Category Archives: mobile

HF/Usability Hodgepodge

Things too small for their own post but interesting nonetheless…it’s a hodgepodge, a mélange, a potpourri!

New Interface for Online Banking

There are many iPhone applications that integrate the phone camera with software in novel ways.  I came across this video demonstrating how it can be used to deposit checks electronically.

The interface demonstration starts at the 1 minute mark if you would like to skip the advertisement.*

*I’m not sure if it counts as an advertisement when most people aren’t allowed to bank there. You must have a connection to the military to use USAA (hence the aircraft carrier example in the video).

Smartphones as Event-based Prospective Memory Aids

The calendar functions of devices such as personal digital assistants (PDAs) and  smartphones have always been types of time-based prospective memory aids.  An item to be remembered in the future (e.g., go to meeting at 4 pm) is entered into the calendar and when that time arrives we are reminded with a notification or alarm (hence the term time-based).

Prospective memory is remembering to perform an action in the future.  Whereas retrospective memory is remembering something from the past.  In many ways, prospective memory is much more important, from a human factors prospective, than retrospective memory.  For absent-minded people like me, prospective memory failures (like missing a meeting) is of low consequence (depending on who I am unintentionally blowing off).

But imagine the situation where a nurse forgets to carry out a procedure, a doctor forgets to remove gauze in a patient, or when a patient forgets their medication instructions.  The consequences for prospective memory failure are much greater (and potentially deadly).

Prospective memory events can be “fired” by two main types of cues or “reminders”:

  • The first is time-based (like the example above): At 3 pm, call cable company, or in 30 minutes call Chris.
  • The other way is event-based: When I see Anne, let her know that the paper is due, or drop deposit check when I pass the ATM.

Android App Electronic calendars are great at aiding time-based prospective memory tasks but only recently do they now cue event-based tasks.  For example, phones using the Android operating system can download a program that tracks your location (using the phone’s GPS unit) to fire off a reminder based on your current location.  So if you are near the grocery store it can remind you to pick up bread (event-based cue).

I recently discovered a feature in Palm WebOS phones (like the new Palm Pre) that can fire off reminders based on who you are communicating with (via phone conversation, instant messaging, or I think email). When I contact Anne (or she contacts me), a notification will remind me of what I needed to tell her.

Say that I need to tell Anne of an upcoming deadline when I see or hear from her.  I select her contact entry and type in a note to myself to remind her.  Next time I call her or we instant message I will receive this reminder:

contacts_2009-16-06_234845 contacts_2009-16-06_234921

Again, this is an event-based cue (communicating with Anne is the event) and not a time-based cue (there is no specific time when it might happen).  Cool!  More information about prospective memory can be found in this book (Google Books link) and countless articles.

Cannot be Undone (double negatives on iphone)

I just saw this image from Apple’s introduction of the new iPhone:

From Gizmodo

Notice the wording:  I understand that this action cannot be undone or cancelled [ed: British spelling, huh].

Does that mean it can be done?  Not a huge deal but the double negative slowed me down for a second.  Not a place where there should be any confusion!  Off-topic, I just got a Palm Pre this weekend and love it!

Can you hear me now? Why yes, I can!

dscn0278I just ran across this review of the Jitterbug phone and service.  It is a MVNO (a virtual mobile phone company) that rides on the Sprint mobile phone service.  The added value of Jitterbug is that the phone is designed to be simple (for older adults).  In this review, one thing caught my attention:

The trouble with finding a full coverage area, is that the phone doesn’t offer a signal indicator. Instead, you can only tell if you have a signal by opening the phone and listening for a dial tone. If there’s a tone, you can make a call, but it’s hard to know where you can receive calls unless you like to place the phone against your head constantly as you move from one area to another. [emphasis added]

Ingenious!  Psychologists/Human factors people are always saying that you should try to leverage the knowledge that your users already have instead of making them learn something new.  The Jitterbug is the first phone that I know of that follows this advice.  Would I want or need to hear a dial tone?  No.  But my parents would love it.  In fact, they still flip open their phone and put it to their ear to listen for a dial tone before making every call.

Feedback is a valuable brand “differentiator” for mobile phones

Here’s an interesting story about how Verizon eliminated a tiny feature (a checkbox indicating a successfully sent SMS message) and discovered that users apparently relied on that feedback.  This video clip is from AdAge so they don’t discuss the human factors angle but it’s there!  I can’t embed the video so check it out:

NEW YORK ( — A tiny check-mark box on Verizon’s text-messaging screen has taken on new sorts of meaning in the last month. For one thing, its removal sparked a customer outcry.

Text Input in a Mobile World

I‘ve always thought text inputs from anything other than a keyboard were clunky. Cliff Kushler, the man who invented T9 (a word completion aid) has developed Swype, a new text entry method that capitalizes on eliminating the press and release component of the touchscreen. What was once a discrete target acquisition task becomes a continuous one.

In the CNET interview, Kushler points out his age (55) and his words-per-minute with Swype (50). Not bad.

If you’re interested in research on alternate text input devices, check out some of the following:

Electronic Books–A Human Factors perspective

So I finally made the plunge and obtained an Amazon Kindle E-book reader.  This isn’t a gadget review site so don’t expect a full review but I just wanted to comment on some of the ergonomic/human factors considerations after using the device for the past few days.  The bottom line?  There are some critical “book behaviors” that the device does not afford but are critical to me.  My reading material is primarily articles, reference books; not narrative fiction (that typically flows in a linear, page-by-page fashion).


  1. The hype concerning the display is warranted.  It is extremely high contrast and easy to read even in dim light.  What makes this different from reading on an LCD is that the pixels are actually closer to the reading surface (just like paper).  The pixel density is also very high (167 dpi) compared to LCDs.
  2. The device is very thin and light.  The screen is small but not unusably so.
  3. Search is a nice function.  However, I am not sure if this perfectly replaces book indexes.  With an index, you can rely on recognition instead of free recall (necessary in search).
  4. Built-in 3G wireless for free.
  5. The software is very simple and the navigation is easy.  It is similar to an ATM with soft-options.

The BAD (in no particular order):

  1. Page turning is a bit sluggish (probably .5 to 1 second).  I don’t have empirical data to back up actual “performance” differences but it bothers me.
  2. The page forward and backward buttons are too easily pressed when you pick the device up (not a big deal but an inconvenience).
  3. I can dog-ear pages and include notes on pages or passages.  My notes are accessible as a text file for use later.  However, the text file is sort of meaningless.  While my note is there, it is devoid of context (I don’t know where it goes).  It would be nice if this functionality was improved.
  4. The on-off switch is located on the back of the device.  So when I want to turn it off, I always inadvertently jump a page or two.
  5. Instead of using page numbers to navigate the text, it uses something called “Locations.”  I still have not figured out what this is.  At the bottom of the screen, it might display, “Locations 203-15”.  Are these lines?  Paragraphs?  Pages?
  6. There is the “previous page” button, but also a “Back” button…and they seem to function similarly under some circumstances but differently in others.

Anne and I are writing a book and I’ve been doing quite a bit of research with articles and books.  Typically, I will read a page from a book or article and make notes.  Currently, there is not an easy way to export these notes or even email them to myself from the device.  As I mentioned, the notes it creates are unusable.  Another big thing is that I cannot open multiple books or articles at once–this is a problem with the whole class of devices, not just the Kindle.

These are just some of my recent thoughts on the device.  The tentative bottom-line is that I probably won’t be buying expensive reference books on the device (it just can’t yet replace a paper book for my use cases).  But reading PDF articles and Word .docs is quite pleasant.

Here are some pictures (the device and the device’s text presentation compared to a real book).

Kindle text compared to real print

Driving and Talking in California

The new law, which generally bars drivers from talking on their phones unless they use a hands-free device, takes effect today, nearly two years after the Legislature passed it. In the weeks leading up to the deadline, customers have been flooding into stores to buy hands-free devices, particularly wireless headsets. 

The Mercury News

With recent news that it is now illegal in California to use your mobile phone while driving (unless you have a hands-free device), I thought it would be interesting to note that it is not the “holding the phone” that is the problem, it is the cognitive requirements of multi-tasking (driving and talking) that is the problem.  Hands-free will not solve this problem.  As Strayer, Drews, and Crouch (2006) noted:

When drivers were conversing on either a handheld or hands-free cell phone, their braking reactions were delayed and they were involved in more traffic accidents than when they were not conversing on a cell phone.

Strayer, D. L., Drews, F. A., & Crouch, D. J.  (2006).  A comparison of the cell phone driver and the drunk driver.  Human Factors, 48, 381-391.

Nagging via text messages to help teens remember meds

I‘ve heard of text messages being used to remind older adults, but this is an interesting take on that…I guess it addresses the same underlying problem in both age groups: prospective memory failures.

WASHINGTON – 4gt yr meds? Getting kids to remember their medicine may be a text message away. Cincinnati doctors are experimenting with texting to tackle a big problem: Tweens and teens too often do a lousy job of controlling chronic illnesses like asthma, diabetes or kidney disease.

It’s a problem long recognized in adults, particularly for illnesses that can simmer without obvious symptoms until it’s too late. But only now are doctors realizing how tricky a time adolescence is for skipping meds, too.

Nagging via text messages to help teens remember meds – Yahoo News