We are bombarded with a seemingly endless stream of breathless press releases and gushing reviews about new digital devices that boosters claim will transform our lives.
One such development is the automobile digital dash, the move to replace numerous dashboard controls, knobs, and switches with a single touch screen.
Digital pundits proclaimed the “infotainment” touch screen the next Big Thing. But the pundits don’t always get it right, and now Ford is paying the price.
MyFord and Sync were supposed to catapult Ford into digital first-mover status in automotive. No more knobs or analog devices. Ford’s cockpit would integrate virtually all of a car’s controls into one multimedia touch screen.
And to top it off, many controls would be voice-activated. Want to listen to Pandora? Keep your hands on the wheel, your eyes on the road, and order up Pandora.
Putting a smiley face on MyFord, the maker repeatedly defended the digital decision, citing positive research, strong sales and enthusiastic buyers. Ford kept claiming that they were just one software upgrade away from perfecting Sync.
Now Ford has finally admitted that Americans aren’t ready to abandon their analog ways. Because of the difficulty of using its touch-screen system, the auto maker is putting radio tuning and volume knobs back in their cars.
As reported by the Wall Street Journal:
One of the things that bothered customers was the inability to quickly change the channel or volume on the radio through familiar knobs.
The story notes that after switching to a digital dashboard, Ford’s ranking in J.D. Power’s Initial Quality Survey plummeted, falling from a top spot to below average.
According to Automotive News:
Ford was (once) the highest-ranked non-luxury brand in J.D. Power & Associates' annual Initial Quality Study. After MyFord Touch was launched, Ford dropped from a fifth-place overall ranking in 2010 to 23rd in 2011 and 32nd in 2012.
All over a few knobs.
How can it be that Ford’s research says that people buy Fords because of the digital dash, but the buyers complain about it to J.D. Power?
It’s called Buyer’s Remorse.
One buys something with great expectations, only to discover that the product doesn’t work as well as the maker promised.
Digital devices seem to generate considerable buyer’s remorse, perhaps because digital promises too often fail to deliver.
Ford’s reversal should be a warning for us all.
Gullible consumers might be willing to shell out a couple of hundred dollars for the latest toy, but they understand that these shiny new digital objects have life spans measured in months.
Sure it might be more complicated than promised. It might not work as advertised, but there will be another shiny object to distract us, and another one after that.
A car is another matter.
People spend a lot of time in their car. People keep their car for a long time, a lot longer than an iPhone, game console, or piece of software.
And most people don’t want to invest a great deal of time fumbling around to do something that ought to be pretty simple and quick, like switch stations or just crank it up.
It’s telling that the first Ford model to see the reappearance of radio knobs is their F series pickup. Ford makes a lot of money selling the top selling pickup in America.
Next time you hear that something is the next Big Thing, or that you’re foolish to not spend money on it, think about Ford.
Who knows. Mabe the next real Big Thing will be analog.