Here is a Chevy stereo in 1954:
There are 7 controls. Two dials for volume and selecting a station, and five station presets. You could master this system in a few seconds. The controls are all physical, so you don’t have to take your eyes off the road to find the one you want.
Here is a Chevy stereo in 2010:
There are 24 controls, and a large screen containing menus, submenus, and settings. This is a very complex interface, and I know that there’s a lot of thought that’s gone into it, but it’s still a very, very complicated one compared to the 1954 dashboard.
Then the real bugger arrives: the auxillary (AUX) cable:
This little guy connects to your phone, and therein lies the trouble. Everyone (myself included) plugs their phone into their car stereo, and the result is terribly dangerous. You’ve now got a mini-computer that has no manual controls, so it requires that you operate it with your eyes, and it’s holding the tastiest, freshest, most dopamine-inducing experience glowing right there in your hand. A hand that should probably be at 10-and-2 on the wheel, right?
This interface, while delightful on the couch, is quite deadly on the road. We know that messaging while driving is very dangerous, but how often do you use your phone to:
- Lead a conference call
- Reply to that urgent email from your boss
- Make that perfect playlist for the rest of your car trip
- Playlist? Nah. Let’s just make a Pandora station…
- Pandora? Nah. Let’s download that awesome NPR podcast about Breaking Bad.
- …but why **listen** when you can **watch**? Let’s finish up that documentary on Netflix, yeah?
- …or better yet, go for 3 stars on that Angry Birds level?
- OMG, did you see that guy using his iPad while driving? Let’s fire up the Camera app to take a picture and tweet about it…
The interface of linking your car’s dashboard to your phone and/or manually operating its contents is really, really awful.
There are a few parts to solving this problem:
- Auto makers: Please design a car interface that is compelling enough for us to stop plugging our phones into the AUX input.
- Phone makers: Keep up the good work with those voice-input tools.
- Drivers: I know this is naggy, but can we put the phone on silent and leave them in a pocket? Maybe print up the directions before leaving the house, or burn a few CDs to listen to in the car? Bonus points if you leave your phone in your bag.
I am just as guilty as anyone of driving while distracted, but maybe that’s the real solution: get rid of the driving. If Google can hurry up and get their self-driving car on the road, maybe we can all get back to our Angry Birds.
Then we all win. (Except for those green pigs.)