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Let's get mobile

Advancing mobile usability for everyone

Brian Cragun, David Dracoules, Susann Keohane, Matt King, Richard Schwerdtfeger, IBM

The new mobile web paradigm

More and more users are adopting the mobile platform. It is predicted that the tipping point will be reached in 2013 with mobile devices surpassing the desktop computer as the most common Web access device 1. With the rapid and broad adoption of mobile platforms for ubiquitous computing, mobile platforms will need to foresee and adapt to needs and requirements of all users.

Mobile users are continually exposed to different environments than they experience with stationary desktop PCs. Mobile devices are used in: noisy environments; poor lighting conditions; situations that involve bumping/jostling/vibration; places where privacy is a concern; places where only one hand may be used; and places where hands-free or eye-free access is required.

Devices and the software that run on them must adapt to the user's needs in the context in which they are operating. This must be done automatically based on user settings, platform capabilities and known limitations, and the environment in which they operate.

Furthermore, moving to a mobile platform is a big leap from the desktop computer. Everything is new. We've been operating with large screen, large keyboard, and single point pointing paradigm for years. Mobile brings a new size, some new widgets, new animations, additional sensors, and new ways to interact with your device. The rate of change has dramatically increased, and seems to continue to increase.

Where we are

Emerging applications for mobile often lack usability and accessibility for all users. The interfaces are not yet designed for, or integrated with, accessibility methods. Some methods of input and output (modalities) are inadequate depending on the context of use. Examples: listening to audio or video in a noisy environment, seeing a screen in bright daylight, or using a touch screen in a cold or jostling environment. 

Where we need to go

In the absence of a fully accessible mobile solution several hurdles need to be overcome. Simply replicating the desktop is not a sufficient solution for usable mobile platforms.

Mobile platforms need user interfaces and interactions effective to the task, the environment, the capabilities of the user, and the added limitations the environment places upon the user and they need to allow for greater personalization and dynamic adaptation to the surrounding environment. 

Platforms also need to add capability for virtualized peripherals such as laser keyboards, sensors for finger typing, pointing and gesturing, voice input and output, virtualized monitors, or even something as futuristic as direct-to-the-retina devices.

The industry needs to develop tools specifically tailored for mobile applications, such as a common development, analysis, and testing environment (there is currently no way to do tree analysis, WCAG 2.0 analysis, contrast analysis or automated testing). Complete, supported, and fully accessible standard widget sets will be needed on all platforms. Best practices for development of accessible widgets need to be documented on all platforms; including guidance on custom controls. The various current mobile platforms need to have a complete set of interfaces and programmatic controls to interact with assistive technology. These need to keep pace with the breadth and application usage of the platforms. These interfaces also need to interact completely and effectively with user profiles and preferences.

IBM is working with standards bodies such as the IMS Global Learning Consortium, on Access4All, and the World Wide Web Consortium to establish standards and best practices for accessibility on mobile devices and for better tools for product development and testing.

For a PDF of the full presentation given at CSUN 2011 (3.15MB).

1 Gartner, Inc "Gartner Top End User Predictions for 2010: Coping with the New Balance of Power", 2010.

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