Have the Luddites won, or has common sense prevailed?
The news that Ford is adding more physical controls to its MyFord Touch systems caused a stir among critics of the automaker's connected-car dashboards. Ford, which has been at the vanguard of outfitting cars with apps and touch screens, seemed to be acknowledging that it had pushed the envelope one step -- or a couple of buttons -- too far.
But Ford says the addition of volume and tuning knobs to the systems in the 2013 F-150 and the coming 2014 Fiesta is part of a continuing effort to find the right mix of controls -- voice recognition, touch screens and old-style buttons -- that will make a majority of drivers comfortable. Ford said it wasn't planning to pull back on services or give up on touch screens.
"It's really a function of getting customer feedback," said Jim Baumbick, director of global product development quality. "It's about finding harmony and balance." He said the modification process had gone on for several years.
The MyFord Touch systems have always given drivers a choice of physical controls -- like the buttons on the steering wheel -- as well as voice and touchscreen commands. Now volume and tuning knobs are returning to the dashboard.
The quest for an interface that can control everything from navigation to streaming music to safety systems has led to a lot of experimentation. Automakers have tried dials (BMW) and even a vibrating joystick (Lexus). But the public's fondness for touch screen phones and tablets may be winning the day. Cadillac, for instance, hopes its Cue touch screen system will remind drivers of their iPads. After a year on the market, the response has been positive, Cadillac says -- although its field research suggests that people are using the steering wheel and voice commands more than the dashboard screen.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.