Friday, October 26, 2007

Preserve User Attention

For a long time now, electronic devices have been designed for users to focus all their attention exclusively on the device while using it. Without any regard for the context, mobile phones blare off sound and vibrations, demanding user action immediately or else the call may be lost forever. If you know a person behaving like this he is either a psychopath or less than two years old.

So how can we make devices that are more polite? In a paper from UIST'05, Connor Dickie et. al. writes about mimmicking human group behaviour. In human conversation, attention is a limited resource. Only one person can speak at a time and turn taking is facilitated by eye contact. You could use the camera in the phone to determine if the user is looking at the screen, and modifying the phone's behaviour appropriately. One suitable application that they propose is an eye controlled speed reader called seeTXT. An ordinary speed reader flashes one or two words at a time on the screen, letting you read very fast. This is great on small displays where you cannot fit much text without making the text very small. Check out the free ZapReader to see for yourself how a speed reader works.

The problem with an ordinary speed reader is that if you need to briefly look away, it keeps going and you get lost. Say that you speed read on your commute and you need to look away while showing your ticket, or if someone bumps in to you. With seeTXT, the device notices that you are not looking at it and politely stops at exactly that moment. You need not miss a word. It could automatically resume again next time you look at it. This is a much more appropriate behaviour than babbling away when you are obviously not paying attention.

I believe the time when we could just look at devices in isolation is gone. For any device to become confortably integrated in human life you have to design it to work smoothly in the contexts it will be used in. Increasingly, people are selecting songs on their iPods while driving in cars; a context it is NOT designed for. Failure to understand what contexts the device will be used in will result in designs that puts users in awkward and potentially dangerous situations.

/Staffan Lincoln

Monday, October 22, 2007

Letting the UI drive service and application utilization, rather than the other way around

Traditionally the UI has had a subordinate role compared to the mobile applications, i.e. the browser, messenger and media player. This is about to change. The UI is gradually moving from something, hopefully, nice and beautiful, to a strategic differentiator in designing and utilizing all of the functions in the device.

A seamless UI approach to mobile devices implies that there will be no fixed boundaries on how the end-user shall interact with the device. A traditional menu structure may have its advantages for orientation, but a user experience centric approach (so successfully implemented by companies like Apple) plays more into the hands of how we behave. A UI that supports flow and function based user interaction will not tie the user to a specific application, but rather present a logical flow of options; - What do you want to do next?

TAT Cascades re-enforces this paradigm shift with its focus on user and function driven UIs, rather than the traditional application centric silo based approach. The UI will work with smooth transitions between logical functions and invoke the appropriate part of the application service layer. The foundation of TAT Cascades centers on the ability to expose underlying services in a structured and easy accessible way and that the UI Framework is designed in such a way that it through event triggers, defined in XML, can call upon a certain activity, for example editing a picture, without having to start the whole camera application. This way of letting the UI invoke a service, rather than letting the application invoke the UI was not possible in the “old” monolithic way.

TAT’s PhotoRiver solution makes full use of the advantages posed by a UI driven architecture.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Symbian Smartphone Show

TAT exhibited in the Texas Instruments booth at the Symbian Smartphone Show, held in London, UK - October 16-17th.

As one could have expected the iPhone hype has not cooled down yet - if you were not talking about touch enabled devices or the importance of having a great user experience you had not done your homework. S60, Samsung, Symbian and all the rest were addressing these trends in their keynotes or in their booths at the show.

For the past five years it has been fairly easy to guess what all the main players in the industry will be talking about, at the upcoming MWC event in Barcelona, one wouldn´t be surprised if the touch and UI trend will linger on all through Q1 next year.

Judging from the interest TAT got, both from carriers, OEMs and platform providers, showing some of our demos relating to creating a rich and seamless user experience, the market is clearly moving in a direction where the UI will become the core differentiator. But of course this will also put tougher requirements on the hardware platforms - areas such as hardware acceleration and Open GL|ES 2.0 will be key to enable truly mind boggling user experiences.

Last but not least one could also see a lot of discussions around Web 2.0 and Social Apps, and the great goal of having everything you have on the PC in the device as well - a task that surely will require UI innovation going forward. Or as Mats Lindoff (SonyEricsson CTO) said: UI is key!!

Read more: