Is it easier to design for touch screens if you have poor UI designers?

Flying back from Sydney with Qantas and now flying to Seattle with Lufthansa I had to long distance flights in which I had the opportunity to study (n=1, subject=me, plus over-shoulder-observation-while-walking-up-and-down-the-aisle 😉 the user interface for the in-flight entertainment.

The 2 systems have very different hardware and software designs. The Qantas infotainment system is a regular screen and interaction is done via a wired moveable remote control store in the armrest. The Lufthansa system uses a touch screen (It also has some hard buttons for volume in the armrest). Overall the content on the Qantas system comprised of more content (more movies, more TV-shows) including real games.

The Qantas system seemed very well engineered and the remote control UI worked was greatly suited for playing games. Nevertheless the basic operation (selecting movies etc.) seemed more difficult using the remote control compared to the touch screen interface. In contrast the Lufthansa system seems to have much room for improvement (button size, button arrangement, reactions times of the system) but it appeared very easy to use.

So here are my hypotheses:

Hypothesis 1: if you design (public) information or edutainment systems (excluding games) using a touch screen is a better choice than using an off-screen input device.

Hypothesis 2: with UI design team of a given ability (even a bad UI design team) you will create a significantly better information and edutainment systems (excluding games) if you use a touch screen than using an off-screen input device.

From the automotive domain we have some indications that good off-screen input device are really hard to design so that they work well (e.g. in-build-car navigation system). Probably I should find a student to proof it (with n much larger than 1 and other subjects than me).

PS: the Lufthansa in-flight entertainment runs on Windows-CE 5.0 (the person in front of me had mainly the empty desktop with the Win CE logo showing) and it boots over network (takes over 6 minutes).

CfP: Automotive User Interfaces and Interactive Applications – AUIIA 08

After last year’s successful workshop on automotive user interfaces we are planning to run another one this year. We – Susanne Boll (Uni Oldenburg), Wolfgang Spießl (BMW), Matthias Kranz (DLR) and Albrecht Schmidt – are really looking forward to many interesting submissions and a cool workshop program. The theme gains a the moment some momentum, which was very visible at the Special Interest Group meeting at CHI2008.

More information on the workshop and a call for paper is available at:

Ali joined our group

Last month Aliresa Sahami finished his master thesis on multi-tactile interaction at BIT Bonn and joined our group in Essen. Ali worked for me a student resesearch assistant at Fraunhofer IAIS. During his studies in Bonn we published an interesting workshop paper on mobile health [1] and gave a related demo at Ubicomp [2].

[1] Alt, F., Sahami Shirazi, A., Schmidt, A. Monitoring Heartbeat per Day to Motivate Increasing Physical Activity. Ubiwell workshop at Ubicomp 2007.

[2] Sahami Shirazi, A.; Cheng, D.; Kroell, O.; Kern, D.; Schmidt, A.: CardioViz: Contextual Capture and Visualization for Long-term ECG Data. In: Adjunct Proceedings of Ubicomp 2007.

Tagging Kids, Add-on to make digital cameras wireless

Reading the new products section in the IEEE pervasive computing magazine (Vol.7, No.2, April-June 2008) I came across a child monitoring systems: Kiddo Kidkeeper – In the smart-its project Henrik Jernström developed 2001 a similar system in his master thesis at PLAY which was published as a Demo at Ubicomp [1]. I remember very lively the discussion about the validity of this application (basically people – including me – asking “Who would want such technology?”). However it seems society and values are constantly changing – there is an interesting ongoing discussion related to that: Free Range Kids (this is the pro side 😉 The article in the IEEE Magazin hinted that the fact the you can take of the device is a problem – I see a clear message ahead – implant the device – and this time I am more careful with arguing that we don’t need it (even though I am sure we do not need it I expect that in 5 to 10 years we will have it)

There were two further interesting links in the article: an SD-card that includes WIFI and hence enables uploading of photos to the internet from any camera having an SD-slot ( – the idea is really simple but very powerful! And finally the UK has an educational laptop, too ( Seems the hardware is there (if not this year than next) and where is the software? I think we should put some more effort into this domain in Germany…

Not to forget the issue of the magazine contains our TEI conference report [2].

[1] Henrik Jernström. SiSSy Smart-its child Surveillance System. Poster at Ubicomp 2002, Adjunct Proceedings of Ubicomp 2002.


Fight for attention – changing cover display of a magazine

Attention is precious and there is a clear fight for it. This is very easy to observe on advertising boards and in news shops. Coming back from Berlin I went in Augsburg into the news agent to get a news paper – and not really looking at magazines is still discovered from the corner of my eyes an issue of FHM with a changing cover page. Technically it is very simple: a lenticular lens that presents and image depending on the viewing angle – alternating between 3 pictures – one of which is a full page advert (for details on how it works see lenticular printing in Wikipedia). A similar approach has already been used in various poster advertising campaigns – showing different pictures as people walk by (, One could also create a context-aware advert, showing different images for small and tall people 😉

In outdoor advertising we see the change to active display happening at the moment. I am really curious when the first really active cover pages on magazines will emerge – thinking of ideas in context-awareness the possibilities seem endless. However it is really a question if electronic paper will be cheap enough before we move to completely electronic reading. Another issue (even with this current version of the magazine) is recycling – which becomes much more difficult when mixing further material with paper.