Car (A)UX fail

Volume 2, Issue 16; 23 May 2018

♪ Riding along in my automobile... ♫

I’m a big fan of backup cameras in cars, but I’ve noticed an odd consequence of having them. Or rather, I expect, of having that display in the dashboard. You turn on the car, you get a big logo on the display (they have to show you the logo, of course, in case you’ve forgotten what kind of car you’re sitting in or something) and, now that they’ve turned on the display, they turn on the radio too.

So. I get in my rental, turn on the car, mute the radio, and plug my phone into the USB port for power. My experience with navigation is that it eats up the battery pretty quick, so plugging in the phone seems like a good plan. Type in the address, turn on navigation, and off I go.

A few seconds later, the radio comes back on. I mute it again. A few moments later, it comes back on. This time, I hold the button down long enough to turn the display off entirely. Time passes. The radio comes back on. Off, on, off, on, sometimes almost immediately, sometimes after a considerable delay: there’s no obvious pattern.

There is a pattern, of course. I just haven’t noticed it.

After a while, I wonder why the phone isn’t talking at me when I come to a junction. A little fiddling and I discover that’s because I’ve turned the volume all the way down. I turn it back up.

Now the pattern is clear. Every time the navigation system wants to tell me something, instead of playing it through the phone speakers, it attempts to play it through the radio. That turns the radio back on! Instead of returning to muted after the navigation instructions, it simply returns to playing the radio. Fail the first.

Instead of fighting with it, I find a radio station I can stand and leave it playing. Using the radio for the instructions is great, in theory. I have certainly had the experience of not hearing or fully comprehending the instructions read from my phone because I’m playing the radio.

In practice, what happens is that the first second or so of the instructions is lost in the audio source transition. Instead of “turn left on Maxwell Street”, I get “...axwell street”. Fail the second.

The point of audio instructions, one imagines, is to reduce my need to look away from the road. Ironically, truncated instructions force me to look even more often since I neither heard the salient detail, “left”, nor am I confident that I understood the street name.

It’s also remarkably annoying to have songs randomly and unceremoniously interrupted.

Eventually, I just plug the phone into a battery pack.