UX Innovation > In-Vehicle UX Blog

3D Touch Great for Mobile, Potentially Distracting for Car

by Chris Schreiner | Sep 11, 2015

At this year's Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, the newest line of iPhones was unveiled.  One of the key features touted on the new iPhone 6 and 6S is "3D Touch," which detects the amount of force a user is applying (measured by distance between the glass and the backlight).  A forcefully held tap on a target brings up contextual options such as a preview of an email, a sub-menu, or an oft-utilized feature related to that touch target.  The options brought up could be different for the same target, dependent on precisely how much force the finger applies.  Haptic feedback provides the user with an additional cue indicating that a target has been touched via the 3D method.

This new interaction paradigm is a wonderful development in the mobile space, and has implications for any touchscreen interface, including those in the car.  In our recent report on HMI usage, we found that as issues with responsiveness and smudging continue to decrease, consumer satisfaction with in-car touchscreens continues to rise.  If users come to expect this 3D Touch functionality, with touchscreens becoming more ubiquitous in the car, a force-sensitive display could potentially make its way onto an in-vehicle interface.

3D Touch is essentially a type of gesture control, albeit one that provides a bit of haptic feedback as well.  As we noted in our report on HMI trends, gesture controls for the car are sometimes touted by OEMs and suppliers as less distracting and ideal for in-car usage.  The theory is that fewer touches lead to fewer glances away from the forward roadway, which leads to less distraction.

However, fewer touches or gestures do not necessarily translate to less distraction.  And from a user experience perspective, we believe 3D Touch implemented in a car has the potential to be more distracting than a traditional touchscreen.

irst, the number of glances required for one individual tap is likely to greatly increase for a 3D Touch maneuver.  Although haptic feedback is provided, unless that feedback is intuitive and uniquely identifiable, a driver would still need to glance at the screen multiple times.  As an example:  If a long forceful touch opens a preview of a playlist, the user must glance once or more at each of 4 steps.  The user must acquire the target, ensure that the finger is on target, ensure that the correct target is acquired, and then view content.

Furthermore, the types of taps necessary to take advantage of 3D Touch are relatively precise maneuvers.  For example, if a long forceful press brings up a sub-menu, the user must keep their finger on the screen while dragging it to the desired option.  This is likely not suitable for an in-car task.

Usage and consumer demand will ultimately drive whether 3D Touch (or a similar technology) makes its way into the car.  However, designers must remember that requiring fewer touches for basic tasks does not automatically make an in-vehicle interface less distracting.  Skillful and well-thought-out design will be required to make such an interface practically useful in the car.

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