5 May 2011

"Paperphone" prototype demonstrates bend gesture interface

by Kate Melville

Researchers from Queen's University in Canada have developed a prototype flexible smartphone interface that allows users to interact with applications on the phone by bending and manipulating the display.

The prototype uses a 9.5 cm (diagonal) thin film flexible E Ink display that has been customized with pressure sensors that monitor the user's actions and interact directly with the phone software.

"This computer looks, feels and operates like a small sheet of interactive paper. You interact with it by bending it, flipping the corner to turn pages, or writing on it with a pen," explained Roel Vertegaal, from Queen's Human Media Lab. Vertegaal will demonstrate the prototype at the Computer Human Interaction 2011 conference in Vancouver next week. In the meantime, a video of the device in action is available.

In tandem with the conference, Vertegaal has co-authored a paper evaluating the effectiveness of various bend gestures in executing a set of common tasks with the flexible display. The research team collected a total of 87 bend gesture pairs from participants and evaluated their appropriateness over twenty actions in five applications. The applications were navigating through icons, selecting contacts and making phone calls, playing music, reading a book, and navigating a map.

The results show users preferred bend gestures and bend gesture pairs that were conceptually simpler, e.g., along one axis, and less physically demanding. For actions with a strong directional cue, they found strong consensus on the polarity of the bend gestures (e.g., navigating left is performed with an upwards bend gesture, navigating right, downwards). This implies that bend gestures that take directional cues into account are likely more natural to users.

The paper suggests that bend gestures may be of utility for people with motor skill limitations that prevented the use of other input systems.

Additionally, bend gestures are potentially usable without visual engagement with the device and when one was interacting directly with the display but needed to avoid occluding areas of the display. Users reported bend gestures as appropriate for navigating pages in a book reader, which could take advantage of the analog properties of the bend gesture to allow for variable speed scrolling based on the degree of bend.

Vertegaal acknowledges that the case for the use of flexible over rigid screens is not necessarily based on the superior efficiency of interactions. While rigid screens may continue to have the edge in terms of interaction efficiency for some time, he believes there are sufficient practical and interactional reasons for flexible displays to achieve mass adoption as they closely approximate the look and feel of paper documents. "This is the future. Everything is going to look and feel like this within five years," he said.

Read the paper
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Source: Queen's University