The Ford Mustang Mach-E will now let you control HVAC features with a real knob, thanks to a new over-the-air update.
Obviously, it’s not yet possible for Ford to deliver new physical knobs over the Internet. Instead, the update allows the existing physical volume knob to be used for adjusting various HVAC features. To achieve this, the user must first tap the touchscreen for the control they wish to change and then adjust the control using the knob. The knob can then control cabin temperature, fan speed, and the heated seat settings.
For those that prefer more tactile control, it’s a nice upgrade over touch-only operation. It does come with one drawback, though: The volume knob is now no longer just a volume knob. It presents the possibility of confusion, where one inadvertently ends up blasting NPR at full volume when trying to simply turn the heater up, and vice versa. However, the interface is likely designed to minimize such occurrences, such as with a timeout before the knob returns to volume operation.
Amusingly, the physical knob in the Mach-E is not actually its own electromechanical part. It’s a stick-on part that interfaces with the touchscreen with special “fingers” underneath. As the user turns the knob, those fingers move on the touchscreen and create the desired operation. The value in the design is that the physical knob gives the user something tangible to grab onto. This eliminates the need to look at the touchscreen when using the control.
The new feature is a part of the Ford Power-Up 4.1.2 update. The update also includes other tweaks to the Sync 4A infotainment system, aimed at streamlining the user interface. The status bar and home screen have been retooled with new icons and modified for easier navigation, for example.
New games are also included as part of the update. Bridge Battle involves competitive bridge building, either against the computer or a human Player Two. The second is a puzzle game named Parking Lot, which unsurprisingly challenges players to get a car out of a crowded parking lot. Of course, those wanting a more realistic challenge can simply drive down to Walmart on a busy Friday and enjoy the real thing.
Automakers have flocked to touchscreen controls over the past decade for various reasons. However, recent years have seen a pushback. Hunting for a control on a touchscreen with minimal tactile cues is difficult, and draws one’s attention away from the driving task. In contrast, actual physical controls can be manipulated by feel, causing less distraction and cognitive load.
The provision of the physical volume knob in the Mach-E, along with this new update, shows that Ford is listening to its customers. The solution may not be perfect, as it still requires some touchscreen interaction. Regardless, it’s a welcome move in the right direction, and one likely to be appreciated by many Mach-E owners.
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