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Flexible Hardware Configurations for Studying Mobile Usability

Antti Oulasvirta and Tuomo Nyyssönen

Journal of Usability Studies, Volume 4, Issue 2, February 2009, pp. 93-105


The main challenges for mobile usability labs, as measurement instruments, lay not so much on being able to record what happens on the user interface, but capturing the interactional relationship between the user and the environment. An ideal mobile usability lab would enable recording, with sufficient accuracy and reliability, the user's deployment of gaze, the hands, the near bodyspace, proximate and distant objects of interest, as well as abrupt environmental events. An inherent complication is that the equipment will affect these events and is affected by them. We argue that a balance between coverage and obtrusiveness must be found on a per case basis.

We present a modular solution to mobile usability labs, allowing both belt- and backpack-worn configurations and flexible division of equipment between the user, the moderator, and the environment. These benefits were achieved without sacrificing data quality, operational duration, or light weight. We describe system design rationale and report first experiences from a field experiment. Current work concentrates on simplifying the system to improve cost-efficiency.

Practitioner's Take Away

The swiss army knife approach to mobile usability labs centers around implementing a base system for non-camera equipment that allows enough flexibility to enable belt-worn, backpack-worn, and wireless configurations. For the camera equipment, the following goals are important:

At the moment the resulting system is somewhat expensive, around 10,000 Euros including hardware and craft, but it is on par with comparable non-mobile usability labs. The most significant challenge is to improve the user experience for the moderator by streamlining the process of using such a setup and by improving the interfaces between parts of the system.

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Flexible Hardware Configurations for Studying Mobile Usability