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October 12, 2005

Bad Car UI

We just bought a new Honda Odyssey. Lovely car, but it has one serious flaw in its UI design.

For some reason, the designers decided to have the instrument panel always lit, even if the headlights weren't lit. You may think this is innocuous, but it turns out that I (and everyone else I know who has this car) use the instrument panel as a way to tell if our lights are on. You may not think that's how it is--that people check for headlight on-ness by looking out the windshield to see if the object in front of them is being illuminated--but it really is. So the net effect is that if you get in your car at night in a well-lit place (like your garage) you will drive off with your headlights off.

Honda's solution to this was to add an indicator when your headlights are on. No really, they point this out in the manual. "If the indicator is off, your headlights are off"...boy that's useful. How is the absense of something supposed to remind you of anything? I'd hate to see them design an alarm clock..."If you don't hear anything, wake up!"

The car has a feature that almost mitigates this problem, but just misses. You can leave the headlights in the "On" position and they turn off 15 seconds after you stop the engine (or close the driver's door or something). So you might think, great, I'll just always leave my headlights in the "On" position and then I won't ever be fooled by the instrument panel. We used our old Odyssey (which did NOT illuminate the instrument panel all the time) like that and it worked fine, we never forgot the headlights at dusk or other times where you sometimes leave them off longer than you should.

BUT, our new one also has a navigation computer and that switches from "day" to "night" mode based on the headlights being on. So if you leave the headlights on it is always in "night" mode and then it is too dark during the day. In fact you can configure the navigation display to be in "day" mode when the headlights are on, but then if you are planning to always keep them on (due to problem described in the first paragraph) the display will be too bright at night. The net result is leaving the headlight switch in the "On" position all the time won't work.

The reason I bring this up (besides general ranting) is to comment on something. People make jokes about if Windows were a car, har de har. But Microsoft spends a lot of time beta-testing Windows. And this flaw in the Odyssey involves the interaction of different UI components -- exactly the thing you don't catch in internal testing, because you don't use the product like a user does. Cars, of course, are not beta-tested. But if they were, I bet this problem would have been found the first day (or first night anyway). So there's one way that software development has it all over car development.

Posted by AdamBa at October 12, 2005 04:46 PM

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There is a knob to adjust the intensity of the instrument lighting but it seems to be too dark when you turn it all the way down.

Posted by: me at October 13, 2005 12:04 PM

"If you don't hear anything, wake up!"


Posted by: Website Design at October 14, 2005 08:53 AM

I'm surprised that a new car with a enough options to have a navigation system doesn't have automatic day/night sensing headlights! I thought those were becoming really commonplace.

Posted by: at October 17, 2005 07:17 PM