Using Haptics to Address Mobile Interaction Design Challenges: Protoyping and User Evaluation with a Handheld Tactile Display

by Joseph Luk

Current user interfaces for mobile and handheld computing platforms principally offer user interaction through the visual and auditory modalities. However, mobile devices are often used in contexts where vision and hearing are impaired. At the same time, more and more functionality is being layered upon mobile devices, while the physical size of the display and keypad has remained small. This limits the rate of information that can be exchanged between the user and the system, and poses an interaction design challenge. Haptics offers a potential solution by providing an additional modality that is also especially well-suited to the demands of
portable, personal devices that are in contact with the user's skin.

In this work we identify ways that interaction through the sense of touch can enhance mobile user interfaces. We describe the synergistic process of design of user interaction concepts and novel handheld tactile display hardware based on the principle of piezoelectric-actuated lateral skin stretch. Following the realization of the prototype hardware, we performed perceptual characterization studies to determine the expressive capabilities of the new device in the hands of a human user. Informed by the results from the user studies, we built and tested a handheld browser application with tactile enhancement. The results of user testing with the browser application suggest that directional tactile stimulation alone is not sufficient to enhance performance in spatial navigation; however, by conducting a full iteration of a user-centred design process in haptics, we have provided a case study to inform future development efforts, a flexible platform for prototyping, and an indication of promising future directions for using haptics to solve mobile interaction design challenges.

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