Archive for November, 2008

The Carnival of Mobilists, a rotating weekly posting of mobile-related blog articles, mentions us as a blog to check out. Carnival #150 includes a big collection of interesting articles - well worth the read. This week’s Carnival is hosted by Mippin Blog.

How many remotes are sitting on your coffee table? According to the Consumer Electronics Association, an average American home has 4 remotes, and there could be up to 5 or 6 remotes for running a home theater. Another study by research firm Gfk shows 49% of European households having 5 or more remote controls and 87% having 3 or more. This research claims that, in a quarter of European homes, there is only one person who knows how to operate all the technology. This is exactly what happened in our house. With many look-alike remotes in my hands, I couldn’t survive without the cheat sheets that my husband made for me explaining how to control each system. Universal remotes provide one alternative (CNet recommends the $249.99 Logitech Harmony One) but they can be expensive, cumbersome to set up, confusing to operate, and not always compatible. There has got to be a better way to control our electronics.

Spend an extra $250 to clean up my coffee table? I’m not so sure. Why not use my mobile phone to do this? It’s sleek and handy. It’s got buttons, big screen, and a bunch more options and advanced capabilities (motion sensor, Wi-Fi, GPS, etc.). Given all this, it’s not a stretch to think that a phone could be turned into the best universal remote ever.

Therefore, here are Five Design Considerations for Mobile Phone as Universal Remote Control:

1// Provide Automatic Configuration
The first user experience is critical, so automate anything you can. Before enjoying a media experience with a new remote, the very first two steps everyone must complete are compatibility check and configuration. Ironically, this process is often frustrating and time-consuming. People have to find out and hand-enter a series of manufacturer model numbers for every piece of electronic equipment, and must continually test and refine the settings. Why not make this process more automatic by utilizing RFID or bar code system technology? The mobile phone becomes the receiver (radio wave pointer) for RFID, auto-detecting and auto-generating a component list. At the same time, the compatibility check and configuration can happen over the network, storing information both on phone and online for backup.

2// Display the Right Controls at the Right Time
Showing all options at once is not helpful. A constant problem with universal remotes is that people have trouble finding the correct buttons after turning the whole system on. This problem becomes even more confusing when we try to control EVERYTHING with this one magic wand. To solve this we need to simplify the button controls, and provide clear feedback and guidance to users. For example, there’s no need to show channel controls when watching a DVD. Display necessary functions that relate to the currently selected mode, plus some means to expose the other options when needed. In addition, provide visual and / or haptic feedback whenever the user touches a control. The feedback not only allows the user to see what they are doing, but also prevents them from getting lost.

3// Make It Personal!
Your mobile phone is very personal, so your mobile remote control should be too. Turning the phone into a universal remote enables more specific personalization, and opens all kinds of possibilities. Each person can have his or her own unique experience based on the remote settings. For instance, I can reorganize my TV guide, only keeping the channels that interest me. My husband (a sports fan) might set up game night alerts for himself and his buddies as well. My mom would prefer bigger text on her remote and higher volume for her TV watching. With the right privacy safeguards, these personalized experiences could even help to improve the precision of recommendation engines and marketing opportunities.

4// Consider Hardware Variations
Mobile UI design could never stand alone without consideration of hardware. For a remote control interface, the command input method plays a significant role. The input methods for present and future media devices could be Wii-like pointers, touch screens, 5-way devices, scroll balls, QWERTY keypads, etc. The interface design of each input method could vary dramatically according to its hardware limitation or strength. A good solution for the mobile device remote should take all relevant control methods into account. The other challenge here is to figure out a rule for when and how to show information on both input device display and the output screen. Understanding the screen size, orientation, and resolution in a given viewing scenario can help to guide solutions. Of course in turning a mobile phone into a remote, the necessary first step is to give the phone the hardware to communicate with the media devices, whether via radio, ultrasonic, laser, infrared , etc.

5// Be Aware of Context
Context is king when designing for mobile products. People want to control different things in different times, locations, and situations. You would never want to turn on the TV in the living room when you are in bed. Likewise, when you are watching a movie at home and a call comes in – wouldn’t you like the phone to automatically pause the movie while you’re on the call and then put it back on when you hang up? These features are possible if the application is designed with contextual awareness.

Ifan Chou is an interaction designer at Punchcut. Gabriel White is the Interaction Design Director at Punchcut. Photo by Flickr user buttha used under Creative Commons.

Ifan Chou

Mobile Boarding Passes

American Airlines is the latest and the fifth airline to test mobile boarding passes, which it hopes will not only cut down on paper waste, but also make things a little more speedy and convenient for travelers.

Read the release from American Airlines or get a more snarky version at MobileCrunch or Engadget.

A QR Code is a two-dimensional bar code contains information, such as URLs and contact info, created in Japan 1994. QR Code stores information in both vertical and horizontal directions so it holds a lot more info than traditional bar code. Scanning the code with scanner or camera phone equipped with the reader software can decode it, launching a browser to the specified destination.

Crowdsourcing: Using Mobile Data for Real-Time Traffic Reports

Ever noticed that so-called ‘real-time traffic’ sometimes isn’t? Wondering if there is a better way to use traffic data to get to your destination efficiently? The Mobile Millennium project aims to solve these problems, at least for the San Francisco Bay Area. The project is the result of a collaboration between Nokia, NAVTEQ, and UC Berkeley. Put simply, Mobile Millennium uses mobile phone location and speed data from thousands of participating users to deduce traffic levels for Bay Area roadways.

Mobile Millennium represents a handy and appropriate use of ‘Crowdsourcing‘. It demonstrates how mobile devices can send useful data back into the cloud, not just communicating through it.  The fact that users can benefit directly from their own collaboration creates a strong incentive to participate, which should make it easier to distribute the technology among the local population.

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Yesterday in the race to become the standard for 4G wireless data network technology, there were three competing  networks: Qualcomm’s UMB, WiMax led by Sprint, Samsung and Intel’s and LTE. backed by AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Vodafone and China Mobile. Today, Qualcomm announced that it was halting development on UMB, and throwing its support behind LTE. So let’s take a look at the scorecard:

LTE: AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Vodafone, China Mobile, Qualcomm

WiMax: Sprint, Samsung and Intel

Although most carriers are looking to squeeze the life out of their current technology and deploy their 4G technology of choice 2-5 years from now, Sprint actually launched Xohm, its WiMax 4G service in Baltimore last week. We’re looking forward to reports of how users in Baltimore find the new service.

The iPhone 3G has overtaken the Motorola RAZR (all models combined), which had the coveted top spot for the last 12 quarters (3 years). This is significant because the iPhone is the first smartphone to take the top spot. Conventional wisdom holds that users are put off by the price and the advanced feature set of a smart device.

From CNet’s iPhone Atlas

Joe Pemberton

Data Visualization is a Medium

Great data visualization lets the presentation of the information enhance the reader/viewer/user’s understanding. When coupled with motion design and animation a visualization can introduce added dimensions like time, population, price, elevation, etc. and therefore aid understanding.

The above reel is from motion designer Michael Chang.

The below example from Digg Labs — a visualization called “Big Spy” is very basic, but the added dimension of real-time data make this simple representation come to life.

Digg Labs

Eric Rodenbeck’s talk “Data Visualization is a Medium” (from O’Reiley’s Etech conference last year) expands data visualization into a medium as the user is able to drag sliders and interact with the data. The audience is no longer viewer, but user as they get their hands on the visualization and manipulate the view in real-time. Click to view the full Etech talk and video demonstration.

// VerAlltel? Allizon? Veritel? to become largest carrier in North America

The FCC has approved Verizon’s $28 billion purchase of Alltel, provided they honor Alltel’s existing roaming agreements for the next 4 years. The Department of Justice also asked that Verizon divest itself of 22 states to maintain the competitive landscape in about 100 local markets.  Sorry, Ma Bell, welcome to #2.

// All sorts of OS updates promised this week

After a mere 2 weeks with the G1 out to market, some people over at modmygphone have figured out how to get full read and write access. 3 days later, Google fixes up Android’s security holes and releases R30, set to be updated over the air in the next few days.

In other OS news, Steve Ballmer confirmed the Motorola leak that Windows Mobile 6.5 will be released in Q1 of 2009.  This release promises a better UI,  software flow, and perhaps Zune software integration.  Windows Mobile 7 is rumored to have been pushed back to Q3 of 2010.

// It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

Sprint’s had a bad week, battling a $1.2 billion class action lawsuit, a continued steady leak of customers, and Q3 losses of $326 million.  At the same time, Sprint broadcasted (phone-casted?) the first live NFL game in its exclusive 5 year deal with NFL Network. ”Live compelling content is a game changer in the mobile industry,” said Steve Gaffney, Sprint’s director of sports sponsorships.