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LEAD Innovation Blog

Read our latest articles on innovation management and innovation in a wide range of industries.

Date: 01-Nov-2018
Posted by: Angela HENGSBERGER

Death of buttons: Will all machines need touchscreens soon?


Turn and press, or wipe? for example in your car, is your radio or navigation system operated with buttons, or with a touch screen? Using the automotive industry as an example, we show you what you should consider when converting from machines to touch screen interfaces.

Volkswagen, Toyota, Opel have it, Audi, BMW, Mercedes and Lexus do not have it: the touch screen. Strange, isn't it? One would think that innovative technology should come into its own, especially with the high-priced brands. But it seems that the situation is exactly the other way around: volume manufacturers are relying on this technology, the premium brands are - still - relinquishing it.

But why is that? Turning and pressing buttons and switches is a completely outdated technology that the most eternal opponents of technology are crying over. From the looks of things, the developers from Audi or Lexus have other things in mind. There is a strategy behind it, innovations are used according to plan, there is a roadmap for market success.

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Are the expensive car brands just old-fashioned?

At Mercedes or BMW one could follow the - very unlikely - theory, whose technical know-how is just not yet so far developed. But Audi, with VW in the same group, or Lexus, the luxury brand of Toyota? Of course, they know exactly how to do it and still don't use the technology. Obviously there are considerations behind it, which notice only with the second look.

The smart phone generation can no longer imagine how the older generation still got their fingers caught in the telephone dials. Today, a phone has become a real computer, with capabilities that many of us hardly have an overview of in their entirety. In addition, an interface that makes it possible to operate the device quickly and intuitively: The touch screen has established itself as the perfect Human-Machine Interface (HMI). In addition, it is now comparatively cheap and requires little maintenance.


Why the business model is relevant for the interface

A brief excursion to the keyword low maintenance: Wherever low service costs are required, touchscreens are increasingly used instead of pushbuttons or knobs. Office copiers, for example, are usually rented or purchased with a maintenance contract. The reason: Significantly less maintenance. This shows that the decision to introduce touchscreens to control a machine depends largely on the business model. 

But back to cars: There is a technology that is innovative, inexpensive and generally accepted but still not used. And this, although this non-use also has real disadvantages. Touchscreens are intuitive to use, the learning effort is low, which plays an important role in rental cars, for example. Renting a car and using it either only in the basic functions or thoroughly familiarizing yourself with the functions of the knobs of iDrive (BMW) or Comand Online (Mercedes) before leaving can be frustrating. Buying or borrowing - the business model also plays a decisive role in the automobile industry.

So why rather turn and push buttons? The responsible persons of the respective automobile manufacturers express themselves differently vehemently. At Audi or Lexus, arguments are more cautious, as they have the opposite concept in the same group and must also represent it.


The concept behind it

The argumentation is sharper with Mercedes or BMW: They think touchscreens are more dangerous. You have to look at it relatively long and concentrated to really hit the button, navigate in the selection menus and make entries on the virtual keyboard. This is especially important for larger cars, because the driver may have to bend over quite a bit to get to the display. The way to the next tree is not far.

Another reason: the uniform operating ergonomics. In a car, you usually press and turn classic buttons and keys, whereas the fingertip on a touch screen is a break in the operating concept. Buttons also have the advantage of being able to be found and operated with the sense of touch alone, even without eye contact, and supported by the physically trained "automation".

In addition, the touch screen is a relatively new technology that young people in particular have learned to use. But this is not necessarily the core target group for premium vehicles. And - you can't jiggle it - with rotary controllers, the input feedback is more immediate, reducing errors and duplicate inputs.

It can therefore be clearly seen that a concept is behind the alleged innovation fatigue of the car brands mentioned. And how innovative these concepts are is shown by BMW, for example. Since the end of last year a gesture control has been offered in the 7 class. A 3D camera records five different gestures and controls the functions accordingly.



Whether it is a promising innovation to switch the operation of a machine to touch screen depends on many parameters. The much quoted truism "The fast eat the slow" is not always true. On the contrary, it is often the much more sensible strategy to weigh up and carefully assess the market and one's own possibilities in order to score with an innovation only then. An innovation roadmap is essential for this.

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Born and raised in Vienna. For more than 6 years she has been in charge of Business Development at LEAD Innovation with the functions marketing, sales and communication.

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