Why Are So Many Car Touchscreens Still So Slow?

It seems like in-car connectivity is still surprisingly far behind phone tech.

I’ve had an iPhone since the 5, and even on those early ones, the device did what you wanted it to with barely any perceptible lag between “push button” and “get a result.” Same with Android phones too — even a $39.99 TracFone is reasonably responsive. So why are so many car infotainment systems still so slow?

Touchscreen controls are part of almost every modern car now, for better or worse. Yeah, there have been some rightful critiques about safety and usability, but I personally like them in vehicles. I was in high school when the iPod Touch came out. We all marveled at the “iTouch’s” slick screen, which made our LG Chocolate phones or SanDisk Sansa MP3 players look like antiques overnight. Today you can’t even order McNuggets at McDonald’s without interacting with a touchscreen. As a result of growing up with touchscreens, they feel natural to me.

I can text without looking, so changing the song or adjusting the volume on a touchscreen head unit is pretty easy. I can’t fathom paying $30,000 for a new car, and its touchscreen is somehow less responsive than a burner phone you might find in a convenience store.

I don’t get it. Reddit users have asked this question multiple times, arguing that the standards of creating a touchscreen that can work in a car often means sacrificing computing power, thus creating a slow and laggy screen. Tesla’s response time on its centrally mounted screens is probably the best in the industry, but Tesla’s also had people complaining about premature screen death. But I still call bullshit, other cars have reliable and responsive screens that I assume are rated for vehicle use, so I don’t think there’s any excuse in this day and age.

Hyundai and Kia, I think, have some of the best touchscreen interfaces in the business. They’re snappy, easy to navigate, logically laid out, and good-looking. GM’s MyLink isn’t the prettiest setup, but it’s functional. Others, like say, Toyota, offer some of the worst infotainment on the market. The interface is ugly, and the touchscreens themselves are slow. I’d argue that slow and unresponsive touchscreens are part of the “touchscreens are dangerous” critique that’s commonly leveled at new cars. There’s nothing more frustrating than pressing down multiple times during a drive, only for the interface to take its sweet time to do the wrong thing. 

I wonder if it has something to do with the software that these infotainment systems run. For iPhones, there’s that somewhat true trope that old iPhones glitch out and slow down when the firmware is updated to the latest version. Could it be that the base operating systems are not created equally? For what it’s worth, not-so-old versions of Hyundai and GM’s infotainment both use Windows CE. I can’t find anything on Toyota’s OS if it’s running a completely proprietary setup, or what.

Why Are So Many Car Touchscreens Still So Slow?
Screenshot: YouTube

Aside from actual hardware differences, it seems like maybe bad infotainment could be improved by developing interfaces from already tried-and-true software architectures. Like, Windows CE seems to work out great for GM and Hyundai. Maybe Android could create an OS or interface for Toyota? Or maybe Apple could create a Car OS that won’t be complete crap. 

Either way, y’all automakers have to get it together. Maybe automakers should just drop the touch screen, and just ship all new cars with an iPhone 4S duct taped to the dashboard. I mean, Ford already ships the Explorer with a Kindle Fire mounted on the dashboard.

Kevin Williams
Kevin Williams

Kevin's been into cars his entire life, anything from the tiny kei cars in Japan, to the maybe not-so-good American barges of the 1980s. He's flipped more than 25 cars, only lost money twice, and has known how to make his dollar stretch as far as it can. If he ain't talking about cars, he's probably snacking on something sweet and cakey. Contact the author here.