Car Technology We Hate
Let us state for the record that we are not luddites. In fact, quite the opposite is true: AOL Autos editors are, to a man, enthusiastic about the wave of technology that’s swept through the auto industry over the past decade. And why wouldn’t we be? As computers have become smaller, cheaper and more powerful, they’ve enabled huge improvements in safety, convenience and entertainment.
For instance, Infiniti's Around View Monitor allows drivers to see a full 360-degree view of what’s lurking in their vehicle’s blind spots. This Willy Wonka elevator of backup cameras makes it even more inexcusable to run over anything during low-speed parking maneuvers and renders perfect, straight-between-the-lines parking as easy as can be.
Speaking of which, automatic parking systems like the one found in the Ford Taurus allow even the worst drivers to parallel park without any bumper-bashing. While we'd prefer to see more people up their behind-the-wheel game, the front grilles of our own cars appreciate tech like Active Park Assist.
Then there's the ubiquitous iPod and smartphone integration that’s democratized entertainment and telecommunications features, while offering clever new ways to use these devices. Think about it – before Siri, we were already using Sync to talk to our iPhones, asking them to play songs and make phone calls. That we can conjure these feats in sub-$20,000 cars would have seemed like science fiction just a few years ago.
Yet for all the fun and functionality the technology phenomenon has brought us, there are still features that drive us nuts. Some are just bad ideas, while others are so late to market that they're no longer relevant. We've seen poorly engineered solutions to problems people don't have and some technology is being used in cars for no good reason other than looking impressive in the showroom.
Here's our list of the 10 most annoying technology features, things that even tech enthusiasts like us can do without.
1. iDrive and its clones
No technological development in the auto industry has been as controversial as BMW's iDrive controller and its corresponding operating system. Introduced in 2001 in the BMW 7 Series and updated several times since, the functionality of the BMW system has been copied in all manner of forms, including Toyota's Remote Touch system pictured here. The basic idea of iDrive and its spawn is to allow simple manipulation of navigation, climate control, communications, audio and other systems. If only it were so.
While much of the criticism that's been heaped on iDrive can be attributed to it being ahead of its time, the truth is that no automotive controller has yet solved the problem of how best to replace dozens of discrete controls like buttons and knobs with a digital surrogate. All these systems are different, they all have fairly steep learning curves, and their internal logic is usually not consistent given the large numbers of functions they attempt to incorporate.
2. Hard drive-based stereo systems
CD ripping on computers dates to the late 1990’s, but auto manufacturers didn’t get around to including factory stereos with the ability to rip CD’s to internal hard drives until a decade later. By the time Chrysler introduced its MyGig system in 2007, most music lovers had already spent countless hours ripping their music collections and were happily enjoying those mp3 files on their iPods. Re-ripping all those CDs to the vehicle’s head unit? Yeah, right.
Even transferring the music from your computer to the car’s hard drive via USB drive usually proves to be too complicated to bother – especially when you can often just plug in your iPod and play music from it directly. To make the situation worse, compared to software like iTunes, the file management capabilities of these systems are universally terrible. Hard drive-based stereo units might have been a revolution if they had come to market five years earlier, but even if that were the case, they’d still be obsolete today.
3. Bluetooth audio
Bluetooth audio sounds like a great idea: Wirelessly stream music from your phone to your car's stereo. Simple, with no cords, no complicated or expensive equipment, and no glitchy software to install. Except that promise is usually too good to be true.
Bluetooth audio is notoriously buggy when using an iPhone, and can be difficult to control on many car stereos, with the sound starting up on its own and sometimes overriding other audio options. And the sound itself? Not only not up to audiophile standards, but of noticeably lower quality than playing a CD or playing music through a wired connection.
4. Engine noise piped in through the audio system
This is just a bad idea, full stop. What is so perplexing is why BMW decided to deploy it on an otherwise amazing performance car.
The BMW M5 can do 0-60 miles per hour in 4.2 seconds and sounds downright amazing doing so. Which means there's just no need to have the sound of its engine simulated by the car's audio system. One of the reasons why you buy a $90,000 sport sedan is to hear the 560-horsepower engine do its thing. If we wanted to hear a fake M5, we'd fire up the Xbox and play Forza.
5. Non-touchscreen LCD displays
LCD displays have been in cars for a decade now, ever since the advent of navigation systems. Quite early in the development of this technology, automakers figured out that touchscreens allowed them to deliver simple and intuitive interfaces. Yet 10 years later, some automakers are still selling navigation and entertainment systems without touchscreens. While we (sort of) understand why systems that have the screen buried deep within the dash would use an iDrive-like controller, others befuddle us.
For instance: The nav unit we've seen in the Buick Regal. It has a joystick, a rotary knob, and a number pad for interacting with the display, none of which works particularly well. In certain menus, you need to select which option you want by pressing the number next to the on-screen button, which is far from intuitive. Yet the screen sits right out there on the dashboard, inviting a simple touch interface.
6. Capacitive touch controls
As much as we like touchscreens -- whether in our cars on gracing the front face of our phones -- there are certain implementations that just don't work. Like the button field in the Chevrolet Volt's capacitive touch center stack, which is prone to accidental contact and isn't always clear about whether you've activated a button or not.
But the Volt isn't nearly as bad as the capacitive touch "sliders" found on some Lincoln vehicles. Rather than having a simple volume knob for the stereo or buttons to control the HVAC fan, for instance, the Lincoln has capacitive touch controls that are difficult to operate without looking directly at them.
7. Lane departure alerts
This is a tricky one, because we like the idea of lane departure warnings. If we're distracted or drowsy and we begin to veer dangerously over the double yellow, we want to be beeped at, vibrated, or otherwise alerted.
The problem, however, is that altogether too often these systems are like the boy who cried wolf. Forget to turn on your blinker to change lanes on the highway and the car throws a fit. Put a single tire on the white stripe to get a better view around the cars in front of you and it's beeping again. Most lane departure warning systems get so annoying that we turn them off, though we know we probably shouldn't. Hopefully the next generation will prove better at deriving intent.
8. Night vision cameras
While this see-in-the-dark feature is super impressive when you're trying to one-up your buddies at the country club, we're not sold on its usefulness. Driving at night requires paying closer-than-usual attention to the road, and glancing at the night vision display inside the car is distracting.
While we like the idea of a system that can identify pedestrians on the side of the road, we'd like to think that HID headlights and good vision can do the same thing more reliably. Clearly these systems exist more because they can than because they need to.
9. In-car Facebook and Twitter feeds
After a few minutes driving the 2012 BMW 3 Series, "liking" Facebook posts while at the same time trying to navigate city traffic, we came to the simple conclusion that we do not like this questionable feature. It's a temptation and a distraction that we just don't need.
There's a whole body of research showing just how dangerous distracted driving can be, so much so that the federal government is preparing to duke it out with automakers and electronics manufacturers over the issue. We can't imagine this sort of technology is long for the world.
If there's one complaint that seems to apply to nearly every automaker's implementation of technology inside the car, it's that the placement of buttons, controls and other interface elements is seldom designed from a clean sheet of paper. Automakers are in something of a quandary here, because there are plenty of legacy design issues -- so car interiors today are not that much different than they were 50 years ago.
Customers expect the gearshift lever to sprout from between the front seats and speedometers to exist largely behind the steering wheel, so automakers try and cram all their new technology into whatever places in the cockpit they can find. They've almost run out of room, so hopefully we will see some new ideas about technology integration coming soon.