Oct 13

This is not a massive idea, and I’m going to keep this short as apparently my posts are a bit too “essay”-like in length.

I was playing with the iPhone at the Apple store yesterday, and the novelty of some of their tricks to make the interface feel natural got me thinking about more ways you might be able to make devices easier to use.

phone_tilt.pngTilt Scrolling

Not amazingly complex, but for scrolling through those lists of songs, or getting to the bottom of a web page, it would be fun to be able to tilt the phone up and down. Tilt the bottom of the phone down and it starts scrolling. Stop by leveling it back to the start point, tapping the back, or hitting a button (or the screen, like the iPhone).  Tilting could mean a little flick or just dipping the head or tail of the phone.

This would be fun for a number of reasons, but mostly because it would allow even simpler one handed operation of the device without getting your oiley fingers all over the screen or trying to find a caret with your stylus.

You could keep going with all kinds of gestures here. The danger is that it gets too much like Marble Madness, and you never actually get to any menu options or places on a web page that you want. Side to side scrolling is pretty obvious though.

Operator Icon

If I’ve got the ability to move around the screen with tilting, I’m suddenly going to want my mouse icon back. A logical thing to add is a new operator icon that can be moved around the screen to get hover-over tool tips. This also helps me control my scrolling if I can make my operator hover over a down arrow to initiate a scroll (drop the operator to the bottom of the screen where the down arrow lights up and it starts moving).

This may not sound like a big deal again, but think about how little information is presentable on a mobile screen. Web sites with full-sized screens to work with are putting hover-over information for lots of different things. A mobile device has about 10% of the real estate and most phones have very few capabilities for showing more information without going to new pages.

Want a preview of an article, but don’t want to actually go to the article? Just hover over it. Want to know the definition of a word on a page? Hover over it. A chart that was too intense to show in the middle of a page? Hover over the link.

This gets you at a lot more information without page refreshes.

In the world of mobile applications – imagine an application where you are trying to manage a warehouse and you’ve got a page displaying 25 pallets of ink cartridges. You want quick information for each pallet, but don’t want to go to a details page for each and have to keep coming back to the overview page. Touching a stylus to each container requires a surprising amount iphone-zoom1.gifof dexterity. A moving target would help me visualize where on the page my “cursor” is and helps me scroll around to get to the next location. Maybe I can even turn a side-to-side jerking gesture into a move to the next container action. In the end, this trick would just help me be more accurate with my tilt controls.

A logical person might point out here that I could just use arrow keys. Again, the idea is to minimize screen touches, and really this is only useful once I have tilt controls.

Hover Sensor

One way that could make things easier to see on the device is hover detection. Again, this is a trick to help the screen real estate stay “clean”, while providing a rich set of options to take. The idea would be to detect motion over parts of the screen from a finger or stylus. As this “hover” is detected, the underlying screen would appear to “bubble” up (ie, magnify), similar to the Dock in an Apple computer.

Hovering could let you magnify something of interest, prompt a pop up of detailed information, or prompt a list of actions that you can take on that item (ie, hovering over a Contact in your address book could zoom in on the contact, show their picture, and present options to take, like “call” or “edit”).

This trick should make it easier to “see” information I’m interested in very quickly, and “select” items on the screen that may seem too small for the tip of my finger.

Imagine if links on a web page grew in size when I hovered over them so that they were easy to select from the device. Or, imagine in my pallet example that hovering over a pallet showed me what time it arrived in my warehouse, how many items are in it, and presented options to record that I’m inspecting it, unpacking it, or taking a picture.

Squeeze to Operate

Selecting songs to play or links to go to on a screen is again not super complex, but if I could squeeze the sides to indicate that I want something to happen, I’ve got a new way to interact with a device without having to touch a screen.


Finally, if I’ve got all these new fun ways to interact with my actual screen, I might be able to do away with a touch screen or set of visual buttons altogether. Why not just project my screen either onto something in front of me, the palm of my hand, onto my arm or against my leg. The key advantage here is a lighter device that takes less battery, and doesn’t require an expensive screen to be embedded into the device.

If my tilt and squeeze controls really work, I might be able to get away with this. I’m not sure you could get the hover trick working, but you might be able to still have a “mouse-like” interface using a small stylus with another hand that is callibrated to detect movement against whatever you’re projecting onto.

This thing is starting to sound like a mobile Wii :)

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One Response to “Mobile Interfaces”

  1. Brent Says:

    Did you see GigaOm’s post about this http://gigaom.com/2008/02/08/mems-the-word/ ?

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