The big news in tech last week was the unveiling of the Apple Watch. I think it is a nice moment to discuss a range of human factors topics. (This topic may elicit strong feelings for or against Apple or the idea of a smartwatch but let’s keep it about the science.)
The first is technology adoption/acceptance. Lots of people were probably scratching their heads asking, “who wears a watch, nowadays?” But you do see lots of people wearing fitness bands. Superficially, that contrast seems to demonstrate the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) in action. TAM is a way to try to understand when people will adopt new technology. It boils down the essential factors to usability (does it seem easy to use?) and usefulness (does it seem like it will help my work or life?).
Fitness bands check both of the above boxes: since they are essentially single-function devices they are relatively easy to use and tracking fitness is perceived as useful for many people.
Back to the Watch, it may also check off both of the above boxes: it certainly appears easy to use (but we do not know yet), and because it has fitness tracking functions plus many others via apps it certainly may be perceived as useful to the same crowd that buys fitness bands.
The next topic that got me excited was the discussion of the so-called digital crown (shown below). Anne and I have previously studied the contrasts between touch screens and rotary knobs for a variety of computing tasks. Having both choices allows the user select the best input device for the task: touch for pushing big on-screen buttons and large-scale movement and knob for precise, linear movement without obscuring the screen. Using a knob is certainly easier than a touch screen if you have shaky hands or are riding a bumpy cab.
Two small items of note that were included in the Watch was the use of the two-finger gesture on the watch face to send a heart beat to another user–the same gesture many people intuitively think of when they want to feel their own heart beat.
Finally, the Watch has the ability to send animated emoij to other users. What was noteworthy is the ability to manipulate both eyes and mouth in emoji characters. I couldn’t find any literature but I recall somewhere that there is some cross-cultural differences in how people use and interpret emoji: Western users tend to focus on the mouth while Eastern users tend to focus on the eyes (if you know what reference I’m talking about or if I’m mis-remembering, feel free to comment).
There’s so much I haven’t brought up (haptic and multi-modal feedback, user interface design, automation, voice input and of course privacy)!
Anne sent me an example of, “why haven’t they thought of this before”: an air vent with the temperature display and control knob all in one.
In this article describing the new Audi TT with glass dashboard, they describe the novel control/display/air vent seen in the image above. I guess one problem here is if it is accessible to only the driver or if it’s centrally located.
The dashboard (shown in the linked article), however, is another story. While it looks futuristic, it looks like a distraction nightmare!
I was reading articles the other day and came across a site that, as many do, reformatted for my phone. Almost all reformatted-for-mobile sites are terrible, but this one is my favorite.
You cannot scroll through the 21 page article by moving your finger up and down, as would happen on a website. The only way to change pages is via the horizontal slider at the bottom. Good luck trying to move it so slightly it only goes forward one page! And yes, moving the slider left and right does move the page up and down.
This is one creative solution to the overwhelming complexity of television remote controls. My only complaint is the very low contrast between the background and the text labels. I think i’ll try this with my Dad’s remote control.
This clip of Fox News’ new studio has been tearing up the internet. But what caught my eye was the touchscreen lag and general unresponsiveness/accidental touches of the users in the background (see image at top; video here). Starting at the 10 second mark, note the user on the right.
I had heard that the Tesla Model S (the luxury electric car) had a giant touch screen as one of the main interfaces for secondary car functions and always wondered what that might be like from a human factors/usability perspective. Physical knobs and switches, unlike interface widgets, give a tactile sensation and do not change location on the dashboard.
This post is an interesting examination of the unique dashboard:
Think about a car’s dashboard for a second. It’s populated with analog controls: dials, knobs, and levers, all of which control some car subsystem such as temperature, audio, or navigation. These analog dials, while old, have two features: tactility and physical analogy. Respectively, this means you can feel for a control, and you have an intuition for how the control’s mechanical action affects your car (eg: counterclockwise on AC increases temperature). These small functions provide a very, very important feature: they allow the driver to keep his or her eyes on the road.
Except for a the privileged few that have extraordinary kinesthetic sense of where our hands are, the Model S’s control scheme is an accident waiting to happen. Hell, most of us can barely type with two hands on an iPhone. Now a Model S driver has to manage all car subsystems on a touchscreen with one hand while driving.
The solution, however, is may not be heads-up displays or augmented reality, as the author suggests (citing the HUD in the BMW).
While those displays allow the eye to remain on the road it’s always in the way–a persistent distraction. Also, paying attention to the HUD means your attention will not be on the road–and what doesn’t get paid attention to doesn’t exist:
Story in the Washington Post about the impending demise of the computer mouse in favor of touch screens:
“Most children here have never seen a computer mouse,” said Hannah Tenpas, 24, a kindergarten teacher at San Antonio.
“The popularity of iPads and other tablets is changing how society interacts with information,” said Aniket Kittur, an assistant professor at the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. “. . . Direct manipulation with our fingers, rather than mediated through a keyboard/mouse, is intuitive and easy for children to grasp.”
I realize the media needs a strong narrative to make an interesting story but the mouse is nowhere near dead. The story is more complicated and completely depends on the task. There are certain applications where the precise pointing afforded by mice are just too cumbersome with touch screens.
The above is from a gas pump in a large metro area. Can you guess the most common zip code number? How about what object people use to to press the keys?
But you’re probably missing my favorite part – look in the lower right. Do you see the black electrical tape? Under that tape is the START button for the gasoline. The instructions on the screen say to “press the start button to begin fueling.” As the most commonly pressed button it was the first to be destroyed, and the station attendant’s tape solution earned it a humor tag in this post. I’m also willing to bet that hiding the START button is why the “No/Cancel” button has been furiously destroyed as well.
I’ve come across some of these where the soft keypads were entirely destroyed by keys for the common zip code numbers. Once I had to leave to find another gas station, since it wouldn’t accept my card without a zip code entered and the buttons no longer worked.
As I was watching the pilot episode of the 70s TV series “The Incredible Hulk” (thank you, Netflix), I realized the entire premise of the show depended on a poor interface (and lack of workplace communication). To set this up, Dr. Banner has recently self-administered gamma radiation to see if he can make himself stronger.
“How many units of gamma did you say you injected into yourself?”
“Three hundred thousand.”
“How do you know it was three hundred thousand?”
“I turned the calibrator up to uh, the last click. Three hundred thousand.”
“Little piece of white tape on it?”
“Well it’s like the electronic microscope that Ben modified for higher strength.”
“Are you saying that Ben modified the radiology unit in excess of three hundred thousand? But there was no marking on the tape.”
“Well, he hadn’t calibrated it yet. He was going to work on it this morning. He didn’t know how high he could get it to go.”
“(sighs) Well, how high did he get it?”
“Almost two million units.”
“I took a dose that high?”
(I’d also like to point out that the pre-tape dial has no units on it. But if I started doing that with this TV series, I’d never stop.)