The future will thankfully still have a volume knob.
In late 2019, Audi announced that it wanted to eliminate all dashboard buttons, following the success of the admittedly brilliant Virtual Cockpit and the MMI Touch Response infotainment system.
It seems the company has done a complete 180, as stated by Audi interior designer Maksymilian Nawka. We recently found a prime example of this return to good old-fashioned buttons in the most unlikely of places. Instead of festooning the Audi RS e-Tron GT dashboard with haptic feedback screens, it has a series of traditional buttons for climate control, seat heating, and drive mode selection.
Audi is not the first manufacturer to return to the old ways. Ian Callum is on record as stating that large touchscreens are a nuisance, and Honda eventually gave their customers a traditional volume button after many complaints. In fact, the vast majority of complaints against Honda concerned the clunky interaction with the screen.
According to Nawka, "when you look into the future, you always have to look back, to double-check or just find what was really good in the past." And the fact is this: buttons work. They have for decades, so why mess with the recipe? It would be like removing half the steering wheel as some kind of yoke.
This is quite a brave stance Audi is taking, especially considering how much it already invested on the Q4 Sportback e-Tron's steering wheel.
Most of its main rivals are doubling down on touch-sensitive screens with haptic feedback. Even within the extended VAG family, you can see this difference. The Porsche Taycan, for example, relies entirely on a touchscreen interface, even for the HVAC controls.
Nissan claims to have cracked it with the new Ariya, which boasts hidden haptic buttons that only illuminate once the car is switched on.
Nawka's comments were made during the recent unveiling of the Grandsphere luxury sedan concept. It uses a blend of old and new technology. It projects images on a large wooden surface, and you interact with it via touch-sensitive switches, gestures, or old-fashioned metallic rotary dials.
For what it's worth, we do believe touch-sensitive technology has value. Modern phones are proof that the technology works. We just wonder how long it's going to take automotive manufacturers to drop the pride and ask Apple or Samsung for help.