Rant from a six-hour drive

December 29th, 2009 by Chris

Today we drove from Los Angeles to Davis, California, a six-hour drive along mostly open highway. This gave me a lot of time to think while the car zoomed along on cruise control and many opportunities to curse the dumb design of cruise control interfaces on just about every car out there.

Cruise Control

Who designed the “standard” cruise control interface? It’s a horrible overcomplicated mishmash of awkward abbreviations and mysteriously organized functions. I can’t decide if it was put together by an over-precise engineering team or a feature-obsessed middle manager.

Consider:

  • Why is the on/off switch separate from the others?1 Setting the speed requires two button presses when it should only take one.
  • What on earth is the practical difference between “off” and “cancel”?2
  • Do we really need two extra buttons to make the car go faster or slower? Cars, after all, are already graced with eminently effective and much-used speed controls. Having “accel” and “coast” buttons is like adding a joystick down on the floor so that you can steer using the feet that are left sadly idle by the operation of the cruise control.

Imagine what the cruise control UI would look like as implemented by Apple. It would be like the iPhone without the fancy screen: one button labeled ON. You hit the button, the car keeps going the current speed. Hit it again and it turns off. I can’t believe nobody has done this yet.

Cancel rant. Rant off.


1As a computer guy, I can kind of see the logic in having a separate on/off control. After all, the system is managed by a computer that needs to know whether it should be listening for commands at any given moment. Maybe, back in the dark ages of computers when cruise control was first implemented, the system may have had significant startup time, requiring a few seconds of warning to get everything in order for the “set” command. But that’s certainly not necessary today the whole car is essentially managed by computers nowadays.

2I understand the technical difference, but it’s a stupid thing to bother the user with.

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