for automaker’s customer support to have to ask this question: “Have you tried turning off and turning the car back on?”.

I have serious reservations about the longevity of these all-screen car interiors, but who am I kidding: you’re all leasing, right?

Stacks on stacks on stacks.

Stacks on stacks on stacks.

Not a fan of digital dash in cars

The hot trend in new vehicles these days is the replacement of traditional gauges in the instrument binnacle with an entirely digital LCD panel. Audi was one of the first to do this with their ‘virtual cockpit’ system, and just about every other manufacturer has or is following suit. Modern Mercedes Benz cars don’t even try to hide the fact it’s digital: the dash is just one wide flatscreen panel, as if someone simply glued a tablet on.

I guess we have the smartphone to thank for this development, and tangentially, Tesla. People prefer lots information available at a glance, so if you want Google Maps navigation overlaid on the typical engine RPM and speed dials, digital is the only way to achieve this. It’s likely cheaper to manufacture, too: one giant LCD panel with software development, versus engineering analog dials gauges in fancy shapes and sizes.

When the Audi virtual cockpit first debut, I was quite impressed: to have the navigation maps directly in front of your vision is more natural and useful than having to look away towards the right (or left for my UK brethren) at the infotainment screen. It’s probably safer, too. Audi’s system also allows configuration for the tachometer be in the center, which is the proper position in my opinion, especially in a car with any modicum of sporting intentions.

As the technology have proliferated throughout automotive spectrum, I’m not so sure anymore about having a completely digital instrument panel. Partly because I love the intricacies and mechanicalness of analog dials (like a fine mechanical watch), and partly due to the concerns about repair cost. We all know how expensive to fix our broken smartphones, so it’s not a stretch to think that if and when the electronics fail on those digital instrument panels, the repair bill will be quite substantial.

But what am I saying? Our generation love leasing and buying things on payment; who’s going to keep a car long enough for the LCD dash to fail anyways.

Lots of Lobstah makes me happy.

Lots of Lobstah makes me happy.