Exciting developments in mobile user interfaces

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This edition of the digital design digest highlights some incredible looking technology from Microsoft that could transform mobile interfaces. It then looks into how the way people hold mobile devices affects the way we need to design for them. We then go to China to see how mobile devices are used there — it’s radically different.

Pre-touch sensing for mobile interaction — Microsoft Research

This video demonstrates some amazing work Microsoft Research has done on a smartphone that can sense when you are hovering over the screen, and when you are gripping the device hard. This appears to be a major breakthrough, and it will open up some exciting new possibilities in mobile interfaces.

We have become used to not being able to do things like hover or right-click on mobile. This new technology would re-open those possibilities in a mobile context.

I am not convinced by all of the demonstrated use cases. The ‘calm web browser’ in particular looks to me as though it would make browsing the web less easy and more annoying.

However, the anticipatory user interface, which can optimise its layout according to how your hands are positioned, hints at incredible possibilities to come in mobile interface design.

Watch the full video to see some of the user interface ideas Microsoft has explored so far with this technology.

For more on this technology see Microsoft Research’s blog post: Enhanced virtual reality among new Microsoft research advances at CHI 2016.

How to adjust controls for touch — Intel Developer Zone

Microsoft’s anticipatory user interface optimised for using with one thumb instantly brought this into my mind.

In this video, Luke Wroblewski demonstrates why mobile user interfaces need to be designed with one finger or one thumb use in mind, and how you might go about doing it.

Luke Wroblewski shares a lot of interesting insights on UX-related topics, particularly in the area of mobile usability. I highly recommend checking out his Twitter account @LukeW where he regularly posts thought-provoking stats about how people use mobile devices.

How we hold our gadgets — A List Apart

For more in-depth insight into how people hold a wider variety of devices, check out this article.

Of particular note is how the one-handed grip makes interfaces even harder to use on larger phones or phablets. That is due not only to the screen size, but also because of the device’s awkward centre of gravity:

Here’s a tricky surprise: the one-handed thumb zone is smaller for phablets than for phones. As phone size increases, the thumb zone remains roughly the same shape and position—anchored to screen bottom—until the size hits a tipping point, where the grip shifts to stabilize the phablet. In that handhold, most people slide their pinky finger under the phone to keep it in place, reducing the thumb’s range.

All of this is a reminder that responsive design needs to be about much more than simply collapsing columns at particular breakpoints. You need to rethink your interfaces carefully depending on the nature of the device and how people use it.

More Chinese mobile UI trends — Dan Grover

Sticking with mobile interfaces now, but on a very different topic. Here we take a deep dive into Chinese mobile usage.

China has its own very unique digital culture, and this seems particularly pronounced in the area of mobile. In many ways, China seems to be far more advanced and sophisticated in the way they use mobile devices.

Of particular interest to me is the way Chinese users use their mobile web browsers. These browsers have a wide variety of features that go way beyond what we typically see in major browsers in the west.

These browsers boast plenty of features above the system browser. They have bandwidth-saving and acceleration features, ad-blocking, theming, “night mode”, scanning/creation of QR codes, downloading of pages and videos for offline use, and of course tight integration with Chinese search, news, and social media sites. Many browsers also offer nice UIs for e-books, usable offline.

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