By on June 5, 2012

The big news for the 2013 Ford F-Series appears to be the use of buttons, rather than trying to cram MyFord Touch down the gaping maw of every single product in the lineup implementing the MyFord Touch infotainment system. Apparently, it all has to do with work gloves.

Damon Lavrinc, of Wired magazine (and the authority on the nexus between the automotive and tech worlds) spoke to a Ford rep, who said that F-Series customers preferred physical controls over touchscreens, since the capactive controls tend to function poorly when work gloves are involved. Lavrinc went on to note that Ford was wise to stick to the formula that’s made the F-Series the best selling vehicle in American since time immemorial.

My question to Ford is this; construction workers are likely wearing gloves only during certain parts of the day. What about those who live in the snow belt, where for as much as 6 months of the year, motorists are wearing gloves all the time? Aside from the usual drawbacks of MyFord Touch (the distractions, awkward responses etc), having to jockey ones gloves on and off for simple tasks isn’t exactly an example of technology making one’s life easier.

The Wired article also quotes a Ford spokesperson admitting that only 50 percent of Edge and Explorer customers actually like the MyFord Touch system.There is evidently a large number of consumers who aren’t that interested in having to tap and finger-jab their way to a slower fan speed or different radio station, and there are plenty of good alternatives being sold at virtually every other dealership.

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39 Comments on “Memo To Ford: Expand Use Of Buttons Beyond 2013 F-Series...”

  • avatar

    “What about those who live in the snow belt, where for as much as 6 months of the year, motorists are wearing gloves all the time?”

    Heated steering wheel! Now get poking at that LCD.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s a shame the entire industry is copying Ford’s Myford system because without “system redundancy”, all the key climate control features can only be accessed in the touchpanel.

      The new Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger for example have heated seats and steering wheels you can only access from the LCD screen. Fortunately their HVAC is physical knobs.

      The new Taurus and MKS have all capacitive touch buttons and they aren’t progressively responsive.

      Cadillac’s Cue system has gone the way of the Taurus and MKS.

      I’m actually surprised Audi, Mercedes and BMW didn’t give into touchscreens yet. I hope they don’t- or, at least back the touch screens with physical buttons.

  • avatar

    “There is evidently a large number of consumers who aren’t that interested in having to tap and finger-jab their way to a slower fan speed or different radio station, and there are plenty of good alternatives being sold at virtually every other dealership.”

    Not to mention how it takes your eyes off the road. Controls should be intuitive and committed to muscle-memory. I would go further and call for the use of sliders for the HVAC and dials for the volume and tune, so that the two aren’t confused. Looking at the F-Series controls as above, the four dials are identical in size and tactile feel.

    Poor auto designers. When legislation constrains your ability to design the outside, I guess take inspiration from those idiot smartphones.

    • 0 avatar

      Buttons are not always that easy to design. I ejected a CD instead of skipping tracks so many times, on a certain Japanese brand. The best is when there’s a certain hand-hold nearby, like a slot or an edge, where a hand can rest and find the buttons without looking.

      • 0 avatar

        That’s exactly what I do. I rest my hand on the shift knob of my B3000 pickup and from this position I can control the radio with minimal visual input.

    • 0 avatar

      “Not to mention how it takes your eyes off the road. Controls should be intuitive and committed to muscle-memory.”

      I’m always surprised that people get into these old fashioned arguments about which kinds of dash mounted buttons and knobs are better while completely neglecting to acknowledge that voice activated controls are a standard part of the system.

      Voice controls don’t require you to take a hand off the wheel and don’t require you to take your eyes off the road. If safety is your argument, then buttons and knobs on the dash are a poor choice.

      • 0 avatar

        The trouble is, voice controls rarely work well. I’ve had several Ford vehicles so equipped as rentals, and the voice command is the next best thing to useless. And I have no particular regional accent – God forbid my DownEast Maine speaking Grandparents or a Cajun try to work the thing.

      • 0 avatar

        In my experience the voice commands work near perfectly. Those who are having trouble with them tend to be doing one of three things – speaking too soon (the system will give you a chime when it’s ready to accept input, if you start speaking before the chime it doesn’t work), speaking/shouting at the system in a slow stunted voice (it’s programmed to respond to a natural conversational tone, by trying to over-enunciate and talk to it like a computer or non-english speaker you’re making it harder to recognize the commands), using syntax the system doesn’t understand (this is the only tough part about the voice commands, you have to say commands it is programmed to respond to, but the new MFT systems can all bring up a list of appropriate commands and have multiple aliases, so it’s easier now than ever to learn).

        All of the MFT vehicles have a dedicate volume knob. The Focus, new Escape, F-250 and F-150 with MFT all have dedicated climate control knobs and physical buttons as well. For vehicles that don’t have physical climate control buttons you can still set the temperature using the steering wheel controls.

        The steering wheel controls can be used to change radio stations/audio inputs, volume, answer/hang-up calls, and in systems without dedicated knobs change the temperature.

        The touch screen is there as a convenience and to allow more fine-toothed control over more complicated features, but anything that needs to be done while driving can be done without ever touching the screen.

      • 0 avatar

        “The trouble is, voice controls rarely work well. I’ve had several Ford vehicles so equipped as rentals…”

        krhodes1, I’m sorry to hear they rarely work well for you. The key thing there is “for you”.

        Today, voice controls work well for most people. As technology marches forward, they will work well for even more people. Eventually voice controls will work well for everyone, even you. That’s the nature of progress.

        Unfortunately, when it comes to knobs and buttons on the dash, there is no technological improvement just over the horizon that will make them usable without moving your hand off the wheel and your eyes off the road.

      • 0 avatar

        Voice commands are trash. Never seen a system that actually worked, the latest being Chrysler’s uConnect in a 2010 car. Just dead end, completely. Oh, wait, I’m an emigrant, sucks to be me then!

      • 0 avatar

        @krhodes: God forbid my DownEast Maine speaking Grandparents or a Cajun try to work the thing.

        Actually, they did develop a Nav System with a Downeast Maine Mode. The only problem with it was that anytime you asked it for directions, it would just reply with “You cahn’t get theyah from heeah”

        Sorry, I just couldn’t resist.

      • 0 avatar

        The trouble with voice is 1) it is not intuitive (you need to know the available commands and command hierarchy, which varies based upon which screen is currently displayed), and 2) it is a long and tedious process.

        Voice commands should be: [Push Button], , “Destination”, [Push Button], , “State”, [Push Button], , “City” …and so on.

        It’s not, though.

      • 0 avatar

        @spinjack: You’re 100% correct, there’s a lot of stuff to remember on voice activated controls. I only occasionally drive my wife’s OnStar equipped car, I cannot remember all of the commands to do things. I end up having to call an Advisor and ask for the commands so I can get the OnStar to do what I think it should do. Sometimes it’s more trouble than it’s worth.

        The OnStar system does respond well to voice commands. When I can farkin’ remember what it is that I want it to do, it will do it…

  • avatar

    Until MyFord Matrix headrest comes out, or my arm is equipped with a Robocop-like data spike instrument to stab into a dash receptacle, I would like buttons as well.

    Remember those voice warning (“Don’t forget YOR keyzzz mmm”) boxes of the 80’S? In a few years these people won’t think this stuff is cool anymore, just annoying as hell. They will return looking for some caveman buttons to push.

  • avatar

    It’s not just Ford. Toyota took a MASSIVE step backwards with the 2012 Camry’s new touchscreen. They went from the most intuitive radio UI to just about the worst. The Ford systems seem faster to me, and the screen looks chintzy in the Camry – not well integrated like it is in the Ford products.

    While I’m on it, why the glowing reviews of the new Camry, this site included? I can’t find a single thing about the ’12 that isn’t cheaper than the ’11. Especially the clunky, comical, cheap (any other C-words?) climate control. At least it isn’t built into the touchscreen, but it’s just plain cheap in look and operation. Yet the glowing reviews have rolled in…

    Anywho, I’ve been in tons of MyFord Touch-equipped rental cars, and rented a ton of them, and I haven’t met a single person that likes the control interface, myself included. The features are nice – hello, Sync – but MyFord Touch is unecessary complication in physical form. The last-gen Focus had Sync combined with flat simple controls, and I thought that was just fine.

  • avatar

    I’d rather just have regular controls or a touchscreen…not both. In my mom’s 11 Explorer Limited with MyTouch (which she seems to love), you can operate all functions from the haptic controls, screen, or steering wheel. I find myself using the wheel controls the most. I have no issue with basic SYNC, works nicely on rentals and my dad’s 13 Mustang GT. Simple and effective.

    Of course, I am always glad to get back in my Outback with simple radio and HVAC controls.

    It’s funny, Ford touted the 3-dial HVAC controls with the original Taurus. Even though they were primarily used in Euro cars, it was a big deal for an American car to get them…better than the use of sliders from other American cars, and Japanese cars at the time.

    Finally, that is the best fake-wood I have ever seen…nice work.

    • 0 avatar

      “Finally, that is the best fake-wood I have ever seen…nice work.”

      Not bad at all; probably the best they’ve done in 20 years. Maybe it’ll look better when not surrounded by tacky grey plastic.

  • avatar
    Da Coyote

    Love that truck dash. Scads better than BMW/Mercedes/Toyota/Honda Remco dashes. Heck, the toys I owned years ago appear to have been designed by the fathers of those designers. (Nope, I don’t own an F-150, but I do wish that that dash designer catches on.)

  • avatar

    “My question to Ford is this … What about those who … are wearing gloves all the time?”
    The Japanese have been seen operating their smart phone touch screens (in the middle of winter) with hot dogs as styli. This avoids the need to take the gloves off.

    “The Wired article also quotes a Ford spokesperson admitting that only 50 percent of Edge and Explorer customers actually like the MyFord Touch system. There is evidently a large number of consumers who aren’t that interested in having to tap and finger-jab their way to a slower fan speed or different radio station, and there are plenty of good alternatives being sold at virtually every other dealership.”

    I’m amazed a Ford rep admitted that. They have been extremely defensive about MFT even to the point of claiming it worked perfectly when it came out, and that all the ‘problems’ with it were because consumers and journalists were too dumb to operate it. They made no effort to fix the MS Vista-level flaws until they fell into the nether regions of initial quality surveys.

    Touch screens tend to require more ‘touches’ to accomplish simple tasks than traditional buttons/knobs. They are inherently harder to use (no tactile feedback), rely on computers (and so will be slower and less stable), and cost more. It seems their only appeal is being the next new smart phone that people buy just to buy the latest gadget.

    I worry that there won’t be good alternatives at other dealerships. Too many makers are cramming this crap into their cars. It reminds me of automatic seat belts in the ’90s. Those were obviously a bad idea, but they found their way into nearly everyone’s product line. Hopefully, when people come to their senses, touch screens will make an equally quick exit.

    • 0 avatar

      There is a fundamental difference between this and automatic seat belts, which were a band-aid stop-gap measure employed to meet federal safety standards until airbag systems could be designed in.

      I’m waiting for the day when Ray LaHood bans touch screens in cars altogether. Soon I’ll be able to tell my young children about the days when one could operate all systems on a car w/o taking one’s eyes off of the road . . .

    • 0 avatar
      Chicago Dude

      You can buy winter gloves with capacitive threads sewn into them anywhere in the US that it gets cold in the winter. They’ve been around for a couple years now.

      I received a pair as a gift. They work. But I don’t like having shiny fingers.

    • 0 avatar

      As I mentioned above you don’t need to actually use the touch screen for anything while driving, the redundant controls on the steering wheel or voice commands will do anything you can do on the screen.

      The touch screen exists as a convenience feature, it does make it much easier to do certain things (hopefully while parked or stopped at a light) such as – browse through the satellite radio categories, MP3 player contents, or phonebook entries, pair/switch-between phones, enter navigation destinations (doing this with a knob is beyond tedious), or access the TravelLink features like gas prices, sports scores, and weather maps.

      • 0 avatar

        It is NOT okay to sell a device that doesn’t work because you can work around its problems. It’s a sign of failure when a device NEEDS those work-arounds, and when the fact that it has work-arounds becomes a selling point, well, that’s just pathetic. Voice controls, steering wheel buttons, phone aps, telepathy, etc., doesn’t remove the need for EVERY form of control to work as well as possible. (Also, those other controls are NOT redundant. When MFT craps out, those controls–including AC–don’t work.)

        CR did a piece on how previously simple activities now take more ‘touches’ with the new breed of infotainment systems. Carmakers need to learn that’s not acceptable. On the non-MFT stereo in the Focus/Fiesta, it takes ~6 touches to manually tune the radio. (The BMW iDrive needs ~7.) When I first looked at the Focus, the salesman tried to tune in a station that scan didn’t catch; he could not figure out how to do it. No number of ‘neat’ features can make up for a system that is such a pain to use.

        I have no problem with voice controls, but I have no use for them. Talking to your car when there’s someone next to you is terribly awkward, and the computer will screw up if they talk at the same time. (One account at Focus Fanatics said that talking passengers so confused Sync that the whole system crashed and the fuse had to be pulled.) Repeating the theme of over-complicating processes, using sync to change temperature is:
        – Pull lever.
        – Computer: “Bling”
        – Say: “Temperature. 72 degrees.”
        – Computer: “Did you say 72 degrees?”
        – Say: “Yes”
        – Temperature changes. (Done.)

        Now, compared to traditional controls:
        – Turn knob. (Done.)
        (Yes, advanced mode simplifies things, but it’s still more cumbersome.)

        A device that complicates processes and makes them more cumbersome is by definition NOT a convenience feature. Every review of MFT has noted how horribly it gets you through those lists. And DEAR GOD WHY are there features like sports scores and weather maps? If you are looking up sports scores in your car, your license should be revoked and your car impounded. The only weather you need is what’s outside your windows, and you don’t need MFT for that. I saw a video of a Ford employee demonstrating how to enter nav data via voice. He could not do it. Half the time it didn’t understand, the rest of the time he didn’t speak fast enough. I don’t use my phone in my car, and would strongly prefer no one else do so in their cars, either, so all those features are not just irrelevant to me–they’re active negatives.

  • avatar

    I guess I don’t understand this editorial. MyFord Touch is an option right? So if you don’t like the touch screen, you can choose to have a more traditional system already?

    • 0 avatar

      It’s not much of an option given how they bundle options now. Most cars come in 3 levels of options, you want leather seats for example, you get the upgraded radio and hvac controls. It’s not like it was in the old days of detroit where anything and everything was a separate orderable item.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s not a stand alone option. If you want the higher trim levels (or a Lincoln) then you are stuck with the touch screen.

  • avatar

    Oh my God……they made a rather unappealing looking truck look like dog sick.

    It’s hideous….and MYFord Touchy or whatever the cheap Microsoft product Ford is buying these days in it makes it that much worse. Ford needs to scrap that failed system and figure out how Chrysler did it right.

  • avatar

    This Mytouch crap is another of many answers to question nobody asked.

    Like I said elsewhere though, with cars becoming more and more commoditized, manufacturers are going to get more and more out of control with cost cutting measures and distinctive gimmicks. You can really blame IDrive and COMAND… they led the charge as crappy German gimmicks devised solely to try and pull away from Lexus (to no avail in the S-Class segment).

    Gonna be fun when these systems start failing and rendering cars completely useless too. Also bodes ominously for the car audio/video industry. And how can the NHTSA (???) be approving these designs? How is a multilayered menu any better or safer than a good old knob?

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Also, F-150, Ranger (sob),and current Escape buttons and knobs are LARGE.

  • avatar

    I prefer big dumb buttons and dials that are easy to feel without taking my eyes off the road.

    That being said, if I like a car in all other ways I’ll probably buy it if it has one of these technology things even if I don’t want it.

    ie.. I DON’T want built in Navigation, but I do like sunroofs and almost no manufacturer will sell a sunroof equipped vehicle without navigation. (something I hate)

    Frankly I’d be happy with most base trims, if they’d just allow a sunroof on them.

    I like my vehicles simple, the more electronics the more I just see as things to go wrong down the line.

    • 0 avatar

      You should be able to coerce the dealer into putting the sunroof in. If I recall correctly sunroofs are usually dealer installed

      • 0 avatar

        At least on Ford/Lincoln models they are usually factory installed.

        However, we do have a company we work with that can do aftermarket sunroofs. It’s a bit more than the factory option (about $1,500 for a standard sized power moonroof) but they do stand behind it with a lifetime warranty against leaks or malfunction.

  • avatar

    F-150 buyers want knobs not touch screens because they’ve got better things to do with their day than pecking through a @&%#! touch screen menu when all they want to do is turn the *&^%$ defroster on. Its for people who think menus are for restaurants and knobs and switches are for trucks. Way to read the tea leaves, Ford.

  • avatar

    I work for a company that builds industrial control systems but also does some work in the transport sector. Touch screens are everywhere. In the last few years most companies seem to be trying very hard to eliminate physical controls as much as possible. One of the reasons is options. If everycar comes with a touchscreen standard (pretty sure this will be the case in 3-5 years) you won’t need to ever change the dash every car has the same screen no matter what options are installed in the car. Just turn on whats installed same control head. It also allows for very cost effective rolling changes of controls thru software. There is also a greater potential for customizing the car for the consumer without changing any hardware. In theory in the future you will buy the car at the dealer and part of the delivery process will be moving controls to different screens for easier access based on your preference.

    • 0 avatar

      All the benefits you stated are for the manufacturers only, none of them are for the customer.
      I have a feeling that once the novelty wears of and the reality sets in, that is that these systems are more troublesome and less intuitive to use, people will start looking for good old fashioned knobs and buttons. The problem will be compounded once people realize that a failed touch screen can make the most basic functions of the car inaccessible.

      Voice control may be a nice addition to controlling car’s functions, but it should not be a primary source. I cannot imagine voice control working well when I have my window cracked open, as I like fresh air during mild weather, or when my kids are laughing or fighting in the back seat.

      Like someone above already mentioned, if a system has to rely on alternative methods for input in order to function properly, it is a very poorly designed system. That’s exactly what touch screens and voice controls are.
      There are some very nicely designed touch screen controls in aviation, but the cost of those is astronomical, hence we get crappy leftovers that need work arounds.

  • avatar

    Mechanical switches will become a luxury feature in cars like analog clocks are today. A touchscreen is dirt cheap compared to loads of switches and knobs, and cost has always been the #1 priority for car makers. As an added bonus, people still seem to consider touch controls “futuristic”.

    • 0 avatar

      Bingo! People think touchscreens are cool… then they learn (the hard way) that jumping thru six menus just to change a radio station or adjust the temperature is a pain. Only then do they want their “old school” buttons back again. How soon everyone forgets BMWs dreaded iDrive mess. If fact I bet that is why people think such systems are great: they came out in fancy, expensive cars first but are now available for the masses.

      The bigger issue is what happens when these things fail in 5 years. A button or switch is easy to test, fix or replace. With a touch screen once it stops working you’ll need to swap out the whole unit just to get the A/C to work.

  • avatar

    We have an Acura MDX as one of our company cars, and it allows you to control the radio with physical controls or the touchscreen. As a lot of other commenters already stated, it’s less distracting and simply much easier to use physical buttons and knobs than the touch screen, which in the case of the MDX, is a bit far to reach from my comfortable driving position.

    Plus I really prefer fast, notchy tuning knobs that you can flick to blow through the tons of XM/Sirius stations.

  • avatar

    KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid, works better every time.

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