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The Dashboard Debate: Physical Buttons vs. TouchScreens in Cars

In the ever-evolving landscape of automotive technology, the debate surrounding car interfaces has become a focal point for drivers and manufacturers alike. 

Being a company that deals with automotive projects, the topic of whether to prioritize physical buttons or touchscreens in car interfaces became a point of significant contention. Therefore, we decided to conduct this survey.

So, whether or not you’re a car freak, you would relate to this. Many manufacturers are integrating touchscreens in place of the traditional physical buttons in cars, and even though that may sound so cool – as Gen Z would say, it is still not preferred according to the survey we carried.

Curious to learn more? Let’s analyze the results.

The Survey Results

So, we did a survey where we asked 295 people:

  • Their age
  • Their country
  • Whether they own a car
  • If they own it, how old it is
  • Whether they prefer Touch Screens or Buttons in their car

The survey unveiled intriguing insights into the choices made by drivers.

survey results pie chart

While physical buttons retained a stronghold with approximately 60.4% of respondents, touchscreens garnered a significant 39.6%. In Europe, a stronghold of 69.5% preferred buttons, contrasting with a balanced 50% preference split in America. 

Graph showing survey results with comparison of responses: 179 respondents prefer buttons

Zooming in on age groups, respondents aged 20 and above exhibited a nuanced stance. Approximately 57.1% favored physical buttons, while touchscreens resonated with 42.9%

Graph showing survey results with comparison of responses: 117 respondents prefer touchscreens

Indeed, the fan base for Elon Musk and Tesla is extensive, but the critical question arises: do these enthusiasts genuinely find the ever-expanding touchscreens practical, particularly as their dimensions increase? 

I’d like to discuss some reasons why in this evolving world where everything is going tech and AI, people still prefer physical buttons over touchscreens. And no, this is not only going to be about reliability, responsiveness, etc., we’ll look into the psychological perspectives, ergonomic considerations, and more.

Reasons Why People Still Prefer Physical Buttons Over Touchscreens

Psychological Perspectives

Physical buttons offer a tangible, tactile experience that resonates with users. The sensory perception associated with pressing a button adds a layer of satisfaction and engagement. Imagine having to press your touchscreen and realizing the windshield wipers aren’t working because you just didn’t press on the right place while driving.

Not only do physical buttons provide surety, but they also add some level of familiarity as pressing a button imparts a sense of immediate control. 

The Honda Accord incorporates physical buttons for climate control and audio, aligning with a straightforward mental model for users.

Volvo’s XC90 utilizes a central touchscreen for various functions, potentially requiring users to navigate through digital menus and influencing cognitive load.

The simplicity of mental models aligns with the straightforward layout of physical buttons. Drivers navigate with ease, reducing cognitive load. In contrast, touchscreens, with their multiple layers of menus, may contribute to a higher cognitive demand, influencing preferences based on the perceived ease of use.

Tesla Model S touchscreen is compared to Honda Accord buttons

Ergonomic Considerations

Buttons, strategically placed within easy reach, cater to the ergonomic needs of drivers. Their placement aligns with the natural hand movements, ensuring accessibility without strain. In contrast, touchscreens may require extended reach, potentially compromising ergonomic comfort.

The Ford F-150 incorporates physical buttons for essential functions, strategically placed within easy reach for drivers.

The Mercedes-Benz S-Class utilizes a touchscreen with a central placement, potentially requiring drivers to extend their reach for certain controls.

Gestures on touchscreens introduce a new layer of interaction. While they provide flexibility, the learning curve and potential for distraction present ergonomic challenges. Physical buttons, with their direct interaction, offer simplicity and efficiency.

The tactile nature of buttons allows drivers to operate controls without diverting their eyes, contributing to a safer and less visually distracting driving experience.

Cultural and Social Influences

The familiarity and cultural acceptance of specific interfaces contribute to the enduring legacy of physical buttons or the rising prominence of touchscreens.

The allure of modern technology, societal perceptions of sophistication, and the influence of peers contribute to the social dynamics influencing dashboard choices.

The Honda Civic, with its straightforward button layout, appeals to a practical and no-nonsense driving approach.

The Audi A4, with its sleek touchscreen interface, caters to a demographic influenced by social trends valuing modernity and digital sophistication in automotive design.

To put it simply, if someone’s used to their habits, it’s hard for them to adapt to a new environment or a new act. People hardly want to get used to the new features, especially when they’re on the road. And that makes sense actually, who would want to risk it?

The graph shows the benefits of buttons and the reasons why they are more popular among the users

Have Car Companies Gone Mad?

So while I emphasize the outcomes of the survey that we did, the same question must be running through your mind too why do car companies continue to manufacture cars with touchscreens?

The answer is simple – it’s less costly to manufacture a car with without buttons and switches. Another little “Gen Z” reason could be if a car doesn’t have a touchscreen, it doesn’t give the vibe. Everything’s going tech, so why not cars? At this point, people expect touchscreens to be a part of every new car.

So, it’s not mostly why manufacturers do it, it’s also the marketing that sells the car, and every car company wants to sell their car, no?

Closing Thoughts

As we peer into the future, the survey results provide valuable insights for car manufacturers. Though as much as I feel like I belong to the old carrier pigeons era, I feel like it’s best to accept the touchscreens and get used to it. People were not used to mobile phones and laptops some decades ago, but now people can’t live without them.

As for car companies, they’re smart. They know how to play the game.

I'm Hiba Haseeb, a hardworking, friendly, and imaginative individual. I have over 6 years of experience in Digital Marketing. As a programmer, I know no limits - I keep myself entertained by learning new skills and embracing the dynamic nature of the digital world. When I set a goal, I give it my all. I like to take on various niches and focus on my research just as much as my writing. My work isn't just a means to an end; it's a source of deep satisfaction.

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