The 2021 Genesis GV80 debuted yesterday as the fourth model of the new luxury brand’s first real lineup, and the first SUV, which means they’re going to sell more of them than anything else. But why did Genesis copy Lexus’ weird handwriting input system?
Let’s take a look at the center console for the new GV80:
Wow, three different rotary-style input systems. What could they all possibly do? Well, if we zoom in, the smaller one on the lower right controls driving modes and off-road settings, the larger one on the lower left controls the transmission, and the one in the top right is actually a handwriting-recognition controller for the infotainment system. It’s that last one that I have a big problem with.
To use it, you take a finger and draw out one letter at a time to spell out your input, like an address for the navigation system. Eventually, a drop down menu of autofill options saves you from misprinting the letter “A” for a fourth time while struggling to dodge the potholes of America’s crumbling infrastructure while writing. “Writing.”
You know what I don’t want to do while driving? I don’t want to write. With my hand. Only my right hand. What about left handed people? Have you ever tried to finger-paint an address blindfolded? Have you ever attempted it with your non-dominant (submissive?) hand? No! Nobody has. It’s an extremely unnatural and uncommon method of communicating. The only people who should be good at this are note-takers, and note-takers type everything nowadays!
Of course, there are redundancies. The GV80's 14.5-inch center display is also a touchscreen, and though the press release doesn’t mention it, the beautiful “two-spoke” steering wheel in the photos also includes a voice command button. The surfacing of the ring around the touch area also looks like it may be a rotary selection dial, as well, though I had to ask.
So why did Genesis not go with something a little more conventional at this point in automotive design, like a rotary dial, directional buttons, a joystick, or just the touchscreen? Well, we should go see why Lexus justified the technology since Genesis is just ripping that off.
All the way back in, damn, 2008, Lexus debuted its own “Remote Touch” trackpad interface, the first mainstream automaker to do so, only really followed by Acura ten years later, and now Genesis. Back then, Lexus’ supplier claimed its development testing proved the letter-writing controller was definitely fine, actually. From Edmunds:
Denso developed a prototype called Remote Touch Interface (RTI) and then Toyota tested it with consumers.
Apparently, there was no more physical or mental effort required by RTI compared to a touch screen. The RTI layout offered a screen with better visibility and it was physically more comfortable for people to operate the mouse-type controller than the screen, and the touch screen was harder to operate when the vehicle was moving.
Another benefit of not relying purely on a touchscreen was being able to position the screen pretty much wherever Lexus’ designers wanted, since they didn’t have to be as concerned about positioning it within easy reach of the driver.
Lexus’ system also used the trackpad just like a laptop’s trackpad, letting you navigate around the screen with a cursor. This function I like. A lot of people use laptops nowadays, so a lot of people could pick this up pretty quickly. But there’s still an issue of having to take your eyes off the road to track a cursor on a screen. That’s just bad.
And not a lot of people write sentences by spelling letter by letter out with their fingertip. The people that do are all under the age of 10. I’ve used Lexus’ system, at least until I forgot about it and plugged in my iPhone to use CarPlay. It’s just not the best way to write things.
Back in 2010, we actually liked the trackpad system but admitted it proved to be an issue for the passenger to use. With a little more hindsight, I’m not sure the technology is anywhere near the best option if you have a chance to come at your design completely fresh.
It’s a fair assumption that Genesis wanted the design freedom of not relying on just a touchscreen, and it’s also probably fair for product planners to think a trackpad would stand out a little more than a BMW-style rotary dial—after all, who’s paying attention to Lexus right now?
Jalopnik reached out to Genesis for more details on its touch system and will update when we get more info.
But part of the promise of Genesis is the hopefully innovative nature of starting a car company “from scratch” (though I’m aware that being connected to two major global automakers doesn’t exactly count as “scratch;” in fact that only hurts Genesis’ case here).
Writing with your finger is not innovative. The lack of consideration for the passenger and left-handed people is not innovative. Copying Lexus from 2008 is not innovative.
And now Genesis has to own finger-letters until at least a mid-cycle refresh. Will it be controversial? Only as much as Lexus’ system, which seems hit or miss among owners and reviewers. But was it the best choice? I should probably try it first, but my hunch is no.