Designing for the evolution of mobile contacts application


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This is the presentation and note for Mobile HCI 2008 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. The talk is based on the project to evolve Contacts application on Nokia smartphones, 2005.
You can download the original published paper from the following links:

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  • I’ve been working for a company that makes mobile phone for 8 years now, and I am here today to present a case study on Contacts application with my colleagues.
    // This is the presentation and note for Mobile HCI 2008 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
    // The talk is based on the project to evolve Contacts application on Nokia smartphones, 2005.
    // Contact: /
  • We do consider Contacts application as heart of mobile communication – it is an enabler for the core activities of connecting to people and places. In 2005, we were asked to think about how mobile Contacts application would evolve in the future – as we knew the design of our current products was still largely based on the early age of mobile phones where calling and texting was still the most important functions – and some people still remembered phone numbers by heart. It is reflected in the names as well – Phonebook, Address book, Names, etc..
  • We have done research on how people used current mobile Contacts application, so based on the findings, we designed a prototype application running on Nokia 6630, and ran a user trial with 16 people representing a really diverse range of lifestyles. The trial lasted on average 33 days. The purpose was really to validate some of our assumptions made in how mobile Contacts application should evolve in the future.
    Implementation on S60 2.6, nokia 6630
    Implemented by Panu Vartiainen, 15 weeks
    16 people, various lifestyles, recruited through Metro (3 pairs, 3 triads, 1 quartet)
    Average trial days – 33 days
  • And today I would like to share with you what our design themes were behind this prototype.
  • The most important feature of the Contacts in our study of existing Contacts use is speed: speed of opening and speed of finding the right entry that you are looking for. For this we had to consider several aspects. For instance, we wanted to enable the list layout to allow a quick preview of the entry. Also we wanted to save the screen real estate by hiding the quick find field unless user types in a letter. This is to maximize the usage of screen real estate considering that some people tend to use scrolling only especially when they do not have a long list in their Contacts.
  • A writer friend of mine said “everyone is equal in the eyes of novelist’. But the fact is - not everyone is born equal when it comes to our personal relationship.
    In the study on the current use of Contacts showed people developed hacks to make it easier to find people that mattered to them most, like adding a number to the name, or adding a symbol after the name so that it stands out from the list.
    One of the design feature we focused was how to implement top contacts – most importantly to understand how automatically or manually generated top contact list would make sense, for whom. Design details, we rationalized, needed to differ as well due to the nature of user’s awareness of the list content. Just to quickly mention, the trial result showed that the preference was half and half.
  • Third was flexible organization of the contact entries – one example shown here is being able to create group entries within the same contact list. The reasons behind why people create and would use groups is a long story – for instance, you have too many friends who have the same last name. We saw increasing potential for usage of groups in the future.
  • Fourth theme was to enable customizing the Contacts – both in terms of layout and application functions, but also encouraging people to add more content there. One good example was to have this automatic puppet head generated based on Contact entry’s name. The two example shown here is from trial participants who were couples. She added a heart icon and ringing tone, the other added a thumbnail and icon.
  • Fifth theme was to being able to seamlessly access database of Contacts that may exist outside of your phone’s local memory, to enable functions like automatically matching the caller ID from a corporate phonebook.
  • Sixth theme was to make the Contacts a repository of personal digital identity. As a lot of social services – even starting from giving a vCard from my phone to someone else – the starting point for participation is creation of your own identity.
  • If you lost your phone, what would you miss the most? In the typical user interview, we encounter this answer a lot: Contacts.
    Seventh theme was to consider the Contacts as a social piggybank as we consider the long lasting life of mobile phone usage – even though we change devices we will hold on to the Contacts information.
    Some design consideration was to make users to add entries to the Contacts easier, like showing the default fields in the Contact viewer even though it is not filled in.
  • The eighth theme was to elevate the Contact’s function in assisting our social relationship management. Because our phone knows a lot about our communication habits.
    We called this tab ‘Smart groups’. Implemented features included the most popular contacts, shiny new – showing contacts added recently, birthday – showing contacts whose birthday is approaching or just passing.
    The most popular smart group was ‘popular’: 20.4 times per user on average. Some participants reported that they quickly developed the habit of checking who’s not showing in this group who is supposed to appear like the grandmother. Smart groups were also reported as the most innovative features that influenced participant’s perception on the prototype.
  • I will make a cosmic leap here to our final conclusion part for the benefit of time… our final report was about 160 pages long.
  • The use motivations behind the Contacts application are summarized as these four points. Efficiency is the most important nevertheless, but we did see the glimpses of other reasons for using Contacts through the prototype, such as self-awareness and social network maintenance.
    According to our log file, 50% of the opening of the Contacts prototype did not involve initiating any communication.
  • So we concluded there are three layers of values that Contacts application could provide:
    Communication / Personalization / Reflection
    And being able to reflect on your own communication behavior does influence the basic communication needs.
    However we saw that the added values that Contacts could bring aside from satisfying the basic communication needs should be specifically implemented depending on the product profile and its cultural context.
  • // This is the presentation and note for Mobile HCI 2008 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
    // The talk is based on the project to evolve Contacts application on Nokia smartphones, 2005.
    // Contact: /
  • Appendix:
    We also found two distinctive user tendencies which we characterized as communicator and cultivator.
    // This is the presentation and note for Mobile HCI 2008 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
    // The talk is based on the project to evolve Contacts application on Nokia smartphones, 2005.
    // Contact: /
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