Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Personalizing the Car

As noted in a previous post, I recently acquired a gently used car. It is a '08 Honda Civic Hybrid and came with their navigation system. The "Nav" as Honda likes to call it, is a screen in the middle of the dash that provides GPS service and is the display for the audio system. This the trend these days on new cars, gives the car a personality, and provides the driver and passenger a richer engagement experience. Sounds good, in theory.... As you can see from the picture, the screen is lined with identical buttons with cryptic labels. If I need to keep my eyes on the road, I better know which button does what pretty damn well. This is the least of it's problems. (Would love to play around with Ford's new Sync system. Mark my words: every car will have something like this by 2013 models.)

The GPS map service is powered off a DVD and satellite service and works competently--it displays where I am relative to my surroundings. I can zoom in and out to different scale although the map looks a little cartoonish with jagged lines for most streets. My favorite worthless setting is the far out zoon with scale of 350 miles per centimeter of screen. This places me in North America on a screen showing the western hemisphere. Not very helpful for driving around town. I've never figured out (actually taken the time) to learn how to have the car talk to me and guide me to my destination. The manual is about 1 inch thick.

The audio system's UI is a nightmare. The 'designer' of the UI must have been an engineer who has never designed a user interface, driven a car or listened to music much less done two of these three at the same time. The primary interface shows the radio station, the assigned shortcut button, and then two large touchscreen buttons to choose the background of the screen or assign the station memory preset buttons. The reset button touchscreen option seeks the local stations and then assigns them to your preset buttons that line the bottom of the screen. Great, except that you are likely to do that once. Why would you do this often if you like the stations you've selected. Stations and tastes don't change that often? But that button is always there. And if you accidentally touch it, it will reset all your stations and there is no way to stop it. A painful inconvenience to reset them all and reassign each of the six presets. The music background lets you choose a equalizer background or a watter ripple that moves to the tone of the music--sounds cooler than it is. It is a black and white screen and lacks any sense of excitement.

The point is, why was this interface allowed to launch this way?! Here's a $1000 option with a terrible user experience. The product manager for this devise should be forced to reset every owner's radio preset buttons everyday for life. And, wouldn't it be great if Honda let you choose the skin of your Nav or at least refreshed it if you bought a new DVD (about $200 at your local dealership) to right this UI injustice? If anyone knows a hack to do this, I would be forever in your debt. 

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