Duncan Wilcock


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Sunday, March 10, 2013

Cons of Dashboard Screens in Cars

The hot new feature I see in newer cars lately is a big, bright screen in the centre of the dashboard.

They look nice for the most part, and provide an improved visual presentation of stereo functions, car diagnostics, GPS navigation, etcetera.   Personally though, I think they are a bad idea and wouldn't want one in my car.  Naturally, since this is my blog, I'm going to tell you why.

You're doing it wrong

Basically I think an in-dash screen & computer system is the wrong way to solve the problem of needing a screen and navigation in the car.  A better solution would allow for the electronics to be upgraded easily, because cars last for 10 years and electronics are outdated in 3 years.

The car manufacturers are probably thinking that's a good thing, they may be hoping that outdated electronics will shorten the purchasing cycle of new cars so that car manufacturers can sell cars more often.  They may be right, but that doesn't make this car user happy.

I like the standard sized car-stereo slots that more cars used to have because you can then swap out the cars electronics easily and attractively - without making a big mess of the dashboard.

I also find that many built in screens are too bright - especially at night.  I'm sure this will improve with time, but I have definitely been in some cars where the brightness of the screen interfered with my ability to see out on a dark & rainy night.

I Do Like Reversing Cameras 

I do like the integrated reversing camera features I've seen, and can see the need for some integration in order to offer that feature - the Toyota Prius seems to offer a good implementation that turns on when the car is put in reverse, and offers an informative (and interesting) overview of what is happening with the engine, electric motor, and batteries.

Modular:  Standard Mounting Points

I don't think I have a complete solution, but I would like to point in the direction I would like to see things go - modular.    My current setup is a standard size car stereo deck from JVC that I have changed out a few times.  It now has a wired in microphone and bluetooth connectivity with my phone that can stay in pocket or double as a GPS display in one of those windshield suction cups.  I find suction cup mounts slightly distasteful in general, but I have found a good one that is solid and supports rotation.

A better mount than a windshield-suction-cup would be a modular set of mounting points built into the dashboard - say a couple of standard sized brass nuts like we have for camera tripods, or something even better.  Two or three mounting points ought to be enough, and they could have plastic cover-plugs that cover them up when not in use.

There you have it, some suggestions for you car dashboard designers out there.  Save us all some money and skip the fancy electronics.  Let me bring my own - just work on giving some good, standardized mounts in the right places.

Update:  7-Apr-2013:  A day after I wrote this, a really cool product was announced that is going in the right direction  - check it out:  www.automatic.com

Also - Marco Arment, Casey Liss, & John Siracusa talked about this very subject a few days after I posted this in their podcast - Neutral here is the episode - I enjoyed it, although I don't agree with Marco in this case.