Science and Tech

Volkswagen will remove touch buttons from its steering wheels (and it wasn’t even its worst recent decision)

Tactile buttons for light control on the VW ID.5

Remember The Price Is Right? A program in which the winners got great prizes if they managed to get close, but always without going over, as much as possible at the price of a sum of items. Something similar is what has happened to Volkswagen with its touch buttons on the steering wheel. The good thing is that they have backtracked. The bad: They weren’t the worst.

go overboard. As we said, the grace of mythical program of TVE is that the contestants could not spend the slightest in the price of the products. A good metaphor for life. Like the final line that separates the funny from the annoying. The one of instructive explanations to burdensome ones. Of the modern and the excessive.

The latter is what has happened to Volkswagen. With the aim of modernizing the interior of their cars, they have taken a step that has been raising blisters for a long time: the touch buttons. Their interiors have been filled with them and we find them under the screens, in the light controls and even to activate or deactivate the front or rear windows. The touch has flooded the new Volkswagen. And not for the good, precisely.

Reverse. The criticisms have been so many that Thomas Schäfer, CEO of Volkswagen, has confirmed with a post on LinkedIn that they will go back to physical controls on their steering wheels. “We are refining our portfolio and designs to create simpler interactions with our vehicles. For example, we are bringing back the physical buttons on the steering wheel! This is what Volkswagen customers demand,” Schäfer wrote.

The decision has been immediately applauded on the networks but customers continue to show their dissatisfaction with other usability solutions that are, to say the least, controversial. For example, the light controls are tactile. Also a button that alternates the use of the front and rear windows. And even the button for the hazard lights is tactile! Without a doubt, they are bad examples of how a brand can “go too trendy”.

uncomfortable and insecure. The problem with touch buttons in cars is that they are more inconvenient and insecure to use than physical ones. As a general rule, we focus on the screens, where it is increasingly common for the use of the air conditioner to be centralized, which, in addition, is usually linked to its own submenu and does not have direct access.

In the case of the German firm, these decisions are combined with the use of touch buttons in places that force one to look away from the road. What light we have selected and if we have activated the fog lights is not something that we can see on the instrument panel. Neither if we have the rear or front windows active. It is not even easy to generate muscle memory that points directly to warnings.

Worst of all, in Volkswagen’s case, the buttons weren’t working properly on many occasions. Journalist Guillermo García Alfonsín explains it well on his Youtube channel where he shows how the buttons don’t finish obeying his commands, which can be a real problem at high speed.

Tactile buttons for light control on the VW ID.5

They are not the worst. In recent days, we have had a Volkswagen ID.5 in our hands and we can confirm that not all units show such erratic behavior. In our case, we have not had problems of this type, but in the analysis we did mention that they are neither comfortable nor intuitive.

What most strikes us is that Volkswagen has chosen to replace the touch buttons on the steering wheel, just the ones that are easier to access and for which there is instant and visible feedback on the dashboard, the Head-Up Display or sound.

In fact, on the Volkswagen ID.5 not all buttons are tactile. Each side is divided into two pieces. The upper ones group a large part of the functions but the buttons are not tactile. You have to press them (moving the whole piece) and a haptic response confirms the use of the command. In the lower area, for the control of the instrument panel screen, for example, it is tactile and is only activated by sliding a finger sideways.

Giant screens in cars have gotten out of hand.  And the designers are already backing down

applaudable. With everything (and although it could be better), Volkswagen’s decision is still a good way to put an end to an obvious problem and that customers did not like. Especially when driving on mountain passes or a more sporty driving and in the “handling” certain functions could be activated or deactivated.

In fact, it is a movement that could be set as an example to other players in the industry. Mercedes has also brought the air conditioning of their cars to their screens, although it is not too serious in models with Hyperscreen. Yes, it is more so in BMWs, which need their own submenu for this section. Kia has invented a bar in which to alternate the climate control buttons with those of the multimedia player and, although the solution is intelligent, it will always be better to use physical buttons. Although, whoever is alarmed by the Volkswagen emergency touch button, can always check where this (physical) button is placed on the Aiways U5.

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