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Hate it or not, touch-screen infotainment is here to stay

Despite negative reviews from Consumer Reports, we should all get ready for a future filled with systems like MyFord Touch and Cadillac Cue.

By Douglas Newcomb Nov 26, 2012 3:29PM

Cadillac CUE. Photo by General Motors.Consumer Reports hates the latest touch-screen infotainment systems, especially the recent cutting-edge examples from Ford and Cadillac. The respected publication initially criticized the MyFord Touch system for being too difficult and distracting to use. It later scoffed that MyFord Touch “stinks” and said the design was a negative influence on other automakers, including General Motors and its Cadillac brand.

To prove this point, Consumer Reports has started picking on Cadillac’s Cue system, calling it “convoluted and frustrating” in a recent review. While CR does point out a few positive aspects of CUE and how it compares favorably with MyFord Touch, the reviewer said the Ford system is easier to navigate than Cue (see the video below).

Chances are good that these slick, touch-based infotainment systems will get better as first-generation versions improve. They’ll also likely set a new standard, as another infamous interface has shown.

About a decade ago, the automotive infotainment whipping boy was BMW’s iDrive, the center-console controller that both car reviewers and car buyers roundly despised. It was for good reason: The original iDrive was overly complicated and confusing.

But BMW steadily improved iDrive, and other automakers eventually copied it. Audi, Infiniti, Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz now all offer an infotainment interface that uses a circular center-console or dash-mounted controller that’s similar to iDrive, and the design has become something of a standard for luxury brands.

Of course, MyFord Touch and Cue have their problems. I have tested both systems and have seen these first-hand. I haven’t experienced some of the reboot and Bluetooth incompatibility issues with MyFord Touch that owners of vehicles with the system have reported, but I have found the system slow to respond and the touch-sensitive buttons below the main screen difficult to use. My wife, however, hated the version of MyFord Touch in a Focus, and a colleague I respect -- and who knows cars and tech -- went on record about the problems he’s had with the system in his Ford Edge.

I spent a week with the Cue system in an XTS this past summer and came away less than impressed. While I like the configurable instrument panel, I found some of the controls for the Cue system clumsy and hard to hit on target at a glance. This is why I gave it a score of only 6 out of 10 in a recent test of the latest infotainment systems for Wired magazine -- and why Cue didn’t rank at the top in the test.

Even given these problems, I predict that touch-screen interfaces similar to MyFord Touch and Cue will eventually become a standard, and will improve. Ford has already made updates to MyFord Touch. As with BMW’s iDrive, what we’re seeing now is the pioneers being punished for pushing the envelope in automotive infotainment.

Not all automakers will follow the trend; some, like BMW and Mercedes-Benz, will likely stick to dashboard designs that preclude touch-screens. But with more drivers accustomed to the convenience of configurable touch-screens on smartphones and tablets -- and with voice recognition getting better all the time so that drivers can access features without taking their hands off the wheel or eyes off the road -- I’m betting that the proliferation of touch-based systems like MyFord Touch and Cadillac Cue is inevitable.

That means Consumer Reports, and consumers, had better get used to them.

Doug Newcomb has been covering car technology for more than 20 years for outlets ranging from Rolling Stone to In 2008, he published his first book, "Car Audio for Dummies" (Wiley). He lives and drives in Hood River, Ore., with his wife and two kids, who share his passion for cars and car technology, especially driving and listening to music.

Nov 27, 2012 7:58AM
I know, Doug, it is obvious you are a huge fan of this kind of stuff.  Good for you.  I am by no means a technophobe (I use an iPhone, iPadd, bluetooth, and I know my way around a pc and the internet) but I find that which you hold so dear to be repugnant.  None of this stuff improves how a car handles, stops, or performs.  All it does is add distractions and cost.   You would have to agree with me when I say that all technology eventually becomes obsolete.  Not only does this stuff add cost to the original owner but it will become a financial burden to any subsequent owner.   I fail to see how any of this can be a good thing.  Yet, you are a bonifide fan of all of this as you describe it as "cutting edge" and "slick."  Forgive me, but for something to be "cutting edge" or "slick" doesn't it need to work properly? 
Nov 27, 2012 4:29AM

Keep knocking them down CR - we don't need replacements fro "real" knobs.

Tech for tech sake isn't a good thing.  

You can have bluetooth and hands free voice control without a touch screen to mess with.

Nov 27, 2012 7:43PM

Just wait til you have a dead battery.....

Nov 28, 2012 11:47AM

I think the problem with My Ford Touch is that they partnered with Sony.  When was the last time Sony made a decent cell phone, 2002?  If they wanted to hit it out of the park they should have partnered with someone who is knocking touch screen interfaces out of the park like Samsung or Motorola. (I would have included Apple in the list, but they are way too full of themselves to be bothered to be part of anything that doesn't start with an " i ")


And as far as the knob debate goes, I love that my 7 year old touch screen dvd-based navagation systems in both my Lincoln Aviator and my Corvette have volume knobs!  All the touch screen capability I want, none that I dont!

Nov 28, 2012 7:35AM
I've got the touch screen in both our 2013 Santa Fe Limited and Veloster Turbo. I love it. Way better than the dial knob that was in the 2010 Equinox.

Weve also had no problems with the bluetooth.
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