MobileHCI 2014 Highlights: A Personal Summary

I was blown away by the quality of the Mobile HCI papers this year and had a ball at the conference. This is a personal summary of just some of the research papers I was really impressed by. However, I’m slightly biased in that most of the papers I list, tackle research problems I’m directly working on/interested in — namely smartphone usage 🙂

There were lots of other great papers that aren’t mentioned below. But as luck would have it the entire 2014 mobile hci proceedings have been made available free online for an entire year – you can find all papers here 🙂

My (somewhat-biased) paper list

1. Contextual experience sampling of mobile application micro-usage
Denzil Ferreira, Jorge Goncalves, Vassilis Kostakos, Louise Barkhuus, Anind K. Dey

Fantastic paper which explores actual app use using real-world logging data. The authors use a framework they developed called AWARE to track app and device usage. Their focus is on understanding micro-usage, defined by the authors as brief bursts of interactions with applications that last 15 seconds or less. The paper actually describes 2 studies: (1) An initial 3 week study of the app usage patterns of 21 smartphone users in which micro-usage is identified and characterized and (2) a 2-week follow-up study with 15 participants in which experience sampling is used to capture the location, time, trigger and social context surrounding micro-usage. Some of the most interesting findings from the study includes:

* Approx. 40% of app launches last less than 15 seconds and happen mostly when the user is at home and alone.
* Some apps are more likely to be micro-used than others, namely: (1) focused applications or task-oriented apps, e.g. alarm clock; (2) social apps that use push notifications, e.g. facebook, email.
* Least likely to be micro-used include information seeking apps like google maps and browsers and well as leisure apps like games.

Overall really interesting work. I would advise anyone interested in this space to not only read the paper, but to check out the AWARE framework as a tool to assist researchers in conducting mobile field-studies.

2. ProactiveTasks: the short of mobile device use sessions
Nikola Banovic, Christina Brant, Jennifer Mankoff, Anind Dey

Related to the previous paper, this work by Banovic et al. also explores real-world app usage data but uses insights from their analysis to inform the design of a novel prototype application called ProactiveTasks. This is a must read as winner of one of the best paper awards. Using data collected from 10 Android users, the authors describe different “levels” of app usage sessions, namely glance, review and engage. Glance sessions are brief interactions that involve the user turning their screen on without launching any applications, for example to check the time. Review sessions last 60 seconds or less that involve the user interacting with one or two applications. Finally engage sessions are longer in duration lasting more than 60 seconds and typically involve multiple application interactions. The authors report that almost half of all device uses were glance sessions and that most device use sessions do not actually follow a notification, which implies that users often interrupt themselves throughout the day to check their phones!

Based on these insights the authors present a prototype that proactively suggests tasks to users which support glance and review interactions without requiring them to engage in lengthy interactions with their mobile phones. In their prototype called, ProactiveTasks, they used a single task, email as the use case and enabled users to quickly archive or detail email directly from the lockscreen. They conducted a 4-week study of ProactiveTasks with 30 participants and found that power users used the prototype more often when tasks were made available, compared to other participants.

Again really interesting paper. When compared with the earlier Ferreira et. al paper on micro-usage, it has got me thinking that there are likely multiple “levels” of application usage. It would be great to see more work along these lines to enrich our understanding of smartphone use.

3. 100 days of iPhone use: understanding the details of mobile device use
Barry Brown, Moira McGregor, Donald McMillan

Moira presented this super interested study on iPhone use using novel video data capture. The dataset comprised of 100 days of iphone use from 15 participants based in Sweden, the US and the UK. Participants installed an iPhone application on their own mobile phone which logged all screen interactions along with ambient / device audio, GPS as well as all app launches. Participants were asked to annotate their recordings by accessing an online diary where they could review their recordings and provide specific details for each device use. Participants could hide/stop recordings at any stage by (1) turning off the recording application or (2) hiding/deleting a recording from within their online diary. The authors also conducted exit interviews with participants to clarify any ambiguities in the captured video data or to discuss emergent behaviors. In total 1,695 video clips of use were captured, with only 62 videos hidden by the participants. The resulting corpus consisted of over 70 hours of iPhone use.

Based on the data, the authors highlight different styles of use, namely: (1) micro-breaks in which quickly users check their phone for messages or social media; (2) filling time in which participants engage in behaviors such as mobile reading; (3) sociality of use, in which the authors describe a prevalent multi-person interaction during mobile device use and finally (4) digital knitting, in which the phone is used for longer periods while other activities take place, e.g. conversations. In line with past findings, the authors find that the majority of app usage relates to communications (43%). Some of most interesting findings in the paper relate to how iPhone use is weaved in/around our everyday interactions and conversations.

Moira showed a video snippet of an actual recording from one of the participants in the study during her talk and I was amazed. Every touch, tap, key-stroke, scroll, etc was recorded alongside all conversations, etc. I was actually surprised that people agreed to the study because there was very little not recorded. However, I think the method is very promising, super interesting and ultimately enables researches to capture very naturalistic device use. If you’re interested in smartphone use or in novel in-situ study methodologies, this is a must read!

4. A long-term field study on the adoption of smartphones by children in panama
Elba del Carmen Valderrama Bahamóndez, Bastian Pfleging, Niels Henze, Albrecht Schmidt

Niels presented this work at MobileHCI on behalf of Elba. The work describes a 20 week study of mobile phone usage and adoption by children in a school in Panama. In this study 23 students aged between 11 and 13 and their teacher were given a Nokia 5530 Xpress Music phone. The phone included a logging and screenshot application which automatically took a screenshot of the active screen every 20 seconds when the phone was in use. The authors also added two general purpose apps to the phones before giving them to the children, namely: a drawing tool and a StickyNotes tool. In total the authors collected approx. 1,663,000 screenshots of phone usage. In the paper the authors report insights from a manual analysis of 200,000 screenshots and associated logs of 10 selected days from the end of the study period.

The paper is packed full of interesting insights covered phone use at both school and at home. The authors also report on interviews of both the children, the teacher and the parents/guardians. Prominent use cases for the phones include accessing the Internet as well as using the phone as a camera, as a playback devices, or as a replacement for copying machines. Overall a really nice example of a longitudinal study of emergent technology

5. Design and field testing of a system for remote monitoring of sea turtle nests
Thomas Zimmerman, Britta Muiznieks, Eric Kaplan, Samuel Wantman, Lou Browning, Eric Frey

I think this was one of the best talks at the conference! Jeff Blum presented the work on behalf of the authors in the industrial case study session and I think the entire conference was enthralled from the beginning. The abstract for the paper says it all but ultimately they used a bunch of cheap mobile equipment, worked some MacGyver magic, deployed a remote sensing system and saved lots of baby turtles. Honesty well worth a read and likely to inspire more work of this kind.

Abstract: Protective barriers are often deployed to safely guide sea turtle hatchlings to the ocean but the barriers are contentious for they impede foot and vehicle traffic of beach users. Our goal is to develop a wireless system that can detect sea turtle hatching to enable “just in time deployment” of barriers, and notify tourists so they can watch sea turtles emerge from nests, generating awareness and compassion for these endangered species. We report on the development of a sensor and data acquisition system capable of detecting nest hatching activity in the harsh environment of a beach, including sensor selection, wireless networking, low-power design, data processing and environmental packaging. Field tests confirm the suitability of a low-cost low-power three-axis accelerometer and mobile networks for detecting and remotely communicating sea turtle hatching activity.

6. Around-device devices: my coffee mug is a volume dial
Henning Pohl, Michael Rohs

Another great paper and presentation! In this talk Henning presented 2 studies exploring what around-device devices might look like and the scenarios in which around-device devices could be used. Around-device devices involves using the space and objects around a mobile phone to offer “better task affordance and to create an opportunity for casual interactions”. The idea is to support new mobile interactions by repurposing items already found in the user’s surroundings. An example provided in the paper is “hacky sacks lying around in a room have a natural affordance for usage as push buttons, e.g., to snooze an alarm.” In the first study they collected over 500 photos from a crowdsourcing platform called Participants were asked to take “photos of places where people usually have their phones lying around”, where “the phone and the context (e.g. objects around the phone) should both be visible in the photo”. For each photo, they manually annotated the location of the phone and the nearby objects which provided them with an overview of what objects would likely be available for users to incorporate into their interactions and use as around-device devices.

Their 2nd study was an elicitation study in which 15 participants in a lab-based setup were asked to find the interaction they deemed most suitable for a set of 10 tasks, e.g. changing the volume of music, dimming the lights, etc. The authors found that there was strong preference for some interactions (e.g., flipping the phone to mute it) and less consensus for others. Also, participants used more gestures near or on objects rather than making more direct use of available objects for the interactions.

I really liked this paper, plus the corpus of images collected from their first study is amazing! You can see it online, the link is in their paper.

7. An in-situ study of mobile phone notifications [shameless plug + best paper award!]
Martin Pielot, Karen Church, Rodrigo de Oliveira

Martin Pielot, Rodrigo de Oliveira and I won a best paper award for our paper on mobile notifications. I know I’m biased but I think that’s well worth a read too!

Abstract: Notifications on mobile phones alert users about new messages, emails, social network updates, and other events. However, little is understood about the nature and effect of such notifications on the daily lives of mobile users. We report from a one-week, in-situ study involving 15 mobile phones users, where we collected real-world notifications through a smartphone logging application alongside subjective perceptions of those notifications through an online diary. We found that our participants had to deal with 63.5 notifications on average per day, mostly from messengers and email. Whether the phone is in silent mode or not, notifications were typically viewed within minutes. Social pressure in personal communication was amongst the main reasons given. While an increasing number of notifications was associated with an increase in negative emotions, receiving more messages and social network updates also made our participants feel more connected with others. Our findings imply that avoiding interruptions from notifications may be viable for professional communication, while in personal communication, approaches should focus on managing expectations.

Other papers well-worth reading.

8. Identity, identification and identifiability: the language of self-presentation on a location-based mobile dating app
Jeremy Birnholtz, Colin Fitzpatrick, Mark Handel, Jed R. Brubaker.
Super interesting study on self-presentation within the location-based dating platform for men-seeking-men – Grindr. By analyzing the profiles of almost 70,000 Grinder profiles across 6 college towns and 6 urban areas in the US and Canada, the authors explore the types of information users share on their profile, what this information communicates about them and how people manage potentially stigmatized identities in using this apps. Aside from the interesting insights presented, the authors point to a number of open research areas/questions as a result of this work.

9. Was it worth the hassle?: ten years of mobile HCI research discussions on lab and field evaluations
Jesper Kjeldskov, Mikael B. Skov
Following on from their 2004 paper, “Is it worth the hassle…”, the authors present a review of lab vs. field studies over the past decade of Mobile HCI research. The paper is packed full of references to past research papers! Well worth a read.

10. Learning to recognise disruptive smartphone notifications
Jeremiah Smith Anna Lavygina Jiefei Ma Alessandra Russo Naranker Dulay
If you’re interested in learning/understanding more about smartphone notifications, this short paper is well worth a read. Using data collected from 11 people over 16 weeks, they explore which of 6 different machine learners are best suited to predict disruptive smartphone notifications.

11. Comparing pointing techniques for grasping hands on tablets
Katrin Wolf, Niels Henze.
The paper is a really, really nice example of how to do a controlled user study. Beautifully presented too!

12. SqueezeDiary: using squeeze gesture as triggers of diary events
Ming Ki Chong, Umar Rashid, Jon Whittle, Chee Siang Ang.
An interesting demo that supports retrospective diary / experience reporting. Participants squeeze what can only be described as something that looks like a ping pong ball — it’s actually a squeeze sensor. Once the sensor is squeezed it triggers diary event instance. The instance is logged along with location and temporal information. Participants can then reflect on the recorded instance at a later stage when they are not busy and enters a diary description. I thought it was an interesting take on in-situ diary studies.

Co-located mobile device interactions

There were also some great research papers related to co-located mobile device interactions including:

13. JuxtaPinch: exploring multi-device interaction in collocated photo sharing
Heidi Selmer Nielsen, Marius Pallisgaard Olsen, Mikael B. Skov, Jesper Kjeldskov

14. FlexiGroups: binding mobile devices for collaborative interactions in medium-sized groups with device touch
Tero Jokela, Andrés Lucero

I’m sure there’s lots more I’ve missed out on, so be sure to check out the proceedings for more details!