Explore New Technologies But Watch Out For Head Injuries

New technologies change the constraints we work under, enabling new activities and limiting previous ones, easing some and making others more difficult. It takes a while to realize just how much the game has changed, and this period is filled with experiments of varying degrees of success and failure. This is especially true with transformative technologies like the Apple iPhone, its cousin the iPad, and other devices that have followed in their wakes.

Karrie Fransman & Jonathan Plackett have introduced an experimental “tilt comic”, “The First Witch,” that uses the iPhone/iPad accelerometer to move around the comic panel. Here’s a video of the app in action:

I love how they’re using the technology here to push the limits of how we can experience and interact with a particular medium, in this case comics. There’s one point in the video where I cringed, however, as this experimental use of the accelerometer ran into an older navigation paradigm with potentially painful and costly consequences. If you haven’t watched the video yet, I recommend doing so before reading further.

Run Away! Run Away!

Did you notice when the woman advanced the comic to the next “page”? It’s at the 9-second mark, as she’s holding the 1.5 lb. iPad above her head. She lets go of the iPad with one hand and taps a button on the screen to move to the next page.

Now, I don’t know if you’ve held an iPad, or specifically tried holding it by the edge with just one hand, but it’s a little heavy. It has also has a hard and not very grippy surface. Given the damage a falling iPad could cause to the reader and the device, we might not want to actually encourage people to lift it above their heads, let go with one hand, and poke at it.

Let me be clear, I’m all for this kind of experimentation. I’m not at all discouraging the experiment of tilting or raising the device to pan around a scene. I don’t know if this will end up being a compelling way to experience comics or other things, but I applaud the thought and effort to find out.

I Accuse Colonel Mustard in the Conservatory with the Button

My beef lies with the button. If you’re going to have people raising heavy, slippery, expensive things above their heads while they’re engrossed in your story, let’s not let an existing interaction method put property and safety in danger.

Come up with another way of advancing the page that doesn’t require taking your hand off of it, like a quick tilt-right movement. Or move the next page button flush to the side of the screen where the user can reach it with their thumb without otherwise letting go of the device.

Welcome to a New World

As more of us move from the fairly well known and safe environment of the desktop/laptop computer to a variety of other devices being used in many different environments and contexts, physical safety becomes much more of a concern. (Not to say that carpal tunnel syndrome is a walk in the park.)

Dropping devices and walking into objects or traffic are not issues we had to deal with much before. Ask Nintendo and several unlucky Wii / flat screen TV owners about the unexpected dangers a new interaction paradigm can bring. And just imagine how much the stakes are raised when we’re talking about in-vehicle interactive experiences.

Expected Mortality Rates

Let me be clear: my point is NOT “don’t buy this app, it will KILL YOU!!!” In fact, I think tilt comic casualties should be minimal, and I hope a good number of people do buy this app and we all learn from their experience with it.

My point is that while we’re still figuring out what constraints have changed with a new technology, especially those involving devices outside of the typical desktop computer experience, let’s be careful, especially when someone’s physical safety is at stake or even just a pricey gadget. User experience professionals need to take yet another area into consideration when designing new experiences.

Sure, Peter Morville or someone else may want to consider revising the User Experience Honeycomb, but that’s a small price to pay. Hmmm…how well do heptagons fit together?

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