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Does newer mean better?

Over time things improve. That’s right isn’t it? At least, you would hope that to be the case. We know that older people can be inclined to reflect on golden years of the past but in general, things have got better over time.

There are caveats to this and we are all well aware of them. Will buildings made today last as long as those made 200 years ago? Do the vegetables sold in supermarkets taste as good as those sold in the market 50 years ago? And are the controls in a new car as easy to use as in a car made 20 years ago? It is this last subject that we want to address in the spirit of understanding whether newer means better to certain aspects of customer experience.

The development of the iPhone has resulted in us becoming familiar with and totally accepting of touchscreens. Touchscreens don’t need a keyboard and they provide a flexible array of options to users. We find them on our washing machines, microwaves, and printers. They are on ticket machines and ATMs; they are everywhere.

They are also on the dashboard of almost every new car. If you want to change the temperature in the car, you no longer turn a knob but slide your finger on the touch screen. If you want to change the radio station, you no longer press a button, it is done on a touchscreen. Tesla led the field in a lot of this technology and it is used by almost every car manufacturer today.

What is the motivation for this “improvement”? Car manufacturers are convinced that because we use touchscreens on our phones, we need them and want them in our cars. Last year the Swedish car magazine Vi Bilägare carried out a test. It selected 11 modern cars from different manufacturers and, safe on an airfield, it tested the time needed to perform four basic tasks, such as changing the radio station or adjusting the cabin temperature. These tests were at the speed of a car travelling in the outside lane of a motorway. A 17 year-old Volvo, without a touchscreen was the control vehicle.

It was this old Volvo that won hands down. Drivers of the Volvo could perform the four tasks in 10 seconds. The MG Marvel R (a Chinese electric car) needed 44 seconds to perform the same tasks during which it travelled four times the distance of the old Volvo. All the cars with touchscreens performed much worse than the buttoned up Volvo. Not only was an extended time needed to perform the tasks on the cars with touchscreens, the driver’s eyes were off the road for longer.

Okay, some day we won’t need our hands to perform any of these tasks because everything will be voice activated. But for now, voice activation is still not so easy-to-use and doesn't control every function at the speed and in the way we wish. As ambassadors for improved customer experience we should forever call into question these so-called advancements. Just because something is novel doesn’t mean that it is better. Of course, we should innovate but only if the innovation provides a definite improvement.


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