Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Making mLearning Usable: How we use mobile devices

This was published as a research report by the eLearning Guild in April 2014. For the full version of the report, and many others, join the Guild.

Executive Summary 
Global mobile device usage is truly astounding. Consider that there are more mobile subscriptions than humans on the planet, and in the 12 months of 2013 alone, mobile traffic grew by 80%. 
Traditionally, eLearning development focused on desktop and laptop computers. But developing for mobile is different—not because mobile is smaller, but because the user is mobile. Constant connectivity, sensors, and input methods like touch and gesture allow mobile devices to act very differently from the computers we traditionally design for. Because mobile is unlike the desktop in so many ways, many of the methods eLearning designers and developers use don’t work for mobile. 

A key difference between mobile and computers is touch, but our understanding of how people actually hold and use touchscreen devices has been lacking. In 2013 Steven Hoober, one of the authors of this report, did a study on how people really hold and touch mobile phones, but that didn’t include research on how people touch and use tablets. The eLearning Guild was interested in this research due to the increasing maturity of mobile learning solutions. Without foundational research on how people use tablets, there is simply too much chance of designing interfaces that are bad for people who use eLearning. If we don’t understand the best way to design for touch screens we risk creating user interfaces that can actually hinder usage, such as putting buttons where the user’s own fingers block sight of where they are to touch. 

To address this, we developed a survey in which volunteer field investigators gathered observations of people’s use of tablet devices, focusing on phablets, like the Galaxy Note series, small tablets, like the Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire, and large tablets, like the iPad. Observations occurred in 22 countries, but primarily in the United States. 

The point of doing research on how people hold and use these types of devices is to assure that human/device interactions work well. This report discusses a number of implications for design, both overall and by device class, that come from both Hoober’s previous phone research and this tablet research to ensure that touch interactions, keyboard interactions, and so on work for the user.

Results show that the way people use phones vs. large tablets indicates they are entirely unlike each other. The research found two key user preferences: People hold small devices in the hand and use them standing and walking. People use large devices more on surfaces and in stands and more often use them sitting. Design implications: People prefer to read and touch the center of the device, so place key content and interactions in the center. Use the minimum standard type sizes for the device and the way it is going to be used. Make the type larger when the device is likely to be in a stand or on a surface. When you design, don’t just test the interface on a computer screen, test with users on the device itself. 

Who Should Read This Report? 
This report is for anyone involved in the design of interfaces on mobile phones and tablets. You can immediately apply the findings to the day-to-day practice of designing mobile learning products, and use them to evaluate the suitability of existing designs for these devices.

Many of the tools, techniques, and methodologies used for digital design are based on the explosive growth of the web on desktop and laptop computers. But mobile is different—not because it is usually small or has no keyboard, but because it is with the user all the time, and wherever the user is. Constant connectivity, sensors, and input methods like touch and gesture allow mobile devices to act very differently from the computers we have traditionally designed for. 

Mobile continues to grow in use, with occasional shocking numbers: 
  • There are more mobile subscriptions than humans on the planet 
  • While 700 million people have email addresses, over five billion use SMS text messaging 
  • Mobile devices accounted for 48% of Internet traffic on Christmas day 2013 
  • In the 12 months of 2013 alone, mobile traffic grew by 80% 
Mobile continues to expand in reach, and even more so in use. We can expect mobile devices to replace other technologies, and continue to create new ways of learning. A good understanding of the technology and use of these devices is increasingly critical for people involved with learning. 
One key difference between mobile devices and computers is touch, but our understanding of how people use touchscreen phones and tablets has been sadly lacking. In the last few years there have been some theories, but we increasingly need hard empirical evidence. In February of 2013 Steven Hoober published a research report, How Do Users Really Hold Mobile Devices?, on how people really hold and touch mobile phones. In that research, he observed 1,333 individuals in public settings in several North American locations. 

Over time all this information was merged into a single view—and a single set of principles— of how to design for touchscreen phones. Because the vast majority of research into mobile behaviors has focused on mobile phones, only basic knowledge has been available about how tablets are used. Developers have directed much mobile learning at tablets such as the iPad, without a real baseline understanding of the ergonomics and methods of use. As Peter-Paul Koch noted on QuirksMode, general tablet use is beginning to make a mark, with around 10% of Internet traffic in the UK and Netherlands directed to tablets. 

The eLearning Guild became interested in this research due to the increasing maturity of mobile learning solutions. Designers and developers are creating interfaces for mobile learning and performance support based on best practices from the desktop web, templates from vendors, or even unrecognized personal biases. Without foundational research on how people use tablets, there is simply too great a chance of designing interfaces that are bad for people who use eLearning. This can lead to poorly designed eLearning—and to authoring programs that encourage poorly designed eLearning. So we saw this as an opportunity to do the type of research that was essential to the community as a whole. 

This can also allow us to establish a baseline of knowledge that we can use to create better success metrics and carry on further research in the future. 

Top eLearning developers use responsive design to create websites that work on a range of devices. Responsive design considers the number of pixels on the screen, and adjusts the information display to suit this size. Increasingly popular and successful adaptive technologies consider other features of the device to change the way that interactive controls work, and what tools are available per device; a mobile phone can rely on the GPS, for example, while a desktop or laptop computer user will have to type their location. Understanding how users work with different devices can help designers and developers better select layout and interaction for each one. 

Survey Methodology 
This survey was based off Hoober’s February 2013 study to gather numerous additional parameters about mobile devices and users. Whereas that survey was simple, and could be recorded on paper, the new survey required the use of a mobile-friendly web form, both to gather more information and to help the observers gather data anonymously. The observers could use a tablet or their mobile phone to gather observations in almost any environment. 

We started by soliciting volunteer field investigators from Guild members and other interested mobile learning affiliates. Volunteers in 22 countries (see Table 1 on page 8) gathered 651 observations of use on mobile devices, with a focus on other-than-phone devices: 
  • Phablets, like the Galaxy Note series 
  • Small tablets, like the Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire 
  • Large tablets, like the iPad 

Full descriptions of these device categories are included later in the report. 

While most of the original observations on phone use were done in public, field investigators who gathered data for this research did so much more often in environments where we are more likely to have to designed eLearning to work well, such as in offices, classrooms, and the home (Figure 1 on page 5). They gathered some of the observations in public places. 14.5% were on transportation, such as buses, trains, and airplanes, and 5.9% in coffee shops, bars, and stores.

Figure 1: Where observations were taken (tablets) 

Due to the need for an Internet connection, some observers noted that they could not log some observations. Subway transit systems, for example, have poor or no Internet coverage so no observations on subways are included. 

Google notes in its report The New Multi-screen World: Understanding Cross-platform Consumer Behavior that tablets are not used out in public nearly as much as phones, but are a preferred device for some types of interactions in the home. 

In the original study, which primarily looked at phone use, the vast majority of use was standing or walking. In this tablet study, we saw more people who were indoors, with one apparent result being a huge majority of the observations being of seated users (Figure 2 on page 6). This appears to be because of the types of devices surveyed.

Figure 2: Observation stance (tablets) 

Later on in the study we see that very few large tablets are used standing but it is important to note that in mobile learning we are possibly designing for a mobile workforce who may be looking to sneak in learning in bites, or may work in an environment where they stand but use tablets. So later, when we are talking about the implications of the study, you will want to think about what your specific workforce will be doing as they use their devices and you may want to consider what type of device to use depending on what they will be doing. 

Observations were nearly evenly split between male and female users (Figure 3 on page 7), and while most observations were of adults (Figure 4 on page 7), a notable number of children, teens, and seniors were observed as well.

Figure 3: Observation gender (tablets) 

Figure 4: Observation age (tablets)

The observers were in 22 countries (Table 1). The majority of observations are from the United States, with many others being from majority-English speaking countries as well. Due to the very small numbers of responses from most countries, we made no effort to determine if there are differences in use per country or region. In the future, a larger or more truly global survey would be useful to confirm the generalization of these results, or clarify localized differences if we find them. 

Number of Respondents 
Percent of Respondents 
United States 
United Kingdom 
New Zealand 
South Africa 
United Arab Emirates 

Preferences in Mobile Device Use 
This section of the report will look at the results of the field observations and an analysis of them. The next section will explain what the analysis means for the design of mobile interfaces. 

Many basic observations of use are exactly as expected. Most use is with the device in portrait mode, or with the device vertical (Figure 5), and only 15.4% of use was observed with the left hand touching the screen alone (Figure 6 on page 10). This is close to the incidence of left-handed individuals in the population, so is not a surprise at all. 

Figure 5: Device orientation (tablets)

Figure 6: Hand used to touch the screen (tablets) 

Further information gets much more interesting when we break down use by device and size. Remember, most of us design, or soon will design, for multiple sizes of devices. Often, the same eLearning product has to work or will have to work on a range of devices. 

Key Findings 
We can generally summarize the findings from Steven Hoober’s initial phone research combined with the Guild’s tablet research with two key user preferences. 
Looking at devices by size: 
  • People use small devices in the hand, and use them standing and walking
  • People use large devices more on surfaces and in stands, and use them more often sitting

Looking at devices by type: The way people use phones and large tablets seems to indicate they are entirely unlike each other. 
  • People use phones almost entirely in the hand, and largely on the move
  • People use tablets much more often while sitting, and with the device in a stand or set on a table

You can see this yourself in Figures 7 and 8 (on page 12). As the size of the device increases, placing them on surfaces and then putting them in stands becomes dominant over holding them. 

Figure 7: Location of device by class of device (all devices) 

We also see that people tend to use smaller devices on the go and larger devices while they are more stationary. Figure 8 clearly shows that the larger the device, the more often it is used when sitting or reclining. We knew from anecdotal and smaller-scale ethnographic studies such as The New Multi-screen World: Understanding Cross-platform Consumer Behavior that users with multiple devices tend to use phones when on the go, tablets on the couch, and computers at the desk. As the size of the device increases, they use them in a more stationary basis.

Figure 8: Stance by device class (all devices) 

It’s possible that the higher incidence of standing and walking for the phone may be due to the methodology from the previous study, as it was mostly gathered in public so it may simply reflect a more dramatic use of handheld-sized devices on the go. 

Readability and Angular Resolution 
The information shared in the previous sections has a large impact on readability. If the person is holding the device, they can move it to wherever it is most comfortable to read, within reason. If the device is in a stand, on a table, or on a lap, the person is more likely to be working with it at the distance of a computer. If the device is mounted, then a special readability situation exists which goes beyond the purview of this report. 

No single font size can be used to assure content is readable on a mobile device because of angular resolution, which means that the size is relative and based on the distance the source is from the viewer’s eye as shown in Figure 9 (on page 13). This is the same reason traffic signs use letters that are sometimes several feet tall. 

Figure 9: A tablet on the table is much further away from the user than a phone held in the hand, so the size of icons and text must be larger (Source: Steven Hoober) 

For a discussion of the minimum size for readable text, see Steven Hoober and Eric Berkman’s Designing Mobile Interfaces. 

For various devices, the formula says the minimum sizes any text should be are: 

Manner of Use 
Device Class
Screen Size
Minimum Type Size
Held in the hand 
Small phones 
4 pt. 
Typical smartphones 
3.5 – 5” 
6 pt. 
5.5 – 6” 
6.5 pt. 
Small tablet 
7 pt. 
Large tablet 
8 pt. 
On a surface 
Any device with a keyboard, including desktop or laptop computers 
10 pt. 

Remember as well that readability is more than just size. Contrast is another critical attribute. The International Standards Organization recommends a minimum of 3:1 luminance ratio between text and background. As noted in Designing Mobile Interfaces, a ratio of 10:1 is preferred. 

Preferences in Touching the Screen 
The point of the research on how people hold their devices is to assure touch interactions work well. In Steven Hoober’s UXmatters article “Design for Fingers and Thumbs Instead of Touch,” a review of 19 separate studies—including one that captured over 100 million touch events—indicates that people prefer to touch the center of their handset screens, and they have increased accuracy when doing so. 

People subconsciously know this, so are more confident at the center, and will slow down to tap corner or edge targets. From this we know how accurate they are, by section of the screen. 
There are four aspects to assuring that users understand the touch targets in your eLearning project and can select them without trouble: 
  1. Visible targets: Is the text readable? Do the actions communicate whatever behavior they will actually perform? 
  2. Fingers: Do they obscure important information? Do they cover so much of your button the user can’t tell if they clicked it or not? 
  3. Touch target sizes: At least 6 mm, preferably 8 mm or larger. Provide extra room, invisibly, around visible targets when you have it available. 
  4. Interference: To avoid accidental selection of adjacent touch targets, make sure there’s enough space between each item. 
Of these, the most important to consider is interference. You can peer at hard-to-read type and eventually figure it out. Missing a target can be a little frustrating and slow the user down, but selecting the wrong action is always confusing, often discouraging, and sometimes catastrophic. 
Figure 10 (on page 16) outlines the accuracy level a typical person has for each part of the screen. Note that the green boxes are not a grid, where you should position each design element, but a guideline only for space needed for each area. 
When positioning a touchable link, button, icon or other control on the screen: 
  1. Look on the chart for the most appropriate circle by area, and then overlay that on the center of the target. 
  2. If any other selectable item also falls within that circle, the user will sometimes activate the wrong action. 
We most robustly confirmed this data for phone and phablet-sized devices. While there is no experimental confirmation of the exact sizes to use for tablets, similar behavior appears to be true so we can safely apply the same guidelines to all touchscreen mobile devices.

Figure 10: Touch accuracy varies by position on the screen 

Implications for design 
For the designer or developer of mobile learning, target the design for the tool you can expect in a particular use or context. Find out what devices the users have available, or prefer to use, and in what environment. Try to work around limits of tools and technologies to build for what devices people have and how and where they use them. 

If you are constrained to a device, such as if your organization only issues iPads, make sure you take into account expected behavior, and don’t try to make people use large tablets while walking unless their job requires that they do so. In that case make the touch points larger so they can make sure to hit them while moving about. 

Key implications for all devices: 
For all the devices discussed in this report, from phones to tablets, follow these guidelines to help assure that touch interactions are usable: 
  • People prefer to read and touch the center of the device. Place key content and interactions in the center. 
  • If you have scrolling content such as large amounts of text or lists, leave enough space at the end (padding) so you are sure people can read all the way to the end. 
  • Make sure to use at least the standard minimum type sizes outlined above for the device and the way people are going to use it. Use larger type whenever practical. 
  • Check the color and contrast to assure text and other elements are readable. Use at least a 3:1 contrast ratio, and preferably 10:1. 
  • Make sure touch targets are at least 6 mm in size, and preferably 8 mm. Larger is generally better, and don’t forget that the selectable area can be bigger than the visible target. Use empty space around links and between buttons. 
  • Design by zones: Make sure targets are 11 mm apart on center in the title bar, 12 mm along the bottom and 9 mm in the tab bar. People prefer to touch and read at the center, so you can place items as close as 7 mm on center there. 

We’ll offer specific observations and recommendations by device class in the next four sections. Figure 11 shows the relative scale of size of the different devices. 

Figure 11: Scale of size for phones, phablets, small tablets, and large tablets 

In the next four sections, you’ll see information about the how people in the study held different mobile devices and some information about how they used stands or put devices on surfaces. The study showed clearly that holding devices was a very popular method of usage, as showing in Figure 12, but people didn’t hold all the different device types equally—and that has a lot of implications for design. 

Figure 12: Location of device (tablets) 

We now know that keyboard use is high enough to specifically account for them in your design, development, and testing, especially when designing for the iPad or other large tablets. 

You must carefully test every input method to assure it operates properly on screen, as well as with attached hardware keyboards. New to many of us is a need to assure that the directional arrow keys function properly and communicate the in-focus position to the user. 

Despite being touch-centric operating systems, both Android and iOS have robust support for external keyboard control, and display of focus. Follow their design and development standards to assure that your apps and sites support all interactions properly. 

Don’t forget touch. Both users who like to tap, and those who prefer an external keyboard exist, and individuals change their method of use between the two. Design for both touch and keyboard use to accommodate all types of people.

Strictly speaking, we consider any mobile device with a radio to connect to the mobile network and the proper voice processing hardware to be a phone. But when most people say “phone” they mean something small enough to be comfortably held in one hand, or put in the pocket, with a screen smaller than about 5 inches measured diagonally (an industry standard). All phones in this report are smartphones, generally defined as running a named operating system (Android, Blackberry, iOS, Windows) and capable of easy upgrading with downloaded applications. 

The physical design of smartphones today is almost entirely uniform. With rare exceptions, they are rectangles of glass, some with varying degrees of curvature and perhaps with a button or three along the bottom edge of the screen. iPhones are about the smallest touchscreen devices encountered, with 3.5- or 4-inch screens (depending on generation). Android, Blackberry, and Windows devices are most popular recently in the larger sizes, but in almost any group of users you will encounter a broad range of sizes. 

Key findings 

The majority of phone use is with one hand holding the device and the thumb tapping items on the screen (Figure 13 on page 20). Some of this is with another hand supporting the phone, to allow for more reach, or in situations where the user might be worried about dropping the phone. 

Figure 13: How people hold phones 

Users often change the way they hold their phone, switching from one handed for scrolling and reading, to cradle for more reach, to two hands for typing and many other behaviors (Figure 14 on page 21).

Figure 14: People shift between these different ways to hold and touch their phones 

Implications for design 
Remember the ways users work with these devices in the real world. There is no good way to account for specific methods of holding a phone without making it harder to use the phone in other ways. 
  • Identify the key actions and content, and put it in the center of the page. Don’t confuse the action icons or button bar with the key user actions. 
  • You can place other interactive items (such as buttons) around the edge, but make sure they are clearly visible, and make the touch target large enough so they are easy to tap. 
  • When you design a phone interface, don’t just test on a computer screen. Test with users on the phone itself, held in the hand. Run through a checklist of key actions to confirm that text and touch sizes are appropriate, and that fingers and thumbs do not obscure important information. 
  • When testing on real phones, try grasping and touching devices in all the ways people can use them. Make sure the interface works just as well in all positions, and in all orientations. 

The term phablet is a combination of the words phone and tablet and describes very large phones, some only a little smaller than the smallest popular tablets. Samsung all but invented the category with their Galaxy Note, and have followed it up with a series of devices in that range and size. Competitors also make similar-size devices, not all of which are available globally. 

While derided by much of the US tech press, phablet sales are good globally, and striking in certain markets. In Korea, fully 70% of the smartphone and tablet market is phablets. 

Phablets can have screens anywhere from about 5.5 to 6 inches, though the definition is more fluid than that of any other size. Two years ago, a phone the size of a Galaxy S4—a common phone in today’s market—would be so large as to be called a phablet. 

While the Galaxy Note series comes with a pen or stylus, this is not required and not all phablets have one. While interesting, this is not a defining feature of the category. 

Key findings 

Users don’t complain about the size of phablets. In fact, 90% of observed use is still in the hand. At their core, people seem to use phablets as big phones. The size does result in some variations in the way they grasp and touch them, however (Figure 15 on page 23). 

Figure 15: How people hold phablets 

Fewer people use phablets with a single hand on the device and tap with the thumb, and despite them holding it, the most common method is now the more tablet-like tapping with a finger from the other hand. 

This would seem to indicate that concerns about size essentially disappear. There’s little need to specifically place controls at the edge, where they are reachable with the thumb. Users simply adjust to the method of holding and touching most comfortable to them and suitable to the interaction. 

While most use was in the hand, almost 10% of the observations were of the device on a surface. Of these, 2.2% were actually in a stand. Though relatively low, it is an important subset to consider. If you find people will use your eLearning app or website at this distance, text and icons need to be much larger to be readable. 

Implications for design 
There is some need to adjust design principles for phablets. Since most use is in the hand, start by designing phablet interfaces for hand-held use. Follow the phone guidelines and test to assure the interface is usable. 
  • Users grasp and touch their phablets in several different ways, but more so using two hands than phone users do. Put key actions and content in the center of the page. You can place other interactive items (such as buttons) around the edge, but make sure they are clearly visible, and make touch targets large enough so they are easy to tap. 
  • You must take extra care not to allow the other hand to obscure items on the screen. 
  • Since people often lay phablets on surfaces, make type larger, and check for readability of content and controls at the increased distance. Be careful to balance this with the expectation of some users that the larger screen will provide additional space for content. 
  • If you use gestures such as sliding or dragging, do not scale them up for the larger device size. People’s hands don’t change, so gesture distances need to remain the same size. 
  • Although the most popular phablets in the survey areas—the Galaxy Note series—also come with a pen stylus stored in the device, very few users were observed using pens for interaction. There appears to be little call for designing general interfaces to account for pen input.

Small Tablets 
After Apple reinvented the tablet computer as a lightweight, low-power device, a huge variety of Android manufacturers released tablets in a broad range of sizes. Sometimes, size was based simply on what screens each manufacturer could get. Samsung, for one, made tablets in almost 1/2-inch increments from around 6 to 11 inches. 

Shortly thereafter users discovered that a widescreen (usually a 16:9 “aspect ratio” or width to height relationship) tablet with about a 7-inch screen is small enough to be comfortable in one hand, but provides additional screen area to work compare to a phone. This has become a sort of standard, and most manufacturers offer tablets around 7 to 71/2 inches in addition to the larger tablets described in the next section. 

More recently, Apple has admitted the smaller size has value, making the very popular iPad Mini, at 7.9 inches, the largest common small tablet. Because the smaller tablet is so easy to carry around, eLearning developers may expect to have to design for smaller tablets very shortly. So implications of this study for small tablets may be especially important for eLearning. 

Key findings 
Despite the increased size, 69.4% of users still simply hold small tablets in the hand (see Figure 7). Though much smaller than the number for phones or phablets, 8.4% of users were observed actually walking around. The method of holding is not radically different from the behavior observed with phablets. Surprisingly, over 20% still tap with their thumb, though by far the most popular methods are using the other hand (42.9%), or cradling for extra reach (14.3%), again indicating that users are adjusting their grasp to reach all parts of the screen based on their situation, the size of the device, and their comfort with it (Figure 16 on page 26). 

Interestingly, holding with both hands, and tapping with both thumbs is a behavior almost entirely associated with typing. For both phablets and tablets this jumps up to about one in five observations, vs. far more modest rates for phones. This may indicate people are more inclined to long text entry or other types of content creation on these devices. Preference of device for long text entry or content creation is a topic worth investigating when selecting a mobile learning device.

Figure 16: How people hold small tablets 

While only a relatively small 7.4% use a stand, this still represents a sudden jump from their use on smaller devices. Availability is not an issue, as cases with display stands built in are common, so it is apparently a user choice. A much larger 23.1% simply lay their small tablets on a surface while using it. 

That means almost one in three users do not hold their tablet, therefore placing it further from the eye and the hand. For many tablet applications, you will need to use larger, desktop-scale type sizes since the device is essentially the same distance away from the user. 

While on a surface or stand, only 3.3% of observations were with an external keyboard. This is most interesting due to the much larger use of keyboards on large tablets, as described in the next section. 

At first we thought the low use of keyboards was due to availability; the commonality of the iPad could make add-on devices like this easier to find. However, a quick search of Internet retailers shows them to be cheap and common. Use of pen stylus pointing devices is also very low (also 3.3%). Since pens can work on any touchscreen device, it must simply be that people perceive small tablets as different devices, more suited to direct interaction. 

Implications for design 
Small tablets share many behaviors with phones and phablets, but people begin to use them in different, tablet-like ways as well. 
  • Users grasp and touch their devices in several different ways, but almost entirely with two hands due to the size of the device. Targets can be anywhere on the screen, as users will shift their grip to reach them, mostly by tapping with the finger. 
  • Keep important information and functions near the center. 
  • People lay small tablets on surfaces about one-third of the time. Make sure visible icons and text are readable at this increased distance, but also ensure they still work for handheld use. 
  • 35% of observations were in landscape orientation, about evenly distributed between the various holding methods and placing the small tablet on a surface. Design all interfaces and interactions to work in both vertical and horizontal. 
  • Due to the variations in grasp, it is especially important to make sure selections are large enough for the user to see them around the tapping finger or thumb. The visible side may not be above, but to the left or right of the selection for any one user. 
  • Since some users have pens and external keyboards, check your specific users. There may be special needs or issued hardware that supports these input methods and raises the rates in your environment. See the next section on large tablets if you have to design for keyboard input and control. 

Large Tablets 
People have conceived of, modeled, and prototyped tablets since the dawn of computing (in the original Star Trek series, Captain Kirk used a tablet), but Apple’s introduction of the iPad created the current market and set the tone for what has been the default size. While smaller tablets are now gaining serious ground, the baseline tablet for eLearning is still similar to the iPad, between 9.5 and about 10 inches. 

Several other makers offer tablets in this size range, though exact dimensions vary greatly, especially because of aspect ratio choices. 

There are a few larger tablets, with rumors of 12-inch iPads, just-released Samsung tablets in that size, and Windows tablets exceeding 20 inches actually in use, but these are relatively niche products at this time. 

In eLearning, people tend to design for large tablets, especially for the original size of the iPad. We can expect this to change over time as new devices appear in the learning environment. Android tablets outsell iPads, even in North America, and the iPad Mini has become much more popular than the original 9.7-inch iPad. Over time, we can expect better and more capable authoring tools for mobile development of all platforms to emerge to support these needs. 

Key findings 
Despite the relative popularity of stands (22%), simply laying the tablet on a table or lap is twice as popular (40%), slightly beating out people just holding their tablets (38%), as Figure 7 shows. Large tablets are by far the mobile device least held in the hand, but that is still a very common case so you must account for it in design. 

Figure 17: How people hold their large tablets 

As for all device sizes, two thumbs tapping at once is mostly reserved for typing, with users shifting to this mode for text entry, then back to another method for general viewing, or lightweight interaction such as scrolling or selection (Figure 14). 

Large tablets laying on a surface or in a stand exhibit some different behaviors. Notably, pen use suddenly becomes an important fraction, (13% when laying on surfaces, 10.9% when in stands). And remember, none of the top-selling tablets really support pens, so these are from conscious user choice, and constitute a variety of aftermarket products. 

When simply lying on a surface, tapping with a single finger rises to 48%, and we observed 28% of users using both hands, again probably for typing. 

For the 22% of users observed employing a stand, over half (54.6%) used an external keyboard, replacing almost all of the two-handed tapping, which drops to 7.3%. The keyboard displaces almost all other interactions, with finger tapping dropping to just 25.5% of interactions. Like with pens, hardly any tablets come with keyboards. Although 90% of the keyboards used are part of the stand or case, the users deliberately purchase these in the aftermarket. 

Implications for design 
For large tablets, the touch guidelines described for smaller devices still apply, but non-touch interactions begin to take center stage. 
  • For type and target sizes, assume the tablet is in a stand. The distance will be similar to a desktop user, just within arm’s reach, so text sizes need to be similar to that used for conventional desktop web design. 
  • Almost 40% of users still just hold their tablets, and even in stands 36.4% tap the screen with a finger or pen stylus at least part of the time. Make sure you still design content for touch by making sure to size touch items correctly. 
  • 65% of use was in landscape orientation. All designs must work in both orientations whenever possible 
  • Avoid obscuring key information behind the tapping hand. 
  • Assure that in-focus states properly indicate the currently selected items. While important for touch entry, it is critical for hardware keyboards where the scrolling arrow keys allow selection without tapping. 
  • Make sure all hardware and virtual keyboard functions work equally well for all input methods. 

This study provided data that designers and developers of eLearning—as well as all designers of mobile interfaces—can use to better plan and create products for the way people actually use mobile phones, phablets, and tablets. It augmented the original study’s understanding of how users hold and touch devices; and it met expectations for how people hold devices in the hand and tap them, with larger devices more often used with fingers instead of thumbs, for example. 

While there has been a general understanding that people always carry phones and use them more on the go than they do tablets, we now better understand the exact parameters, and we can refer to basic rates of use. 

However, other and unexpected data was also encountered which adds useful knowledge to our toolboxes. For tablets, there is a much higher use of stands and laying of devices on surfaces. Keyboard use on large tablets was unexpectedly high, resulting in a distinct need to design for this method of use. 

We also can’t forget that mobile devices, regardless of size, share many behaviors. Most guidelines apply to all devices, in differing ways. Be aware of which devices your learners will actually use, and make appropriate design choices. 

Major Takeaways 

  1. Devices share many features but have distinct differences in use based on size, so consider this when designing. 
  2. People use mobile devices on the move. While larger devices are more often static, they are still much more portable than any conventional desktop or laptop. Plan for varying contexts, from glare on the screen to distractions. Make sure you know what range of devices your users will be using and how your users will be using their devices. 
  3. Users are more accurate at touching the center of the screen and prefer to read content in the center as well. Targets at the edges need to be larger, and further apart. 
  4. There is more variation in distance from the eye than was previously understood. The large number of tablets used in stands or on surfaces means we need to design for readability and legibility at longer distances for some users. 
  5. Support keyboard use, for entry of text and scrolling, at least on larger tablets such as the iPad. 
  6. People hold small devices in the hand and use them standing and walking. People place large devices more on surfaces and in stands and use them more often while sitting
  7. The point of the research on how people hold their devices is to assure touch interactions work well. Use the research so your users don’t become frustrated. When positioning a touchable link, button, icon, or other control on the screen, make sure you understand the four aspects to assure that you place touch targets well. 
  8. Consider doing what we did for this study: Watch your users use their devices and see what they do. We are providing you with a general set of observations and analysis of what to expect, but nothing succeeds like shadowing your users as they actually work or learn.

Friday, October 31, 2014

More Tips for Business People: Calendars

You will have a calendar. It is probably digital, and if you work with others you are probably sharing it with them. In corporate environments this is required, so assume that, but if not you should still share your calendar with everyone else.

Because then instead of calling or emailing or anything, you just go to your calendar, schedule the meeting, and see if everyone else is free at that time. Many corporate systems make this tedious, but it's an available feature.

That means your calendar has to be accurate. If you always leave at 4:30 to pick up the kids from school, and everyone knows that, they don't know that unless it's on the calendar. Put it there. Put everything there. Include travel time if you know you have that and your calendar isn't smart enough to include that.

(This is where modern digital is worse than old digital. In the 1990s I has corporate calendar systems that knew where places were, and automatically added travel time.)

If it's open on my calendar, you can have the time. First come, first served. Almost always.

My calendar is a promise. If I say I will attend a meeting, I will attend it at the same rate as when I promise to come to your birthday or pick you up from the airport. If I can't attend, there's a damned good reason and it's my fault.

I don't know why others have a problem with this. But they do. Scheduling of meetings often happens at the last minute. Most meeting requests I get are with less than 2 days notice. Many are for the same day. Some are for meetings happening Right Now. Literally last minute. I don't attend a lot of those, as I am often busy with something else.

Remember: I promised it to someone else first.

And this last-minute panic never works. Half the people invited don't show up, or the critical person cancels at the last minute (often, again, literally. We are all there and then have to go back to our desks). In the end, poor calendar management principles means it still takes a week or three to actually meet with anyone.

I feel if everyone just took their appointment schedules as the promise they are implied to be, everything would be simpler. No re-schedules, no delays. My experience is that reducing panicked response makes people aware how important a crisis is; very often, by simply pushing people off I find that the sudden fire drill is not that big a deal, and we can deal with the problem in a few hours, or days instead.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Onboarding Class for Your New Job

I have moved this to the actually-maintained company blog, and have continued to update the list there, so suggest you use that one instead: 

The full original text is here for posterity and in case I said something embarrassing you can hold me to it more easily now: 
I have worked a lot of places. A lot. And since I have clients instead of employers now, I get to see how many other types work as well. Corporate onboarding is always a waste of time, as it doesn't tell you how to be a useful, productive and most of all not an annoyingly bad member of the organization.

Here's your manual on being a good information worker in a modern, western office:

  1. When you are on a conference call, mute the phone when not talking. Ideally you plan conference calls like you plan to attend a real, in person meeting and you are awake, prepared, settled down with your coffee or water, on time and in a quiet place. But at least, mute so we don't hear you typing, or your dog barking, or your baby crying. 
  2. When the ask "How are you?" no one  really cares. Unless it will affect job performance in the immediate future, if you are sick or you may have to leave to pick up a kid from school, when people ask how you are doing always say "fine," or "great." Also, try to follow up with "how are you?" 
  3. Schedule meetings. Use the meeting organizer tool in the calendar. Fill out all the fields correctly. There's a place for each thing. Don't put the phone dial-in info in the title; you aren't being helpful; as everyone is used to finding it in the correct field. 
  4. If your meeting happens periodically, use the recurring meeting function in the calendar. Don't send out a meeting for each event. 
  5. When you host a call, and open the line, do not yell "hellooo" or any such variation. "This is Steven, who's on the call?" Better, to prevent people stepping one each other, is to look at who you actually invited, and conduct a real role call
  6. When you announce yourself on a call, at least until everyone knows who you are, explain yourself. "This is Steven from Corporate UX." 
  7. Be able to introduce yourself without saying "oh, what is it I do, hahaha?!" The first meetings with a project team will need that. "Steven Hoober, I am a contract designer for all mobile apps here at [client]. I work for [pointing] Carol, who runs the overall User Experience effort here. 
  8. When you run a meeting, take notes. Distribute the notes to everyone else at the end. 
  9. When you attend a meeting, take notes. Do what people told you to do. Cross off stuff when you finish the task. 
  10. When your boss comes by your desk and tells you to do something, take notes. Do what you are told you to do. Cross off stuff when you finish the task. 
  11. Schedule your work. I don't care if you put it on your calendar, make a to-do list or write it on the wall, but put all you work somewhere. Don't forget to do it. When it is due. 
  12. Tell everyone who cares when you finish your work. It's not really finished till it's delivered, and it's not really delivered until everyone knows it's on the share drive or whatever. 
  13. Don't steal other people's chairs. Don't be a thief in general, but we adjust our chairs to ourselves, and even if wobbly, get used to them. No, not all chairs are the same. Don't steal chairs and if you need it for a sudden executive meeting, note where they go and put them back! 
  14. Include subjects in the email subject line. Remember not everyone is on your project, and inboxes are sometimes narrow, so lead with something very short, like a project name abbreviation. Follow it with the briefest possible summary, and date it if you do this all the time so it's a unique email thread. "CTX - Updated designs, 9 May"
  15. Learn project names. Use the same name and abbreviation as everyone else. 
  16. Address emails in priority order. Put people who will care less as CC instead of TO. Some people filter emails like this. 
  17. Write emails for the least-informed member of the team. Don't assume everyone knows what you know about the project, or that they went to the last meeting. 
  18. Use the return key. Break emails into easily digestible pieces.
  19. Pull out tasks for individuals if you have them in the email. "John, I need you to..."but since it's rare that everyone must take action, don't usually put ACTION REQUIRED in the subject line. 
  20. Have a sigline. Really. For every email. In threads, it's hard to tell who wrote what without it, and often we don't know who you are anyway, or how to get ahold of you. Put your name, title, department, email, phone. 
  21. Reply properly. Use reply-all almost always. Unless you know the team hates conversations going on and on, copy everyone on the original email on the full conversation. 
  22. Reply with context. Copy the part you are replying to into your email, make it "quote" style or (if unavailable) make it gray and italics or something to make that clear, then put your reply under it. Do this point by point. Use color if needed to make it clear. 
  23. Put your vacations, doctor's appointments, etc on the calendar. Then, everyone knows you are not there and don't book meetings over times you are not there.
  24. Look at other people's calendars. You never need to send an email or call someone or take time on a call to say "what's a good time for everyone?" If they didn't update their calendar, that's their fault.
  25. How much do you need to complain about food, really? If the last three times you asked them to order vegetarian you didn't like it, can you instead just bring something, or suffer like we all do? We mostly all hate the pizza or sandwiches anyway, so you aren't unique. 
  26. Bring a pen. Pad of paper. Your computer. Your phone. A cup of water. Be prepared for meetings and so on. Don't spend time during the meeting going out to get stuff. 
  27. Know how company equipment works. If presenting, show up early, or the day before, or ask someone else how the projector works, for example.
  28. Get help. In a meeting, if you are showing off some work, have someone else take notes so you can focus on presenting, running the meeting, etc. and they don't all sit around staring at you slowly writing. 
  29. Sharing your screen on a Skype (or webex, or live in a room, or whatever), don't check your email, turn off your IM, etc. I like to actually quit programs I don't need, so reminders don't pop up. 
  30. Understand people are human. Don't schedule meetings over lunch without feeding, or a reasonable break so they can feed themselves. Don't have 3+ hour meetings, on the phone or in person, without bathroom breaks. 
  31. Tell people about meeting logistics. Don't make them assume or ask. 
  32. Never take the last [thing] from the fridge, snack basket, etc. I mean, unless you are hypoglycemic or pregnant, etc. Likewise, if present in your office, change the water bottle if you run it out, make more coffee if you have a group carafe and use it all, re-stock the pop from the cabinet if it's low in the fridge, etc. 
  33. Same for everything else. Paper in the printer, for example.
  34. Find out who orders office supplies. Be nice to them. Tell them when things are out. Actually, they often know or feel they should so don't tell, ask. "You know we don't seem to have any 11x17 paper, right?" 
  35. In big enough offices, you have a mail slot. Probably near the break room. Some day, something important will arrive there. Get used to glancing at it daily just in case. 
  36. Travel well, if you travel as a group. Never be exceptionally slow or annoying. Any trip under 3 days, for anyone at all, should not involve checked luggage. 
  37. If you drive, pretend you are hosting a meeting. Schedule, arrange, tell. The car is your conference room. Make it neat and organized, drive for the passengers. 
  38. Your corporate processes are stupid. Filling out the timesheet before the end of the month is nonsensical and maybe unethical or illegal. Who cares? Do it anyway so the whole team or department doesn't get an email that you've failed to fill out your time sheet. 
  39. First, do your work. Lunch with the team, leaving early for happy hour, going to the car show on the corporate campus, etc. is never a good excuse to miss a meeting or not get your work done that day. 
  40. If you can't do your work and have a life, for an extended period, complain. When they ignore you -- and they will -- start looking for a new job. 
  41. Don't quit. Look for a new job while you work. No one really knows what you are up to anyway, so you can slack off a bit and they won't notice. It keeps your options open, as the current job may get cool in the months it takes to find something better. 
What did I miss? 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

I Wish Those Who Ignored History Would be a Little More Doomed, Already

Every day I see three stupid tech bloggers, often for the Verge or Wired or someone formerly serious, totally ignore everything more than 18 months old. Here's a typical sort of comment:
Who would have predicted a decade ago that (smart)phones would offer constant access to the Web, to social networks and broadcast platforms like Facebook and Twitter, and to hundreds of specialized apps? Who could have anticipated the power of our everyday devices to capture our every moment and movement? Cameras, GPS tracking, sensors—a phone is no longer just a phone; it is a powerful personal computing device loaded with access to interactive services that you carry with you everywhere you go.
But what annoys me, is that this is from an ACM publication. A serious journal, where there is a long edit cycle and presumably reviewers and editors.

So, we've formally entirely forgotten that in 2003 there were phones that browsed the web, and I was improving the design of things like an app store that we'd had out for a while. Or that these phones had cameras, location (conflating GPS and location is a serious error in itself), etc. etc.

But no. Apple invented the smartphone. Unequivocally. No caveats that all others vaguely sucked despite Symbian being the largest smartphone platform for another 5 years. Forget that. Everything before iPhone was a "dumbphone" and just made phone calls. Apple won the mindshare war for all people who write.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

M2M is Nice, but Don't Forget E2M

Or: "Your Favorite Pundit is Wrong: Moving Towards Hyper Toothpaste"

Every single article I have seen that talks about the sorta newly-announced Apple iBeacon is getting the point totally wrong. The continued lack of NFC, coupled with this "new" technology leads everyone to the conclusion that they are competitors, and Apple has made their stake.


iBeacons are, at their heart, based on BLE. That stands for Bluetooth Low Energy, and before we get any further "BTLE" doesn't stand for anything at all, so stop using the wrong abbreviation, right now. It's a standard, and indeed is an extension of the Bluetooth we all know and used all the time. Many devices support BLE, and have for a while. Not all phones, unlike what some stupid articles are reporting. But many, and more all the time. 

BLE is derived from Bluetooth which was the winner of a series of technologies called PANs, for Personal Area Networks. Like your connection to the internet is Wide Area, and your home or office has a Local Area Network, this is even smaller. Originally, just to get radio from the phone in your pocket to devices on your head or other pockets, or people you stand next to. 

They are most useful and designed as M2M or machine to machine networks, where your thermostat will send this very low-power, occasional, tiny bit of data to whatever device needs to know. Apple, and PayPal and soon even more, are trying to use these to end run location based services, so stores (for example) can discover (about) where you are as you walk around, or synch payment based on location. I expect much button pushing, and most data still goes over the mobile network (or WiFi), not over the BLE. That's just for handshake, discovery, and validation. 

For more, Matthew Lewis wrote the one and only explanation of iBeacon that isn't totally misinformed and misguided. 

These are supposed to kill NFC. That stands for Near Field Communications, and is a subset concerned with putting RFID technology into devices like phones. You have used RFID, if you have just waved a card at a pad by a door to get access to work, at a turnstile to get on the train, or at a payment terminal to, well, pay for things. 

And that explains why it's useful. What if you could stop carrying an ID badge, subway pass and credit card and just use your phone for that? Oh, and you can in some places, with significant limits. Nothing about the technology limits this, at all. In the US, contactless payment has been held back by... um, I forget. Some bullshit with banks and mobile operators and everyone else fighting over standards. 

When talking about mobiles, there is still button pushing or something else to validate it's you. The mobile network is used to transmit the data, and the NFC is just used to get this tiny amount of information, basically just a serial number (though other things like email addresses and http addresses can be embedded). The clever part to me is that (almost) any active NFC device can read passive devices. Once your phone replaces a credit card, it also can read stickers and posters and anything else a dirt cheap unpowered chip is embedded in. 

NFC is short, short, short range. Supposed to be millimeters or inches, and this is true aside from some hacking with directional antennas. Discovery is via stickers and so forth. You have to be told to tap your card/phone to activate it. Think of this in the same vein as barcodes, including QR codes. Passive, short range, limited in data. 

BLE is derived from Bluetooth which was the winner of a series of technologies called PANs, for Personal Area Networks. Like your connection to the internet is Wide Area, and your home or office has a Local Area Network, this is even smaller. Originally, just to get radio from the phone in your pocket to devices on your head or other pockets, or people you stand next to. Discovery of this is by the radio itself, which can be set to broadcast and discovery modes. BLE is active, longer range (small buildings, street corners), and supports very dynamic data. 

BLE connects the many little digital devices with intelligence and something to say. Over time, everything with power (your car, your thermostat, etc.) will be expected to get little computers, and little radios, so they can talk to each other and we can control them. 

NFC gives a voice to the remaining vast, vast number of passive, stupid objects the world is filled with. No tube of toothpaste is ever going to have a power source, radio, and sensors to tell you how much is left. But it can have an NFC tag which makes it hyper toothpaste. It becomes connected to digital products and the internet. 

You can conceive of an NFC reader in the medicine cabinet which knows what is in it, then that is part of the home automation and talks to a server somewhere via BLE to your phone to keep track of use rates and times, so it can tell if the kids brushed their teeth. Think of this as the real Internet of Things. NFC supports E2M, the Everything to Machine network of the future. 

The moral of this is that BLE and NFC are not competitors. Regardless of the choices Apple makes, and what the tech press is making of it, the world needs both of these types of standards.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Smart Watch Roundup and Some Thoughts

Boy there are a lot of smart watches and related connected devices finally coming out. No, I haven't used the majority of these. Partly as some are merely announced, and otherwise I mostly still have to buy my stuff instead of being cool enough to get things sent to me.

I have played with lots of other crazy devices over the years, and even some very old attempts to be smart watches so still claim to get the gist, though.

  • Samsung - It's practically a mini phone in itself, with the ability to install what seem to be fairly free-standing apps, a camera, voice input, and of course a fairly serious color touchscreen. 
  • Qualcomm - The Toq, which also seems to have an accompanying earpiece, uses a "new" display technology, and is trying to strike a more useful middle ground in the touchscreen control area, with much larger inputs. That might help, but it looks even huger than the others still. 
  • Sony - Rather similar in UI scale to the Qualcomm, if you are following links in order, and still too big a device. Proud of having gestures, like swipe to perform some actions. 
  • Smart Devices - Really not much about this, but it looks again to be a full color touchscreen with tediously tiny controls. 

Of course, most folks are comparing these to the Pebble. And not just the tech writers. Sales doubled on announcement of the Samsung device.

Despite my previous glowing review, it's not a perfect device. It's not ePaper despite their claims. I do wish it would shake to dismiss items, and was a little more clever about what it sent to the watch (most emails are useless, as the body is all this header info...), and i can just imagine having a few crazy features like a speakerphone so I can answer calls sometimes, but that is probably a step too far.

Overall, I have trouble like many commenters on why you'd want a smart watch, but only when I look at those with full color screens, touch targets that are far too small, and maybe as much as 1 day of battery life. Pebble, while in no way perfect, is the trend I still see winning, and maybe even the way these shiny, touchscreen watches will be used: as remotes for your mobile, pushing notices, giving almost-ambient information on weather and status and position and maybe even time. I don't see a lot of photos, note taking, voice response or gaming going on with your wrist.

Which brings me really to the last smart... thingy. Embrace + is a kickstarter I backed as I love, love, love the idea. It's a bracelet (okay, I won't wear it, but my wife might) that just glows and blinks. Truly ambient, very simple and unobtrusive, one-way only information.

Scott Jenson over the weekend said that "people are deconstructing the computer/phone into alternative configurations," which is a great way to say it. These device manufacturers are creating a new way for mobiles to work, and allowing customer choice again in an ocean of flat, fragile slabs of glass. But in a really interesting way, for the interactivity. You used to have the candybar vs. flip choice, with the rare pen/touch nerd, but now there is beginning to be the promise of making your mobile as intrusive, or not, as you want and as two way or not as you need at any moment.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

On Greek Yogurt, Into Darkness, and Platform Choice

I like yogurt. Especially with cereal. There wasn't a lot I could eat as a child, so I grew up on Dannon vanilla and Grape Nuts. Later and over time I have learned how bad 80s yogurt was, and for a while have been happy with much of the local, organic and otherwise real food trends. The health section at the local HyVee spoils me for choice.

Except, now things aren't always so rosy. The Greek yogurt craze has gotten entirely out of hand. When I travel, or try to get my old favorites at Costco, there is no normal yogurt. Nothing but Greek yogurt.

Oh, did I forget to mention I hate Greek yogurt?

See, this is why I consider the "well, just don't use/watch it if you hate it" comments to be the ultimate trolling. Greek yogurt is trying to ruin yogurt for me.

And J.J. Abrams has ruined Star Trek. Sure, I can just not go see the new films. But the way that works, there are (essentially) no new competing products in that universe. So my hate is not for the new, terribly property but that it eliminates something better from existing.

Or, to bring it back onto my day job, when you read a forum or posting that complains about some app only being on one platform it's a legitimate complaint. If I want to use the Fuel band then why do I have to buy an iPhone? Sure, there's some sector competition, like UP or FitBit, but why do I have to shop around for compatibility?

Sure there's other Sci Fi (for now!), and other food, but why do I have to change?

There's a larger point here, which maybe I'll work out sometime.