Well, are they? I posed this question to a couple of colleagues in our office Slack channel, and the reaction was largely “no.” But, here’s the thing: If you happen to drive a car with a stupidly placed touchscreen (raises hand) that’s just out of reach for easy access without leaning forward, I could see how a touchpad, mounted near the shift controls, could be useful.
Now, I’ve never owned a car with a touchpad or attempted to drive while controlling one, so take my conjecture with a helping of salt. I can definitely see how they might suck, depending on the implementation. Having an additional layer between you and the thing you want to do on your car’s infotainment system is generally undesirable, particularly when you’ve got more pressing matters, like driving, to deal with.
Physical feedback is helpful, though. That’s something touchscreens typically lack but touchpads are better suited to provide, thanks to haptics. Of course, there’s still the problem of having to glance at the display to see what the cursor is highlighting.
Some automakers are beginning to understand that keeping real buttons around might actually be a Good Thing. I was surprised at the amount of buttons reserved for climate control in the new Audi E-Tron GT, for example.
With all that said, what’s your take? Do touchpads have a place in car interfaces, or do they cause more problems than they solve?