“Oh see, it’s totally fine that you can no longer operate the touchscreen the way you’re used to, or that we’ve removed 27 buttons from the interior! You can just use our absolutely brilliant voice control!â€
I’ve been hearing things like this a lot lately while voicing some, um, concerns I have about several recently refurbished infotainment systems. Toyota and bmwfor example, have gone downhill in terms of how intuitive and easy their touchscreens are to understand and use once on the go. For Toyota/Lexusthat means getting rid of the excellent physical menu buttons and split-screen functionality. For BMW, which means burying features like key climate controls and adaptive cruise control distance control in a sea of touchscreen menus. For both, it also means aggravating satellite radio interfaces.
When I asked a Toyota/Lexus As for why it would remove those menu buttons and the ability to split the screen between content sources like you could previously do in some of its vehicles, I got the voice control response. When I expressed my concern about the page full of tiny menu icons that drivers face while driving BMW i4 and iXa BMW software engineer gave me the answer to voice control.
Okay good. Then let’s make a fuss.
I drove one recently BMW iXand when I came across an old one truck I belched exhaust fumes and decided to try voice control to turn on the air recirculation. Remember this is apparently Naturally speech recognition software.
â€œHello BMW. Switch on air circulation.â€
nope boiler plate “robot not understood” answer.
â€žHey BMW, turn on the air conditioningâ€™s recirculation mode.â€œ
â€žHey BMW, please turn on the air recirculation on the heating and ventilation system of this stupid futuristic car.â€œ
nope At this point, the inside was smelly.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to use the supposed natural language recognition of new cars only to find they can’t figure out what i want. That’s probably because I’m usually trying to find a feature that I haven’t been able to find before in a convoluted touchscreen interface. That would be the “Ah, I give up, let’s ask the car” scenario.
In contrast, this morning I used the voice recognition system in one Mercedes EQE to quickly change SiriusXM radio stations.
â€žHey Mercedes, SiriusXM Channel 28.â€œ
Bingo! It didn’t understand and didn’t answer me. In theory it should work that way, but in my experience it rarely works. Of course, in the success and failure scenarios I’ve presented, we’re ultimately talking about using voice controls as a workaround. For the BMW recirculation, it was a workaround for a shared climate control relocated to a touchscreen menu. For the Mercedes radio station, it was for me to hop in a car without my radio presets. With both, if I could, I would have just pushed a simple button and done it much faster than talking.
Well, part of the reason the SiriusXM command works is that it’s simple. In fact, in 2006, I was able to do the exact same trick using the voice commands in mine Acura TSX. Sure, I had to first press a talk button and memorize the exact commands, but the outcome and time of completion was the same. It was just as much a workaround then as it is now.
One element that is clearly an advantage and not a workaround is the programming of a navigation system. That was the case with mine TSX and it applies today with the different cars that can perform the same tasks without knowing these exact commands. Saying “Hey Mercedes, set the navigation system to 1060 W Addison Street, Chicago, IL” is obviously a lot quicker than typing everything on a touchscreen or, worse, dialing everything with an iDrive-like button. Pooh.
Much like touchscreens and iDrive-style buttons, voice commands are perfect for getting some tasks done and crap for others. A touchscreen is great for quickly selecting something that’s already on a screen, but not so good when you need to swipe through a long list of choices like radio stations or playlists. A button basically has the opposite talent set, making the two complementary. Voice commands then fill in the gaps, being perfect for things that would be tedious and time-consuming with the other two (or dash buttons) but not so good if you don’t know exactly what song you want to hear or rather not take six times as long to accomplish something that you could have accomplished by reaching out and pressing a little button.
Ultimately, the answer is redundancy. BMW used to offer all of the above plus wheel controls and gesture controls in case you want to pose as a magician. It worked well. Basically, give people the ability to control the car that works best for them, or more broadly, which works best when operating a moving vehicle.
â€œAha! But the safety angle!â€ some might argue. In fact, with voice commands, you can keep your eyes 100% on the road and your hands 100% on the wheel. But that brings me back to three key answers. First, voice commands must actually work reliably for this to be true, and they often don’t. Second, voice commands need to work just as fast as pressing a button, and sorry, but “Hey Toyota, turn the temperature up to 22 degrees,” and waiting for multiple bars just isn’t fast enough. My TSX could do that 17 years ago and I never once took up the offer.
Finally, it is necessary to know what the voice commands can and cannot do, because there are bound to be some functions that are outside their scope. These tend to be vehicle systems rather than infotainment systems, like disabling lane departure warning or maybe air recirculation (how about we not burying them 8 menus deep in a touchscreen in the meantime?)
Whenever someone at an auto company starts talking about the awesomeness of their new voice recognition capabilities, they are inevitably presented with the impression that we’ve suddenly achieved it USS Enterprise-D find computer where you can ask him to turn on the light commander Riker or fly to Qo’nos. We’re a long way from that. Then even them again company Computers sometimes required some precise commands. I wonder what would happen if I asked that Mercedes EQE for some tea, Earl Grey, hot?