A recent study shows that drivers can complete common activities more quickly when they use physical controls like buttons, knobs, and switches rather than those resembling those found on smartphones.
Swedish car magazine Vi Bilägare(Opens in a new window) conducted a test in which 12 vehicles were driven at 68 mph (110 km/h) while the driver performed four tasks: resetting the trip odometer; “activating the heated seat, increasing temperature by two degrees, and starting the defroster”; turning on the radio and tuning to a specific channel; turning down the instrument lighting and turning off the center display.
Eleven of the vehicles had control panels based on touchscreens, while the other had conventional knobs and buttons. (Drivers were given the opportunity to learn about both systems before the experiment began so that the results would be more reliable), as stated by Vi Bilägare. The time it took for drivers to execute the required activities was then used to determine how well each system performed.
Drivers performed the best with more traditional controls, and for the most part, it wasn’t even close, Vi Bilägare says. The tactile controls of the Volvo V70 allowed drivers to execute all four activities in only 10 seconds.
Aside from the Dacia Sandero (13.5s), the Volvo C40 (13.7s), and the Subaru Outback (19.4s), no other vehicle was able to beat the V70 by more than 10 seconds. The times for the rest of them ranged from 20.2 to 44.9 seconds.
Other issues with touch-screen controls are not measured by these results. Vi Bilägare points out that the lack of illumination for the climate settings and other features of some of the systems makes them cumbersome to use in the dark. While some systems use buttons, others rely on huge screens that take drivers’ eyes off the road (or smaller touch screens).
A problem that Vi Bilägare glosses over is the malleability of touch-screen interfaces. For instance, in January, Tesla released a software upgrade that altered the Model 3’s controls(Opens in a new window). That means drivers accustomed to a certain layout may be faced with a system they aren’t familiar with.