Toyota Works Hard to Make a Poor UI Worse
Way Back When
In the fall of 2003 we took delivery of a brand new top of the line 2004 Toyota Prius with built-in map and navigation system. For the era the maps and navigation wasn’t too bad, but did have a couple of faults or annoyances including:
- DVD updates cost an arm and a leg.
- The UI for entering addresses or looking up points of interest (POI) to set your desired destination was clunky and annoying.
When the car’s maps became really dated and smartphones became ubiquitous I transitioned to a smartphone on a dash mount for navigation. It was so much easier and cheaper to use an OpenStreetMap (OSM) based navigation app with offline maps and a decent user interface.
The Situation Until a Week or so Ago
In late 2017 the old 2004 Prius met an untimely end and we were in the market for a new car. At that time there were no battery electric vehicles (BEVs or EVs) that met our needs so we settled on a 2017 Prius Prime plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV). I really liked the keyless entry that worked on the passenger side and rear of the 2004 so we went with the “Premium” version of the Prius Prime to get that functionality. That level of trim brought with it the larger display.
I did not realize until later how annoying that large display was. It defaults to showing the map. And Toyota did not update the map presentation or search functions in any significant way. In essence you are looking at an over sized version of a 2003 vintage map with a 2003 vintage UI that is a pain to use.
And they still want an arm and a leg for map updates (now on microSD cards). You can buy a low end smartphone and put OSM based navigation on it with frequent updates that are free forever for less than one Toyota navigation system update.
The only real improvement from my point of view was that I could use the Toyota Entune app on my phone to look up an address or POI before getting in the car and then have it in the car’s “saved destinations” list. So as long as I thought to look something up before the trip, using the in car navigation wasn’t too bad. Procedure something like:
- Before leaving, open Entune app on my phone, look up destination and save to “saved destinations”.
- When in car, select “saved destinations” from the app suite on the car’s display.
- Start navigation.
The Broken Update
About two weeks ago the Entune app said I needed to upgrade to use the Toyota app. And the old Entune functionality was no longer available. I could no longer look up addresses or POIs. In addition, features I didn’t usually use like finding nearby gas stations or charging stations stopped working too.
So I loaded the Toyota app on the phone. This app requires a new log in. And seems to want you to log in every time you fire it up. And even with the Toyota app running and phone connected to the car, the car’s apps all timed out and said I needed to connect the Toyota app.
Hum. I have the Toyota app running. Phone is connected to car. Car says I need to run Toyota app. Something is wrong here. I did the usual restarts, reboots, remove and re-install, link and unlink everything with no success.
In addition to this, the Toyota app is flakey on logging in on start up, usually requiring at least one force quit before it will start and ask for your log in. Since the touch and face recognition are broken it means you need to enter your “Toyota Connect” ID (email or phone number) and password. Of course I have a separate random password for all accounts so to log into the Toyota app I need to fire up my password manager app first.
Eventually I called a Toyota 800 number and got a representative who acknowledged the situation and said the transition from the old Entune to new Toyota app was not complete but it would be in a few days and that all functionality would automagically start working again. It actually took about another week and a half before I noticed any change.
So during this two week period all of the Entune apps on the car were totally broken.
An Update to the Toyota app!
Eventually another update for the Toyota smartphone app showed up with a new ”card” on its UI to “Connect to App Suite” which apparently tries to fix things.
But there is still no out of car way to look up a destination and save it. Recall that other than entering a saved destination all that you had to do with the old Entune app was:
- Sometimes, but not always, start the Entune app on the phone.
- Have the smartphone near enough to the car for the Bluetooth to connect.
At that point you could use the car’s apps for things like finding gas stations, finding charging stations, playing Internet radio, etc. Two steps. One not always needed (for reasons I never figure out) and the other totally automatic with no user interaction needed.
Now here is what you have to do:
- Unlock phone.
- Try to start the Toyota app. It will freeze on start up 99% of the time.
- Force close the Toyota app.
- Try to start up the Toyota app again.
- Face ID unlock will fail. So you have to. . .
- Open your password manager app to get your password to log into the Toyota app.
- Finally log into the Toyota app. But the in car apps will still not work until you. . .
- Tap on the “Connect to App Suite” “card” on the phone’s Toyota app.
At this point you can now use the car’s in display apps. Eight annoying steps replacing the previous one or two step seamless operation.
If you forget to do this before starting the car then you have the added issue that Apple’s iPhone OS will detect that you are connected to a car via Bluetooth and make you jump though some other hoops to assure that you are not actually driving the car before you can open up your phone.
And you still cannot look up an address before you get in the car and have it available for you in the car later.
Unfortunately there is no aftermarket dash unit for Prius vehicles with the large center display. And while Toyota added CarPlay to the more recent versions of this car, they will not provide retrofit to my year car. So I cannot upgrade my car to support phone based maps, navigation, easy access to phone provided music, etc.
There are other annoyances with the car’s UI with respect to how it handles letting you know that its dynamic cruise control, lane departure warning, etc. system is working but that is beyond the scope of this rant. Basically the Toyota display interface clunky and antiquated.
The next car, in addition to being a BEV, will have to support Android Auto and/or Apple Carplay. Wireless Carplay would be a bonus.
And I will assure myself that I don’t need to worry about firing up my password manager app before getting in the car. That is a deal killer.