Smoothing boundaries between mobile devices and outside world

Thoughts on this article.

I’ve written before about the problematic and pervasive greedy mobile interfaces and how they require disengagement from the world for use. Mobile interfaces become the boundary we must cross to access the digital world. If mobiles are the ubiquitous computing device, the boundary between the physical and digital worlds is abrupt and requires a too much cognitive energy to cross and maintain. Sending a simple text message can feel more like using a coin operated crane to fetch a toy than a seamless interaction.

Lots of research labs are thinking about this problem. In fact two of my coworkers are working on dissertations that address many current issues with mobile interaction. One coworker is looking at how we can use peripherals with quicker access to smooth the boundary between interacting with the physical and digital world. He’s working with arm gestures that can be recognized by sensors embedded in the wristwatch to do simple things like dismiss a call or alert. I’ve worked on some interfaces that use a touch screen watch to perform higher resolution actions.

How do we make that boundary crossing easier? The visually greedy interface is one culprit, but certainly not the only one.

Another student is working on a tactile display that involves having a small array of electrodes on the underside of the watch. These electrodes deliver small shocks to your skin that feel like vibrations. They can be controlled to cause a variety of differentiable sensations. Although it is low resolution, it has the potential to remove some of the visual greediness of current mobile systems.

I find myself looking at the problem from a different angle. I think the mobile phone has a lot to add to our everyday physical interactions. I’ve been focusing on applications where face-to-face conversations are augmented using the capability of the mobile phone. If everyone has a screen and input in their pockets, let’s make the best use of it.