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MyFord Touch brings knobs and dials back to dashboards

By Joe Hewitson / July 18, 2013

The Ford Motor Company has been riding a wave of innovation spurred on by its MyFord Touch and SYNC systems. But as more auto manufacturers put touchscreens in their dashboards, Ford has decided to make a U-turn back to knobs and buttons. Is Ford taking a helpful shortcut or making a costly mistake?

The problem with MyFord Touch

Touch interfaces work best when the user’s full attention is devoted to the screen. This obviously poses safety and usability issues in a moving vehicle. Drivers can’t change the radio or adjust the A/C without taking their eyes off the road. This lack of tactile feedback is what fueled Ford’s decision to ditch the sleek screens of MyFord Touch for the practical features of vehicles past.

A demanding technology

Touchscreen technologies like MyFord Touch require more than just your undivided attention, they also need a certain degree of technological know-how. Even Apple — the king of touchscreen interfaces — has conceded to these issues, recently filing patents that show the company is trying to resolve the lack of tactile feedback in dash-mounted tech.

Just because Ford is transitioning some of its touchscreen features to physical form doesn’t mean it’s abandoning touch technology altogether. A recent Businessweek article highlights the company’s desire to mold the cutting-edge UI into a more purposeful tool by reinstating features that are better accomplished with physical controls.

Ford’s strategy for refocusing the MyFord Touch interface centers around the natural muscle memory we’ve all developed while sitting in the driver’s seat. We simply expect, and in many ways prefer, certain controls to be accomplished by turning a knob.

Also noted in the Businessweek article are Ford’s concerns about the reliability of MyFord Touch (bringing about an all-together different type of car crash). Plus, as the hardware becomes more complex, so does the software. This creates a greater need for updates and antivirus software. If you think updating your computer’s operating system is bad, just wait until your car is due for system 2.0.

What’s down the road

Ford’s recent move shows they realize that some aspects of mobile computing, although incredibly useful in other circumstances, simply aren’t suited for use in the car. Looking ahead, you can expect to see less flat screens and more turnable things in Ford’s vehicles, but by no means is this the end of the auto and mobile tech convergence. Rather, it’s the recognition that we sometimes need the best of both worlds — tactile and touch interfaces.