Abstract Research on vibrotactile displays for mobile devices has developed and evaluated complex multi-dimensional tactile stimuli with promising results. However, the possibility that user distraction, an inevitable component of mobile interaction, may mask (or obscure) vibrotactile perception has not been thoroughly considered. This omission is addressed here with three studies comparing recognition performance on nine tactile icons between control and distracter conditions. The icons were two dimensional (three body sites against three roughness values) and displayed to the wrist. The distracter tasks were everyday activities: Transcription, mouse-based Data-entry and Walking. The results indicated performance significantly dropped in the distracter condition (by between 5% and 20%) in all studies. Variations in the results suggest different tasks may exert different masking effects. This work indicates that distraction should be considered in the design of vibrotactile cues and that the results reported in lab based studies are unlikely to represent real world performance.