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December 20 2011


The Grim Future of Web Browsers

Nothing new appearing today in the IT world is labelled as a surprise, because everything moves so fast and at some point in time you start to know when the big news hit the market. With the technology advancing so fast, especially all the mobile devices we call smartphones today part of the mainstream and are, maybe, the most important thing in our lives. So by sending a message from your QWERTY Android device or by playing Fruit Ninja on your latest iPhone, have you ever thought that you yourself are changing the IT world?

Well if you haven’t, I can tell you for sure that you do. By using portable devices more often and desktop computers less the latest gadgets quickly become out of date. Without realizing we have become unplugged and do not need computers anymore – which also means we do not need browsers anymore. And why would we? At the end of the day we have our smartphones filled with apps that can keep us busy for a long time. Sometimes I don’t even check my Facebook from my computer, even if I am close to it, because it is much easier to do it from the phone. Ever since the IT world made it possible to connect to the internet wirelessly, nobody has looked back. People invest much more money today in phones and portable devices like tablets or eBook Readers than in computers.

Image by ~jeroen-tje

Internet without a Browser

It is easy to see how we’ve become unplugged. Apple’s iOS and Android do it; Adobe Flash Player 10.2 and AIR technologies as well. HTML5 starts becoming more popular and supported on many portable platforms and other companies like Blackberry or Nokia follow in close. There are over 400,000 applications in the App Store, an incredible growth from 500 in the beginning. Android has around 400,000 applications and the numbers are increasing. The year started with around 300,000 apps for both platforms and ends with, very possibly, close to 1 million of them. Android included Flash from the 2.2 Froyo version and this made the portable devices running on the open-source platform even more popular. And you know what the good part of this is? That you don’t need anything besides a WiFi or 3G/4G connection to access them from all over the World.

Why do we talk about apps when we’re talking about browsers? Because if you think about it, the applications are nothing less than websites which are accessed without a browser. And more than 10 million of them were downloaded in 2011. That’s a huge amount of users who accessed this information from a portable device, avoiding using a browser. And it should be a clear sign about the future of the web. The apps are more intuitive, faster and easier to use, therefore they are preferred to Chrome, Mozilla, Safari or any other application. Another advantage is that the apps can be accessed from everywhere, while for a browser you not only need internet, but also a computer.

Smartphone and the Internet

A smartphone will also always allow you access to the internet, so why have a big laptop when you can have a pocket device that can do the same? A study made two years ago concluded that by 2013 mobile browsing will be more popular than desktop browsing. With the usage of smartphones growing by 110% in the US in 2009 and by 148% all over the world, this seems quite possible. Also, the younger internet users get educated in the world of smartphones, meaning that the computer will mean even less for them than it does for us.

source: BettyArmado via Chrome Store

This could be great news for designers – up til now everybody had to have a webpage, soon everybody will have to have a mobile device version as well. More work, more money for the design industry. China for example is a huge industry with tremendous potential. Not many people there have tablets or smartphones, but many say in 3-4 years everyone there will own one. With a market of almost 1 billion mobile subscribers, there will be a huge need for mobile websites for the companies and business individuals. So, bottom line, the fact that web browsers are on a downhill is not that bad for us – we will still have a lot of work anyway.

Right now there are more than 300 million mobile internet users in China and this is around 60% of all mobile and desktop internet users all over Europe – we’re talking huge numbers here. We’re talking about the Chinese equivalent of eBay, Taobao on which the transactions for the last year totaled roughly $60 billion; and this is while eBay was delighted with a total of only $2 billion. All of these things happen while the major internet providers already update the speeds to 4G. You see where I’m heading? As designers, we might be concerned that our jobs will disappear in 15 years but really, who knows how many other challenges will appear for us by then?

However, the truth is that it always takes up to five years after a new web technology appears until people get a hold of it and learn how it really works. Smartphones are huge today, but I don’t think they reached their maximum potential yet. There is still a lot yet to come and just because we think we know everything, it doesn’t mean we actually do. Web browsers are still popular and widely used, but they will be a thing of the past at some point in time, because nothing lives forever on the web. There is no such thing as a technology which didn’t improve since it was released (unless it was released recently).


The bottom line of this article is that even if the browsers disappear in several years (or at least their use will decrease), there will still be a lot of work for designers and developers. The internet is almost fed up with designs and experts, in five years time it will all move on portable devices. This means, as stated before, much more work for us, both for desktop and portable devices. All the technologies will be available on portable devices as well at some point in time and designing for them will be maybe even more challenging than designing for desktop use.

The beginners of today are the experts of tomorrow. We all know what’s coming in the short term, so why not try to become better at this while letting the current experts do their work? Who knows, in five years it might be you who earns the big bucks from all kind of clients and, as its normal, there will be others taking your place in the “follower seat”. The increasing use of smartphones and tablets bring a new taste in the design industry, with many new challenges yet to come. Get ready to take on all of them!

July 21 2011


Creating Gesture Guidelines for Tablets, Part 2

Participant during the Guessability Study

A participant during the Guessability Study

How do you come up with the right gesture for an app or a game? If there is no precedent, then you’re on your own. Here I’ll discuss a 4-step method that’ll allow you to create gestures for specific actions, with validation from end-users.

In the first part of this series, we discussed the importance of having guidelines for gestural tablet interaction. Now that we understand the need to get the interaction techniques right, we’ll learn how to create gestures for specific actions.

How to conduct a gesture creation study

The Basics

Gesture creation is a 4-step process. Each individual stage leads on and informs the proceeding step. This method can be used to discover gestures for more than one action; I used this process for 18 distinct actions during my study.

Setting up the Gesture-Meaning Association test

Setting up the Gesture-Meaning Association test

Guessability study

Show subjects a short, two slide animation: before-and-after screenshots that shows the outcome of the gesture. Here you can view the video I used for the zoom-in action.

Using an app that can draw multiple inputs at once such as Doodle Buddy, place the “before” screenshot as the background of the drawing app.

While recording the screen, ask the participant to draw the gesture that they feel would invoke that desired action.

Setting up the camera to record the gesture creation

Setting up the camera to record the gesture creation.

Take a screenshot of the completed gesture and stop recording on the camera.

Ask the user to rate their created gesture based on the statement: “The gesture I picked is a good match for its intended purpose,” and rate the gesture on a 5-point likert scale from “Strongly Disagree” to “Strongly Agree.”

If you want to be able to identify similarities between participants, then you should aim to have around 10+ users for this stage.

Rating study

Now invite 3 other people to watch each gesture video and ask them to rate the effectiveness of the gesture for the intended action; use the same question that was asked in the Guessability study.

After all the raters have rated each gesture, produce an average score which will identify a consensus on whether specific gestures were a good match for the intended action.

Gesture creation

With all the information you have compiled from the previous two stages, you can identify similarities and issues from the collection of gestures created during the Guessability study.

In my study, for example, I noticed many participants were utilizing letters and symbols to represent certain actions. Therefore, these symbolic gestures were used for many of the gesture/action pairings I created.

Moreover, I noted that gestures that were used in advertising smartphones and tablet devices received high approval ratings; I therefore decided not to adapt or change gesture/action pairings that were already well-known.

For this stage in the process, the way you select gestures depends on your overall goals. For example, if you’re designing a game and you want the action to be challenging to invoke, then selecting the most popular gesture might not be the best choice for you. However, this process will provide you with all the information necessary to make these important decisions.

Gesture-meaning association test

So you have what you believe are ideal gestures for specific actions. Now it’s time to validate the gesture/action pairings you have created.

A small set of users—3 to 5 would be ideal—will be provided with several pieces of paper: half will be the names of the actions and the other half will be the actual gestures. The participants will be asked to match the gesture/action pairings that they believe are correct.

Setting up the Gesture-Meaning Association test

Setting up the gesture-meaning association test

This will allow you to identify the accuracy of selection, where you can discover which pairings were challenging for participants to match, and which ones were easier. Moreover, you can note the speed with which selections were made—were certain pairings selected through a process of elimination?

Final thoughts

This method can go a long way to ensure that the gesture/action pairings you are using in your apps or games are the best they can be.

There will always be actions that are challenging to depict with a gesture, yet this method allows you to identify these, providing you with opportunities to design around such constraints.

Give it a go.

Lead image for this article (on UX Booth homepage) courtesy of quinn.anya

Advertise here with BSA

July 19 2011


Creating Gesture Guidelines for Tablets, Part 1

Apple's iPad

Apple’s multi-touch iPad.

The tablet device market is growing rapidly, with the likes of Samsung, HP and RIM attempting to topple the iPad’s dominance. Yet, with sales expected to top 140 million in 2014, there are no guidelines for gestural tablet interaction that span both applications and platforms.

Part 2 of this series will be published Thursday, July 21st.

Why do we need gesture guidelines, anyway?

Well, tablet makers (and now, even desktop makers) are creating different gestures to complete similar actions, to act as an unique selling point for their tablet devices. Yet this hinders the user’s experience of the product. Users should be able to go from platform to platform and utilize their habitual knowledge. They shouldn’t be required to learn different gestures just because they are using a different device.

Moreover, if we look back at the personal computer market 30 years ago, we will notice that the original Macintosh of 1984 doesn’t look all that unfamiliar to the latest generation iMac of this decade. While the graphics have improved and the processors have gotten faster, the fundamentals of personal computing haven’t changed; we are still using the keyboard and mouse in the exact same fashion as we did 30 years ago.

Early Mac

Despite the obvious design evolution, the functionality remains basically the same.

Raneko via Flickr

The standards and guidelines we create today for tablet devices will define the landscape for decades to come. It is therefore pivotal that we get it right.

Interesting findings

During my recent study, I discovered many interesting findings that are apparently being ignored by the current tablet makers. I asked 18 participants to suggest a gesture for 18 commonly used actions. These are some of my findings:

The use of letters and symbols

For many actions, letters and symbols were very popular choices. For example, when asked what gesture they would use when printing a document, many participants drew the letter “P” on the screen. Meanwhile, the Help action was activated by many participants with the “?” symbol.

Example of the P gesture

Example of the “P” gesture

Also of note, many participants relied on letters and symbols as the default gesture for actions that they deemed difficult to represent via a gesture.

Even though the use of letters and symbols can have cultural issues, we can’t dismiss these findings and the overwhelming support for symbolic gestures.

Desktop metaphors

Related to the use of letters and symbols, many of the letters used were based on the desktop metaphors that have been implanted into our memories. The letter ‘C’ was more commonly used for the Copy action rather than the Cut action, mirroring keyboard shortcuts.

Even though I reiterated to participants the multi-touch capability of these modern tablet devices, many relied on a single touch, akin to a single click on a desktop mouse or trackpad.

Users don’t want to relearn basic interaction techniques when they make the move from desktops to tablet devices. They want to make use of their pre-existing knowledge.

Interaction with other objects

Many usability studies are run in a controlled environment, but I decided to allow the participants to choose their testing location. Consumer electronics companies are advertising their tablets with relaxing imagery; people situated in lounges and living rooms while resting their feet on the coffee table. This is the environment I wanted to mimic—testing in an environment where the device would actually be used.

This key tactic revealed some interesting findings that wouldn’t have been discovered in a controlled environment. For example, when I asked one participant what gesture they felt would be suitable for executing the print function, they decided to swipe their finger across the screen towards the physical printer in his bedroom.

This sort of interaction with physical objects has been explored in the field of pervasive computing for over a decade and will play a huge role in the future of technology.

People still struggle

We shouldn’t take the YouTube videos of 2-year-olds and pensioners using iPads too seriously. Although my study didn’t focus on these two extremes, I have noticed a concern amongst the older generation that highlights the intimidating and inaccessible nature of desktop systems still remain for tablet devices – even after use.

If your app or game is going to be used by either the young or the old then make sure you test it with them. If you don’t have the resources to do a proper test then just getting your grandparents or your friends’ children to use your app will reveal some basic findings.

...or cats.

Cats also have trouble adapting.

Credit: Stevelyons


Some might look at this article and say that I want to hinder innovation and creativity. I assure you, that’s not the case. Innovation and creativity underpin our industry, but as Don Norman and Jakob Nielsen recently said, keep the experimentation in the lab.

The second part of this series will discuss how you can conduct a gesture creation study to ensure you correctly select the right gesture/action pairings, so check back Thursday for part two!

Lead image for this article (on UX Booth homepage) courtesy of quinn.anya

Advertise here with BSA

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