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Car climate controls are better with a knob, but Range Rover does digital right

Range Rover PHEV Front Three Quarters
Christian de Looper / Digital Trends

Over the past few years, car companies have been focusing a whole lot more effort into their infotainment systems and car tech overall, making for a sleeker interior and more modern experience. But for many of them, that means pushing many controls, including climate controls, into the screen.

Usually, this is a bad thing. To be clear, I’m not against digital climate controls entirely, but I am against poorly implemented versions that require more than a few taps to change settings. It’s not just inconvenient, it’s dangerous — forcing drivers to take their eyes off the road to activate air conditioning, when they could reach for a tactile dial that they can control without even looking.

But there are some companies that are doing digital climate controls right.

What makes for well-designed digital climate controls?

There are a few things that make great digital climate controls, but they really boil down to ease of use. Controls need to be as simple as possible, requiring as few taps as possible to change.

Range Rover Temperature
Christian de Looper / Digital Trends

This also means that these controls should be on the screen at all times, even when using software like CarPlay and Android Auto. After all, physical controls don’t move depending on the software you’re using — why should digital controls?

One of the big problems with this is that there are multiple controls involved in changing the temperature of the car. There’s the fan speed, the temperature, and the vent selector. That’s on top of controls for things like windshield defogging, seat heaters and coolers, and so on.

Who is doing it right?

There aren’t many companies that have cracked the code just yet — but recently, I’ve found that Range Rover is on the right track. All you have to do to change the temperature in a Range Rover is swipe up or down, from any screen. Controls for both the driver and passenger are present, on the appropriate sides of the screen. 

But even Range Rover could do better. It’s very easy to change the temperature of the climate controls — but as soon as you want to change things like fan speed or select which vents to use, you’re stuck with having to tap around more. It’s fair to prioritize temperature over those other controls — but most drivers still change things like fan speed regularly. Thankfully, you’ll still get quick buttons for things like enabling the windshield defogger, which is handy.

Full Range Rover Controls
Christian de Looper / Digital Trends

Of course, all of this is still relatively new to car companies — who continue to develop poorly designed software in general. To be fair, most cars have so-called “automatic” climate modes these days, meaning you should be able to set a preferred temperature and leave it alone. While many drivers still prefer to change climate manually, these auto modes are getting better at automatically changing the temperature and fan speed as needed to provide a more comfortable car interior.

What’s next?

Let’s be honest — the genie isn’t going back in the bottle, at least not any time soon. Companies are working towars more modern car interiors, and that seems to mean that buttons and dials are on the way out. That doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. But I hope that automakers can land on easier to use, more intuitive, and safer controls before they rush to fix what ain’t broke.

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Christian de Looper
Christian’s interest in technology began as a child in Australia, when he stumbled upon a computer at a garage sale that he…
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