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Do Gesture-Based Mobile Apps Represent a New “Attention Risk”?

May 31st, 2010

This quick post is about a question from a project design meeting for a new mobile application. The application will have a gesture-based graphical interface, initially targeted for iPhone and later on for Android and other platforms. At issue is the question of whether use of screen gestures while driving represent a new driver attention risk.

My first thought was “Anything that takes concentration off of the road is an attention risk, similar to texting or holding a phone instead of using a hands-free system.”

A compelling counter-argument in the discussion was that the device would be mounted within easy reach of the operator, in a fixed location, and these are “large gestures” that do not require any screen attention or reading. Doing a gesture on a touch screen device like this is no different in terms of attention for the driver than reaching to turn on windshield wipers or to adjust a radio on the dashboard.

In thinking about this while driving this afternoon, I’ve shifted to agree with the counter-argument, and think that gesture interfaces, as long as they don’t take careful examination or reading of a screen shouldn’t be a new risk.

What do you think about this question? Under what circumstances would using gesture-based commands with a mobile app represent a new driver concentration risk, and under what circumstances are this sort of interaction benign?

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