Posts Tagged ‘ux’

Life Caching on Mobile Phones

We\'ll soon be life caching on mobile devices

We'll soon be life caching on mobile devices

At some point in the near future, the term mobile "phone" will be too limiting to describe what we’ll be carrying around in our pockets.

Take the iPhone (or any smartphone) as an example. Currently there are 8GB and 16GB versions available, but at the rate memory is increasing and coming down in price, soon we’ll be getting 32GB, 64GB and 128GB versions in the next few years (or months?). What will it mean to carry that much capacity on a mobile phone.

All my music files are about 50GB, all my photos 30GB, my email 5GB, and another couple for all the movies files shot on my camera. That means I can be carrying all my digital possessions with me on my phone. The term "phone" refers to a communication device. With high-quality camera and movie capture capabilities along with massive storage, it is something more that a mere phone. At this point it become a life caching device.

Nokia and Samsung have already been busy exploring this concept, however they are still in very early stages of development. I always thought that Cyworld needs to move in this direction in order for it to remain relevant – i.e. provide a life-caching service closely coupled with mobile service, but I digress.

For a life caching mobile device/phone to be useful/usable, it needs to address some pretty fundamental challenges:

  • Powerful Search When you have so much stuff on such a small device you need something more close to Apple OS X’s Spotlight to find the stuff you are looking for.
  • Rapid Browsing Browsing photos on a traditional cell phone is pretty painful with the key-mapped interface. Touch interfaces (à la iPhone) with flicking provide faster access and browsing experience to photos, music, movies, email and message lists.
  • Logical Cross-Referecing It’s still a communications device after all, and it makes sense to be able to access content via people. When you find a person in your address book, you should be able to view all the content related to that person.
  • Easy Backup Heaven knows what will happen if (or is it a matter of when) you lose you life-cached possessions stored on your device.
  • QWERTY Keypad You’ll need to do a lot of typing to tag all the content coming into your device and well as for posting and sharing your content with others.
  • Web-PC-Device interoperability Your portable device is good for capturing precious moments, communicating and transporting content, but for sharing the web is still king. As for editing all the movies and photos, and backing up, the PC is still your best bet. Each device has its merits and content should be easily transferable between platforms.

Adventures in the Seoul Metropolitan Subway

I take the Seoul Metropolitan Subway system to work everyday, compacted like sardines in a can. I was in no rush to get to work the other day and as I took my time through the system, I started to notice the signage around me. I found some interesting ones.

(My personal favorite) In case you find yourself in the possession of a shopping cart in the middle of the subway system, we won’t ask you how you managed to get it down the steps and through the turnstile, but you absolutely cannot take it with you on the moving walkway. You probably won’t know what floor you are on since it doesn’t really matter underground and we don’t tell you, but the restrooms, should you find yourself in need of one, are located somewhere between B4 and B3.
Just follow the blue line into the wall to transfer to the Blue Line. Make sure you fully decipher the meaning of these random signs before you get on the escalator. And btw, falling down the escalator is not permitted.
Please make sure your feet are in a good mood before attempting to negotiate these steps. This is where you call to “S.ave O.ur S.ubway”
These seats are reserved for the people who did not listen and fell down the escalator, or have back issues, or (we understand it happens sometimes) just had too much kimchi and rice for dinner. However these seat are reserved for those in wheelchairs, should they want to get out of their wheelchair and want to sit on these really comfy seats, or those who can magically balance a cane without any hands, or are hiding something under their dress, or are being attacked by tiny aliens.

The Satisfying Touch UI Experience

It’s a little embarrassing, but I get a lot of my insights from watching TED presentations. Blame it on the combination of my 2 hour commute, iPod Nano and TED providing video podcasts.

In a fascinating presentation by neurologist Vilayanur Ramachandran, he talks about how the brain works with sensory input. What stuck with me was towards the end of his talk:

Something very interesting is happening in the angular gyrus, because it is the crossroads between hearing, vision and touch and it became enormous in humans. I think it is the basis of many uniquely human abilities as abstraction, metaphor and creativity.

With interfaces, it is important to get sensory feedback. For example, right now, I am typing on a keyboard. This action creates a tactile feedback (it depresses), an auditory feedback (it clicks), and a visual feedback (letters appear on the screen). Unknowingly we feel satisfaction when these sensory feedback is properly provided. When typing on a keyboard does not produce letters on the screen, or the letters are somehow delayed, we have an emotional response – one of frustration.

Touch experience on the iPhone and LG Prada phone

Touch experience on the iPhone and LG Prada phone

With the iPhone there is no tactile or haptic feedback. (Some phones do have haptic feedback in the form of light vibrations)  In order to compensate for the fact that it is missing the one of three feedback that is necessary for a good interface, it provides strong feedback through the remaining two. When you use the dialer on the iPhone, it provide a strong color change (visual feedback) and the dial tone (auditory feedback) whenever you touch they keys. Same thing happens when you use the on-screen qwerty keyboard. In order to compensate for the fact that is is no tactile key-pressing sensation, iPhone provides visual feedback in the form of the keys popping up, and auditory feedback in the form of a tapping sound.

Compare the iPhone experience to the LG Prada phone experience. LG Prada phone provides haptic feedback (you feel a slight vibrarion at your fingertips) and visual feedback, however the color change in the interface is weak (trying to stay “cool” by using grey tones), and auditory feedback is aways the same no matter what you do (it’s the same bell sound). This results in the Prada phone having a less satisfying touch UI experience over the iPhone.

A large part of the satisfaction when using a touch UI is based on providing appropriate feedback. Another large part is based on what metaphor from everyday life you adopt and present to the users. Watching Ramachandran’s talk made me realize is that there is a deeper neurological basis for what consitiutes to a satisfying touch UI experience: Our brains are wired to take in sensory feedback and develop an emotional response to it (sometimes without us realizing it).

What Do You Want to Be, Touch UI?

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about touch-based user interfaces for mobile phone for a project I’ve been involved in.

Louis Kahn, one of the most influential architects of our time, and subject of an amazing documentary film, once said:

“What do you want Brick?”

He was alluding to the fact that each material has properties and limitations and wants to be used a certain way. Whether it be materials, or systems, or UI’s, each has a certain affordance you can either acknowledge and work with, or work against.

Don Norman also describes a similar attitude towards the design of products in his influential The Design of Everyday Things:

The term affordance refers to the perceived and actual properties of the thing, primarily those fundamental properties that determine just how the thing could possibly be used. A chair affords (“is for”) support and, therefore, affords sitting.

When designing a touch user interface for mobile phones, where do you start? You can start by taking a look at what Apple has wonderfully done with the iPhone. Or you can take a look at how to improve the current mobile UI and make it touch-enabled. Both lead to very restricted designs, since they can’t escape what either Apple or current mobile UI have set up as its affordances.

One needs to ask, “So, what do you want to be, mobile phone touch UI?”

In my mind, some of what it wants to be is the following (these are its affordances):

  • It wants large touch targets: Fingers are less precise than keys, and there are minimun touch area requirements that can’t be too small.
  • It wants simple page layout: touch requires immediate feedback, and quick transitions to subsequent pages. There shouldn’t really be anything to navigate on a page. The interface should be “tap, tap, tap”, i.e. a quick progression of pages to finish the task the user to trying to accomplish.
  • It want to have limited choices: More choices on a pages means more things to touch and this make make things harder to touch with precision. In the web page paradigm, it may be better to present more options on a page, however in a mobile touch interface, with limited screen area, and touch targets, it may make more sense to provide limited choices and more “in-between” pages.

It is also important to select the right everyday metaphor for the touch UI elements. Metaphors allow users to recognize how to use something without learning, since it is something they are familiar with already. On the iPhone you see sliders (unlocking the phone), dials (selecting a date), and buttons.

One great source of metaphors for a touch UI is actually baby toys for many reasons:

  • Interactive elements are brightly colored, allowing the user (the baby) to locate and initiate an action.
  • Interactive elements are easy to touch, pull or twist and have large target areas, taking in to account the users lack of mastery over motor functions and pudgy fingers.
  • Interactive elements provide clear feedback to reward the users and provoke them to repeat the action.
  • The objects are not overly complex and choices for manipulation are simple.

It is no wonder a baby can use an iPhone interface.

Better Personas: Data Driven Design Research

Data-driven personas

Data-driven personas

Todd Warfel has an inspiring presentation on persona creation. Go to the presentation on slideshare and view it full screen. In case you are wondering what those geen and blue lines are on his personas, here’s the answer.

Another of Todd’s persentations I enjoyed was, Goal Oriented Data Driven Design which incorporates parts of Barry Schwartz’s Paradox of Choice in explaining design based on usability not capability.