The PhoneBoy Blog


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Since When Does A Car Need A Manual?

When I landed at SFO this evening and eventually got over to the Rental Car Facility, I walked out into the National Emerald Aisle area and didnt find too many cars. To be expected for a Sunday night. At the very end of the lot, I was extremely surprised to find a Toyota Prius! Having ridden in one before, I was eager to see what driving one would actually be like.

The one thing I will say about driving most cars is that even though on the outside they look different, just like the inside, the basic controls are the same on all cars: they have a steering wheel, an ignition key, an accelerator, brake, gear shift, and a clutch if you drive a stick shift. While I may have to feel my way around finding the control to turn onthe AC or operae the cruise control, the basics of operating the car are substanially unchanged. Anyone who is a licensed driver knows how to operate these basic controls.

First thing, I noticed about this Prius was the key. The key wasnt a key, it was a small block that slid into a slot. Okay. Thereś a big power button you push. Okay, thatś´nice, now what? Shift the car into drive. Um, yeah, nice try. I try it again and manage to get the thing started. Has under 300 miles on it, so the car is basically brand new. Drive it just like any other car except it has this big screen telling you how many miles per gallon it thinks youŕé getting right now and how the car is regenerating the internal battery.

Along the way, I pulled off and stopped at an AM/PM store to get a coke. Again, fumble with getting the car started again, but somehow get it started again. Get it to the hotel in Sunnyvale, check in, and go to move the car. This time I cant get it started. Eventually, I get frustrated and go hunting for the manual. I found a quick-start guide, which is a step-up from the 200+ page monstrosities I usually see. Discover the secret: hold your foot on the brake while pushing the big power button. Life is, as they say, good.

When youŕe talking about something like a car that has a well-established interface going back to the beginning of the 20th Century, changes to those interfaces need to be made carefully. Itś not clear to me why Toyota decided to change a basic interface to the car, namely how to turn it on. I´m sure there was a logical reason for it. Unfortunately, it creates a small barrier to adoption, namely with those that expect their cars to work the same as it works on every other car.


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