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Here’s Why Mazda Wants to Get Rid of Touch Screens

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2019 Mazda3
Photo: Mazda

Most new cars offer a tablet-like touch-screen interface, but Mazda wants to shift that paradigm. While it may seem shocking to some drivers, Mazda will now seek to eliminate touch screens from its vehicles. But will that make its cars even safer and more intuitive? Here’s a closer look at the problems with touch screens — and Mazda’s proposed solutions.

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Keeping your eyes on the road

Mazda considered how much time drivers spend splitting their attention between touch screens and the road ahead. That led the automaker to devise a new user interface to cut down on driver distractions.

During research, Mazda found that drivers had a tendency to torque the steering wheel while reaching for the touch screen in any vehicle. And since every surface on the touch screen feels the same, when you go to tap a button, you have to look at what you’re selecting. According to Matt Valbuena, the lead engineer for HMI and infotainment for Mazda North America, these factors make touchscreens a danger on the road. That data bolsters Mazda’s confidence with its decision to abandon touch screens and pursue other types of user interfaces.

Studies by AAA and University of Iowa researcher Dr. Dan McGehee both seem to agree with Mazda’s conclusions. While touch screens are compelling devices that people don’t want to put down, a vehicle’s tablet-like interface demands that we avert our eyes from the road to perform simple tasks, like managing temperature, changing the channel, turning up the volume, and in some cases, activating the windshield wipers. “It takes a lot more attention to do that than it does to just grab a volume knob,” Dr. McGehee argues.

Aside from causing drivers to jerk the wheel and avert their attention, looking between the road and the infotainment system causes increased eyestrain. While that may not seem like a big deal, it can add up over the course of a long commute or road trip.

Seeing past touch screens

Instead of tapping and swiping, Mazda wants to bring back tactile controls, like buttons and knobs. For its revised interface, Mazda’s team has fine-tuned each knob and button to require the same amount of pressure and rotation force. And Mazda is wasting no time implementing this concept — you’ll find these tactile controls on the 2019 Mazda3.

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Interestingly, Mazda’s button-based interface is not about cutting costs. Touch screens are actually cheaper to produce than hard-wired buttons and knobs with dedicated functions. Rather, it’s a reflection of Mazda’s overarching design philosophy, which seeks to create a natural, responsive, and intuitive driving experience. Perhaps most of all, it’s to make driving safer for both Mazda drivers and everyone else on the road.

Sources: Motor Authority, NPR