Research and analysis in mobile technology environments

Authors: Sara Price and Carey Jewitt

MODE recently facilitated a day event on researching and analysing mobile technology environments. It attracted a wide range of people interested and/or working with mobile technologies in their research, including those researching Young people’s drinking practices using Txting as a research tool; Monitoring anxiety using mobile apps; young people with cancer; and a human geography artist in residence exploring the potentials of mobiles.

The day explored methods of data collection and analysis in mobile technology contexts, focusing on qualitative research approaches to design and analysis and specifically drawing on multimodal approaches to analysis. Issues of research design, data collection, transcription, coding, and analysis pertinent to key themes around mobile technology research were also discussed.

The ways in which researching mobile technologies has expanded from being primarily technical to now also being about usability, usefulness, and user experience was discussed. As was how this has led to the birth of the vibrant area of mobile interaction design at the intersections between, among others, mobile computing, social sciences, human-computer interaction, industrial design, and user experience design. These changes were mapped to Kjeldskov’s (2013) phases of mobile development:

Portability was about reducing the size of hardware to enable the creation of computers that could be physically moved around relatively easily.

Miniaturization was about creating new and significantly smaller mobile form factors that allowed the use of personal mobile devices while on the move.

Connectivity was about developing devices and applications that allowed users to be online and communicate via wireless data networks while on the move.

Convergence was about integrating emerging types of digital mobile devices, such as Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs), mobile phones, music players, cameras, games, etc., into hybrid devices.

Divergence took an opposite approach to interaction design by promoting information appliances with specialised functionality rather than generalized ones.

Apps is about developing matter and substance for use and consumption on mobile devices, and making access to this fun or functional interactive application content easy and enjoyable.

Digital ecosystems  is about the larger wholes of pervasive and interrelated technologies that interactive mobile systems are increasingly becoming a part of.

We discussed key features of mobile technologies including Mobility /Portability, Digital augmentation, Context/ context-aware and the challenges that researching the digital presents such as, Mobility meaning having to follow people around into different situations, the need to gain access to ‘private’ space that is used by the mobile technology, and the gathering of computer generated data that can be combined with user interaction. We also explored how these could be overcome through: Mediated Data Collection in which participants and mobile technologies mediate data collection about use in natural settings; the use of Simulations and Enactments: simulations and enactments are used to make available experiential information sensitised to real contexts of use; and through the combination of existing methods, and/or mediated data collection and/or simulations and enactments to allow access to complementary data.

The day involved sharing examples of mobile research and the application of multimodal concepts to video data of mobile interactions – examples that will be discussed in our working papers and publications.

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