For better or worse – mostly worse – many automakers have moved away from physical buttons and controls in favor of capacitive touch-based controls. Tesla was one of the first, offering the Model S with almost no physical controls and centering the vast majority of vehicle functions in the massive central touchscreen. That’s still the case for the automaker today, but one owner recently decided to “fix” the issue with a custom-made panel of physical buttons, and diehard Tesla fans are predictably up in arms about it.
This Chinese guy made a panel of physical buttons connected to the control unit port in his Tesla. You have buttons for pretty much every major function. This device completely defeats the purpose of minimalism. What do you think? pic.twitter.com/hngjS7Fgq3
— Ray (@ray4tesla)
October 19, 2023
X/Twitter user @ray4tesla posted a short video of the custom work, which he said was from a Chinese Tesla owner. Though it’s allegedly homemade, the panel and installation look legit, and the work appeared to have been done with just two screws and a plug to connect to the computer.
The video doesn’t explain how the car’s computer integrates with the physical buttons, at least not in English, and we don’t know how or if it messes with Tesla’s diagnostic software. The automaker’s over-the-air updates and connected services are more robust than most, so it’s hard to believe no one at Tesla knew about this before the video.
While many believe installing old-school physical controls is a step backward, that’s not entirely true. Touch controls often free up interior space and make the cabin look much cleaner and more modern, but they’re not as intuitive or as physically easy to use as tactile buttons.
Muscle memory plays a significant role in how we interact with our vehicles, and physical buttons can reduce distraction by allowing the driver to use their hand to locate the control rather than having to take their eyes off the road to look. Also, if you’ve ever tried changing a radio station on a touchscreen while driving on a bumpy road, you probably know the pain of having to precisely aim your finger at what can be a moving target.