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Cadillac CUE: Why a Touch Screen is Not Always a Good Idea

By - Source: Tom's Hardware US | B 41 comments

Cadillac has one of the fanciest car entertainment system on the market today. It's called CUE, short for Cadillac User Experience, and there is a good reason why you may want to pass on this system.

You may remember that I first reviewed CUE several months back as part of Cadillac's new luxury XTS sedan, in which I wrote that CUE was an impressive system, but it may collide with the ideas of a car entertainment system of the XTS' target group - people who would replace their old DTS. I also suggested that the new compact sedan ATS may be a better target for CUE, since the ATS is positioned of a rival for the BMW 3-series and a considerably younger buyer group. As it turns out, I was wrong and Cadillac may want to revisit the entire CUE idea. As it stands, it just doesn't work.

CUE and the ATS

CUE is a centralized car entertainment system that removes all physical buttons from the center dash, focuses on an 8-inch touch screen with haptic feedback and a total of 17 touch-sensitive spaces (19 in the higher-end models that come with seat ventilation). The idea is to somewhat copy the user experience of the iPad and bring it to your car, as the touch screen supports multi-touch, as well as sliding and pinch-zooming gestures.

The ATS is Cadillac's most-dynamic car with the most serious pitch against European rivals yet. The vehicle is only slightly bigger and heavier than Chevrolet's Cruze compact sedan. However, it was not a 3-series rival with its anemic 2.5 liter (202 HP) power plant that sounds more suited for a sub-$20K car than for a premium sport sedan. Our ATS had a base sticker of $37,590 for the ATS 2.5 Luxury. The CUE system rings it at $1,295, special Thunder Gray paint and the cold weather package brought the bottom line to $41,375.


CUE's upsides

CUE almost certainly will confuse you when turned on for the first time. Its idea to remove complexity has resulted in one of the most complex system on the market today. However, there is one specific upside of CUE: thanks to a proximity sensor, the screen will remove clutter after a delay 10 seconds after last usage, which results in a beautiful display with a resolution of 800x480 pixels. For example, the map display is stunning and the best I have seen in any car to date. The center screen also plays well with the configurable driver display which has a portion of three displays that can be configured with different content types independently from each other. In combination with the main CUE screen, it has beautiful and crystal clear graphics and shows content that can extend the CUE display.

The system is also space saving. the lack of mechanical parts allowed Cadillac to implement the technology into a panel that can be lifted via a motorized mechanism, which reveals a small storage compartment behind its dash controls.

 

CUE's downsides

Much of the review focus of the ATS is strangely anchored by the CUE system, since it determines a substantial part of the driving experience. Over the period of one week and several different drivers, no one especially liked CUE and the comments were exclusively in negative territory. How can a touch screen that we enjoy so much in phones and tablets be perceived so negatively in a car?

Hardware

CUE appears to still have hardware and software issues. The technology is driven by a 3-core ARM processor, two of which are reserved for voice recognition. The remaining core is not nearly as powerful enough as would be required by a user experience that would resemble the usage of an iPad. Pressing a button will result in immediate haptic, vibrating feedback, but the screen will not react without a 2- to 3-second delay. In its current version, CUE appears to be hopelessly underpowered by the underlying hardware.

The software foundation is Linux based and while the user interface is pretty, there are some bugs. Twice during our week, a bug caused to automatically increase the audio volume to its maximum level. The only resolution was to stop the car, turn it off and back on for a full restart of CUE. Thankfully, CUE can be flashed via an SD card and Cadillac may want to look into this issue.


IX Design and Distraction

Some time with CUE reveals just how much work must have gone into designing the iOS and Android UIs for the specific purpose of smartphone and tablet usage. 

The main screen of CUE consists of only eight items - Audio, Phone, Navigation, Settings, Pandora, Weather, Climate and OnStar. While this seems to be sufficiently simple, moving your audio output, for example, from a USB stick to a satellite radio station requires you to move to the home screen via a touch-sensitive button on the side of the dash, pressing the audio icon, then the satellite radio icon, then the browse icon, and then slide a scroll bar to the station you are looking. Moving from one radio station to another requires the driver passenger to always first move the hand toward the screen so that the proximity sensor can initiate the display of respective icons (which also happens with a delay).

This all happens, of course, most likely when you are driving and with the aforementioned reaction delays of the software. When completed, you will have removed your eyes from the road to the screen five times and you may have spent 20 to 30 seconds. In most other cars you can do the same within 5 seconds.

The distraction gets more complex with more complicated displays, such as a map. Using the pinch to zoom to better highlight a location happens only after a 2-second delay. I have found one interface advantage of the CUE interface: you can enter the entire address in one line in the destination input of the navigation system without hopping through different screens. 

CUE would work much better if Cadillac was to bring back some key physical push buttons and knobs for the climate and audio controls. The reaction time of the touch interface is, at this time, unacceptable and is reminiscent of the first generation of $99 Android tablets that were equally underpowered.

Usability

A big problem with CUE is its strict focus on copying a tablet experience but not working off a platform such as Android, which may function much faster in this  environment. Another issue is the fact that tablet and phone touch interfaces were created for portrait screens, while CUE is shown on a landscape screen and the user has to reach it with an extended arm. By default, CUE cannot be used as conveniently as a tablet.

Conclusion

Occasionally, car manufacturers go through trial-and-error periods when designing radical new technologies. Some readers may remember BMW's iDrive system, which was plain infuriating in its first version and has become usable just in the most recent generation of BMW models. CUE appears to be a textbook example of a first-generation product that is in dire need of revision. Some ideas such as the proximity sensor can enhance the car entertainment experience, but the refinement in the interaction design is lacking. CUE would be criticized in a $20,000 car, but at more than $40,000 and a vehicle that can easily exceed $50,000 it is more toy than a useful and safe interface.


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Top Comments
  • 23 Hide
    bystander , January 6, 2013 4:15 PM
    After driving my fathers F150 with it's touch screen system, I quickly realized that touch screens do not belong in vehicles. Buttons allow you to feel without looking away from the road. Touch screens force you to look away from the road.
  • 16 Hide
    killerclick , January 6, 2013 4:38 PM
    Blasphemy! Everything should be controlled via touch screens, including light switches and faucets. Touch should be everywhere! Touch touch touch mobile social touch!
  • 13 Hide
    A Bad Day , January 6, 2013 3:26 PM
    Folks, this is why you should always do your research before jumping on a first-revision/gen product...
Other Comments
    Display all 41 comments.
  • 13 Hide
    A Bad Day , January 6, 2013 3:26 PM
    Folks, this is why you should always do your research before jumping on a first-revision/gen product...
  • 10 Hide
    aredeecee , January 6, 2013 3:34 PM
    Why would you want this in a car to begin with?

  • 6 Hide
    A Bad Day , January 6, 2013 3:59 PM
    aredeeceeWhy would you want this in a car to begin with?


    There's a reason why there's a luxury goods market, such as gold-plated and jewelry studded iPhones.
  • 23 Hide
    bystander , January 6, 2013 4:15 PM
    After driving my fathers F150 with it's touch screen system, I quickly realized that touch screens do not belong in vehicles. Buttons allow you to feel without looking away from the road. Touch screens force you to look away from the road.
  • 0 Hide
    starwreck , January 6, 2013 4:20 PM
    I tried CUE a little bit on an ATS, its a million times better than the original BMW iDrive system was. With any luck it'll improve quicker than iDrive did.
  • -3 Hide
    blcskate , January 6, 2013 4:25 PM
    I have owned four Cadillac's in a row now. All brand new. The sad thing right now is there are no good ones to buy. The Escalade is the same as my last one was. I have an SRX currently. The CTS is very uncomfortable and feels cheap. The ATS - too many problems to list. The XTS no V8 WTF. The XLR is the worst interior I have ever seen and it is not an everyday car. The STS was a far better car then anything they have on the market now. Caddy had better pull a rabbit out of their hat in the next year or two or when I trade in my SRX I will not be at a Caddy dealer.
  • 16 Hide
    killerclick , January 6, 2013 4:38 PM
    Blasphemy! Everything should be controlled via touch screens, including light switches and faucets. Touch should be everywhere! Touch touch touch mobile social touch!
  • 6 Hide
    deftonian , January 6, 2013 5:39 PM
    tuffjuffComplaining about lack of smooth UI operation and then talking about Android? LOL


    My android phone (Note II) has very smooth operation. Maybe prior to 4.0 and 4.1 (with project butter) you'd have a decent argument. However, it's dramatically improved as of late.
  • 12 Hide
    sacre , January 6, 2013 6:02 PM
    I don't get it, they say don't use phones in cars but then load up cars with extremely complex GUI's with GPS and radio, mp3, usb controls, etc.. They load these cars with tons and tons of touch screen features which absorb your concentration when you're just trying to change radio station.

    At least with buttons you had tactile feedback and you could look at the road while feeling with your fingers.

    now you can't, you have to look at the damn screen...

    "Talking on a phone is dangerous, but focusing on a touchscreen figuring stuff out while driving is legal and perfectly fine"
  • -2 Hide
    sun-devil99 , January 6, 2013 6:03 PM
    bystanderAfter drying my fathers F150 with it's touch screen system, I quickly realized that touch screens do not belong in vehicles. Buttons allow you to feel without looking away from the road. Touch screens force you to look away from the road.


    Exactly. My Nissan Versa was the first car I owned that has the audio and bluetooth phone controls on the steering wheel. So easy to change radio stations or CD tracks as well as answer a phone call. The only possible thing I could say I would like about this would be for the navigation, but even that doesn't sound like it should be attempted while the car is moving. I guess the only good thing I can say is at least it is not Microsoft powered, get a BSOD and the car dies, requiring you to turn it off and restart (sort like the issue with audio volume going full blast).
  • 12 Hide
    madjimms , January 6, 2013 6:56 PM
    blcskateI have owned four Cadillac's in a row now. All brand new. The sad thing right now is there are no good ones to buy. The Escalade is the same as my last one was. I have an SRX currently. The CTS is very uncomfortable and feels cheap. The ATS - too many problems to list. The XTS no V8 WTF. The XLR is the worst interior I have ever seen and it is not an everyday car. The STS was a far better car then anything they have on the market now. Caddy had better pull a rabbit out of their hat in the next year or two or when I trade in my SRX I will not be at a Caddy dealer.

    Stop buying shitty domestic luxury vehicles....
  • 1 Hide
    abbadon_34 , January 6, 2013 7:13 PM
    I'll stick with my El Dorado until they bring it back.
  • 2 Hide
    Anonymous , January 6, 2013 7:58 PM
    I'll stick with my 2002 Lincoln LS, radio controls on the steering wheel, rwd, 50/50 weight distribution, 22-29mpg, no rust, and very reliable overall. Puts my 2001 Sable to shame, that car broke every time I sneezed.
  • 2 Hide
    Niva , January 6, 2013 8:10 PM
    tuffjuffComplaining about lack of smooth UI operation and then talking about Android? LOL


    Have you tried a recent nexus phone like the samsung or the LG? Smokes the iPhone in term of smooth UI operations IMO. The base OS just looks amazing, it blows my mind why manufacturers put in overlays.
  • -2 Hide
    sacre , January 6, 2013 9:15 PM
    NivaHave you tried a recent nexus phone like the samsung or the LG? Smokes the iPhone in term of smooth UI operations IMO. The base OS just looks amazing, it blows my mind why manufacturers put in overlays.


    I disagree, having used an iPhone for the past year I used the Galaxy S3, nexus, and surprise surprise the UI loves to chop up a bit in a lot of cases. Same with all the Android tablets i've used, swiping an image across the screen or swiping the whole screen lags a bit.

    You can have the best hardware in the world, but if the software doesn't keep up - sorry, no. I want my phone to just do what its got to do quickly and without hassle.
  • 3 Hide
    Maxx_Power , January 6, 2013 9:47 PM
    Does it have a sensor for detecting a frustrated user ? Something like a fist-proximity sensor ?

    Give me the manual dials and buttons please.
  • -1 Hide
    house70 , January 6, 2013 9:55 PM
    tuffjuff.......

    Better luck next time, troll.
  • 5 Hide
    house70 , January 6, 2013 10:06 PM
    sacreI disagree, having used an iPhone for the past year I used the Galaxy S3, nexus, and surprise surprise the UI loves to chop up a bit in a lot of cases. Same with all the Android tablets i've used, swiping an image across the screen or swiping the whole screen lags a bit.You can have the best hardware in the world, but if the software doesn't keep up - sorry, no. I want my phone to just do what its got to do quickly and without hassle.

    Funny, my wife's iPhone likes to do just that: chop up quite a bit. The only way the OS can keep up with the user is by deploying that ridiculous opening/closing animation. That, in turn, drives her crazy because it feels so slow. When touching an icon on the screen she expects an app to open, not a shutter/slider/whatever other animation to launch. Same goes for closing apps; I mean, they're just closing, WTF the need for animation then?
    Conclusion: iOS doesn't do things quickly, nor without hassle. It just deploys smoke and mirrors to create the appearance of a fluid interaction, without actually having one.
    The only upper hand iPhones used to have was the quality of the materials deployed in their construction. Nowadays, that is lost with the soda-can feel of iPhone 5.
    Today, WP8 has the crown as far as smoothness and fluidity in operation goes, without fancy time-consuming animations. Too bad there are not that many professional apps for it (yet).
  • 3 Hide
    danwat1234 , January 6, 2013 10:15 PM
    Time to get some A15 cores in that dashboard. Maybe for the 2014 car?
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