July 2, 2007
What Do People Do with Their Technology?

C3 Alum Geoffrey Long recently alerted me to an interesting study from Jan Chipchase (see his profile here). Jan works as a researcher for the design branch of Nokia, and he both designs new products and tests them.

In the meantime, he publishes a lot of intriguing studies and materials on his personal Web site, enttiled Future Perfect. He writes, "The material that you see on this site is what I do in my spare time--the stuff that inspires or challenges me, helps me understand how the future might turn out."

What caught Geoff's idea was his piece "Where's the Phone?" drawing on research he had done with Cui Yanging and Fumiko Ichikawa, based on a variety of street surveys for Nokia between 2003 and 2006, focusing on "where people carry their mobile phones and why."

These types of questions are intriguing, especially if we want to figure out how and why new technologies are integrated into the lives of their users. Back in April, I wrote about the latest information made available from the Consumer Electronic Association, particularly regarding how people were positioning television sets within their home.

For instance, hype points toward wall-mounting being a major advantage to flat panel televisions, but the study found that it was not that popular in practice. Also of interest was information that only 8 percent of HD users have their TV in the bedroom, while 76 percent have a TV in their living room. I fall among the 8 percent.

The point is that it helps to conceptualize the actual user experience and how these technologies fit into people's lives. These studies are quantitative, but there are certainly important qualitative factors that contribute to this knowledge as well, and we hope that our work at C3 is doing a small part of that through our blog and public programs like Futures of Entertainment, as well as the internal work we do with our partners throughout the media industry and academia.

The results of Chipchase's work finds, for instance, that 60 percent of men carried their cell phones in their pockets, most in their right pockets, which signals that carrying a phone seems to correspond with the dominant hand, and the thought was that perhaps most of those who carry the phone in their left pocket are southpaws (like me).

A corresponding 61 percent of women carried their phone in some sort of bag. Because these phones are inside a pocket or bag, callers frequently miss incoming calls, primarily because the phone can't be reached during the duration of the call or is not even heard at all.

One can see how these questions address important issues for phone designers. Jan writes:

The results also feed into our growing knowledge-bank of consumer understanding from around the world which is drawn on to both inform and inspire current and future design.

The last 10 years have seen a convergence of functionality onto a single device - instant messaging, radio, television, music, cameras, GPS the list goes on. Each feature creates new modalities of use subtly or drastically changing how people carry and interact with their 'phone'. How does having a camera change how a phone is carried? Or access to mobile banking? Or mobile TV?

In addition, we are rapidly moving to the point where, due to miniaturization, flexible components and economies of scale, it may make sense to de-converge functionality on the phone. Hypothetically, if you took all the features on a phone today and distributed them around the body, clothes and in other carried objects, where might these functions be carried, accessed? And why? When an object can be any shape or size, what shape and size should it be?

The study is definitely worth a look for those interested in how technologies are incorporated in the everyday lives of its users.