Discuss: Technology can go too far

Get a grip; lose the touchscreens

VISORDOWN'S discussions aim to challenge assumptions about motorcycling. This week, our bike industry expert, who in his own interest cannot be named, argues not all progress is in the right direction.

'It all comes down to opposable thumbs. No other animal on the planet has hands that are as versatile as ours (even other primates don’t have the same level of dexterity) and it’s that ability to manipulate that allowed us to get where we are today. Without our incredible hands, we’d never have invented the hammer let alone the bean-to-cup coffee maker or the electric nose hair trimmer. Or the motorcycle.

'Hands are amazing at gripping things, moving things, pulling, pushing, twisting and grabbing things. But product designers seem desperate to stop us from using these abilities.

'Just look at Suzuki’s new turbo-charged Recursion concept bike, which replaces the familiar bar-mounted controls for the horn, lights and indicators with touch-pads like the ones you’ll find on a laptop. Why? What’s the point in replacing a control that you can feel with one that you can’t?

'I blame the iPad. It brought touchscreen technology to the masses and showed that a single, versatile screen could dispense with a plethora of buttons, keypads and switches. And it’s brilliant at doing its job (ie being a toy that you can pretend is a sensible, grown-up tool). But the world’s product designers need to get a grip (pun absolutely intended) and realise that touch-sensitive controls aren’t always best.

'As usual, cars are are giving us a glimpse into the future of motorcycles. Cabins of the latest models are filling with touchscreens, introducing acres of smooth glass where previously there were plastic switches. Want to turn the heating up? In the old days, moving a lever or turning a knob would do it. In a touchscreen car, you need to navigate layers of menus, stabbing at just the right parts of that smooth, featureless screen to make each step. Worse, you need to look, not just once but several times to achieve even the simplest tasks. That could be several seconds when your eyes are off the road. And this is an advance?

'And the technology-for-the-sake-of-it movement hasn’t finished yet. Nope, car manufacturers are already working on gesture control systems because, well, actually touching a control is sooooo 2012... In a few years you’ll be able to witness drivers wildly waving their arms around as they try to change the radio station or make their feet a bit warmer. No wonder car makers are spending so much time and effort trying to develop radar-operated automated braking and steering systems. Take the electric-powered Tesla Model S, which has a 17-inch touchscreen that controls virtually everything in the car. You need to use it to open the sunroof, and can even search the web. Check out this demonstration to see just how distracting it could be, bearing in mind owners should be focussing on driving. 

'History shows that technologies which catch on in cars tend to migrate onto two wheels after a short while. Suzuki’s concept shows that the idea of touch controls is already at the forefront of the minds of bike designers, so you can be sure we’ll be seeing touchscreens on production bikes in short order. Not because we need them or because they make life any easier but because they’re fashionable. No matter that they probably won’t work well with gloved hands, or that you can’t operate them while keeping your eyes on the road. 

'IPad-influenced culture says 'buttons are bad, screens are good’ but aren't we better off making full use of those fine opposable thumbs that have served us so well for the last few millennia?'

What are your thoughts? Do touchscreens have any place on bikes or are they a dangerous distraction?

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