Auditory communication displays within the Next Generation Air Transport System (currently under development in the United States) will likely require an improvements in the user interface for selecting amongst multiple incoming messages. Interface design can impact both user performance and preference. Two design factors were evaluated: physical pressure-sensitive switches versus flatpanel "virtual switches," and auditory feedback from switch contact. Performance with stimuli using physical switches was 1.2 s faster than virtual switches (2.0 s vs. 3.2 s); auditory feedback provided a 0.6 s performance advantage (2.3 s vs. 2.9 s). The subjective results show a significant preference and superior performance for physical pressure-sensitive switches having audio feedback, compared to touch-panel virtual switches. The correlation between objective measures of performance and subjective ratings of preference and performance was shown to be high. Overall, the results indicate that any replacement of physical controls by virtual touch screens must be considered carefully, and should include audio feedback.
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