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Thursday, September 3, 2015

This Android Auto Feature Can Be Restricting But It's For Safety...

Both Google and Apple have continually mentioned the need for safety while driving and using their in-car infotainment softwares. Android Auto and CarPlay both have a long list of safety features which are designed to help drivers keep their eyes on the road without getting distracted by the dashboard.

However, one such feature built into Android Auto, is not present on Apple CarPlay. It has to do with the number of times you can tap the display before being locked out. And I have a feeling it may actually jeopardize safety rather than ensure it. Here's a more detailed explanation...

Android Auto Drawers

If you've been using Android Auto and have been encountered with the pop-up message, "For safety reasons, no more items can be displayed", don't worry, there's nothing wrong with your car, head unit or smartphone. This is an Android Auto safety feature which allows you to tap the screen no more than six times before completing an action.

As this document from Google explains, apps use drawers to browse content with the help of lists. Each drawer provides access to global actions, prioritizing content useful to drivers. Google recommends app developers not to use long lists or view shifts for the same content which would require additional taps to get to a function.

Each drawer item must provide a single touch target and can contain single-line content items to fit up to five items per screen. Like this...

Google also advises developers to use categories for content but to restrict these lists to only two sub-levels before displaying content which is playable.

The safety restriction arises when a user tries to reach a selection. For example, if you're trying to listen to a streaming radio channel in an app. If the app requires you to click through the geographic location of the station which it has put more than six levels under, you won't be able to access it.

Explanation (for illustration purposes only): Say you want to listen to the station 'Hard Rock 94.7' (not an actual station) from San Francisco, California...

1st tap --> Browse Stations
2nd tap --> Browse by Location
3rd tap --> Countries - United States
4th tap --> State - California
5th tap --> City - San Francisco
6th tap --> Genre - Hard Rock
7th tap --> 94.7

In the above case, you need seven taps before you can start listening to Hard Rock 94.7. This is prohibited in Android Auto since the allowable number of taps is only six. As a result you would see the pop-up message after the sixth click, meaning you won't even see the list of Hard Rock stations let alone select 94.7.

Google says, in the United States the restriction is at six taps but some countries like Japan allows only four taps.


To avoid having your users being locked out of Android Auto due to the tap restrictions, Google suggests keeping the focus on simplifying your content within the app. The top-level drawer should be as simplified as possible. And also, most items should be showing without having to scroll (scrolling also counts as a tap).

Google also suggests integrating voice commands instead of physical taps to access content.

Safety Issue?

Here's why I think this feature, although built for safety, could actually be dangerous. Once the screen locks up due to excessive taps, users can't continue accessing the content they were looking for.

Since Android Auto doesn't allow simultaneous use of the smartphone while connected, it could lead to the driver unplugging his/her phone from Android Auto. And we all know about the dangers and legal concerns about handling your smartphone while driving.

The tap restrictions mostly come into play when using music apps. If users face the issue too many times it could force them to listen to their favorite content over Bluetooth, which doesn't require Android Auto. But this requires handling your phone while driving.

Whether the six or four tap restriction will be lifted remains to be seen. Open Radio (topmost screenshot) has been one app notorious for overwhelming users with long lists and content. Many other Android Auto compatible apps had the pop-up show up at the very beginning but with recent updates app developers have simplified content drawers drastically.

If anything changes in these Android Auto restrictions, I will let you know. Stay tuned.

Drawers info source: Google

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