Over the past few years, car companies have been focusing more on their infotainment systems and car technology, leading to a sleeker interior and a more modern feel. But for many of them, this means pushing a number of controls into the screen, including climate controls.
Generally, this is a bad thing. To be clear, I’m not entirely against digital climate controls, but I am against poorly implemented versions that require more than a few taps to change settings. This is not only inconvenient, but also dangerous – drivers are forced to take their eyes off the road to activate the air conditioning, when all they could reach for was a tactile dial that they could control without even looking. .
But there are some companies that are doing digital climate control right.
What is needed for a well-designed digital climate control?
There are a few things that make a great digital climate control, but they really boil down to ease of use. Controls should be as simple as possible, requiring as few taps as possible to change.
This also means that these controls must remain on the screen at all times, even when using software like CarPlay and Android Auto. After all, physical controls don’t move based on the software you’re using – why should digital controls?
A major problem with this is that there are many controls involved in changing the temperature of the car. It has fan speed, temperature and vent selector. This is on top of controls for things like windshield defogging, seat heaters and coolers, etc.
Who’s doing it right?
There aren’t many companies that have cracked the code yet – but recently, I’ve found that Range Rover is on the right track. To change the temperature in the Range Rover all you have to do is swipe up or down from any screen. Controls for both driver and passenger are located on the appropriate sides of the screen.
But the Range Rover can also do better. it’s very easy to change temperature of climate control – but as soon as you want to change things like fan speed or select which vent to use, you’re stuck with more taps. It’s reasonable to prioritize temperature over other controls – but most drivers still change things like fan speed regularly. Thankfully, you’ll still get quick buttons for things like enabling the windshield defogger, which is useful.
Of course, this is all still relatively new for car companies – who continue to develop poorly designed software in general. To be fair, most cars these days have so-called “automatic” climate modes, meaning you should be able to set a preferred temperature and leave it alone. While many drivers still prefer to manually change the climate, these auto modes are getting better at automatically changing the temperature and fan speed as needed to provide a more comfortable car interior.
What will happen next?
Let’s be honest – the genie isn’t going back in the bottle, at least not in the near future. Companies are working towards more modern car interiors, and it seems like the buttons and dials trend is going away. This is not necessarily a bad thing. But I hope automakers can get to easier-to-use, more intuitive, and safer controls before they fix what’s not broken.