Car stereo: How can people get UI so wrong for so long in so many ways?

I just bought an Alpine stereo so I can listen to my iPhone in the car. Several lessons here:

  1. I had to read the manual to figure out how to store a pre-set
  2. The manual was a pdf – the paper manual didn’t say how to add a pre-set!
  3. Despite knowing about radio text it stores just 6 presets by freq. How easy would it be to:
    • A: Store the presets by station name
    • B: Alphabetise them (instead of storing them in tuning order which means nothing to humans) and
    • C: Store as many as the user wants?
  4.  As a consequence of the storing only 6 presets (a silly hang-over from buttons), new presets displace old presets and by using frequency instead of station name, the user doesn’t know what the station is (not necessary if presets are stored by name)
  5. Moving through the presets takes a panel push (“preset”), dial rotate to the preset you want (if you know what it is), another button push to play – and this takes you out of that mode, so if you made a mistake, go back to square one (which is literally square one, as the dial does not default to the current preset, but goes back to #1).

I don’t really understand how something can be this bad: the bad choices are just as hard to code as good choices. The only answer must be a lack of feedback from customer (who could force good design), lack of intellect in the designers (who could slip in good design without anyone noticing), and lack of passion for the product by the company owners.

Part of the problem, no doubt, is that the software development environments for these devises are primitive and locked down (a case for open-sourcing firmware). LabVIEW’s microcontroller software would let the developers make more radical changes more readily. But most of this sits with the big companies’ lack of inspiration.

It would be a great start if retailers let people play with the devices before buying –  I couldn’t tell how silly this interface was by looking (and it does have some nice features as well). That’s also a good way to engender loyalty to the brick-and-mortar retailer who did this.

The same is true of digital cameras as well. Maybe it is time for Apple cameras (there was one once, of course: the Quicktake), car stereos.

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One thought on “Car stereo: How can people get UI so wrong for so long in so many ways?

  1. Amen. My wife got me a Kenwood receiver for my birthday last year, and the stupidity of its UI is breathtaking. One example (of countless): The volume knob doubles as a button. Bump it when you go to adjust the volume and you’ll find yourself adjusting the bass, requiring a dozen more pushes to cycle back around to volume. Ugh.

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