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January 27, 2005

Research Talk from Patrick Baudisch

A friend of mine commented that it seemed I used my employment at Microsoft mainly as an opportunity to attend as many talks as possible, working in my real job in the interstices. Hmmm, interesting observation...actually that reminds me that today I went to see a talk by Patrick Baudisch, who works in Microsoft Research. Patrick studies methods for improving the use of non-traditional sized displayes. This includes displays that are much larger than usual, for which he thinks of things like the High-Density Cursor, and displays that are much smaller, such as pocket PCs and cell phones, which was the subject of today's talk.

Patrick made the observation that the worldwide PC market is about 300 million and growing slowly, while the worldwide cell phone market is 1.5 billion and growing quickly. Furthermore, currently these small devices are usually used as extensions of your desktop, where you invoke pre-triggered actions; you set up some web shortcuts, download your traffic map, etc. and then your wireless device is ready to use. For many users, especially in developing nations, a smart phone is their first and only computing device. It's not an extension of their main computer, it IS their main computer (Microsoft just set up a lab to study such users).

So the question of how such smart phone users will manage a website or search the Internet is a fascinating one for the future. For today, Baudisch was talking about how to help users navigate "legacy" websites (those designed for desktop displays) on a small device.

Among the ideas he talked about was Halo, a way of improving the user's ability to visualize the location of off-screen objects on maps, and Fishnet, which compresses the edges of the display while still highlighting certain terms. I asked if they had tried Halo-ing the Fishnet-highlighted terms, to which Baudisch replied, "Hadn't thought of that. Great idea!" (it is a great idea. Can I have royalties?).

Probably the coolest idea was Summary Thumbnails, which takes paragraphs of text and replaces them with compressed summaries, but also enlarges the font so it fits in the same area as before. It's cool stuff, although I think it works best on a pocket PC; making the same pages be readable on a cell phone is even more of a challenge (there was one interesting idea he alluded to; that the numeric buttons on your phone could be used as quick toggles of different areas of the screen, so the 1 button, say, could hide or reveal the leftmost column of the page -- it turns out that many many pages nowadays are designed in 3 columns, with navigation on the left, main content in the middle, and archives/advertisements on the right).

If interested, you can review all of Baudisch's work on his projects page.

Speaking of cell phones, someone left their cell phone on the chair in front of me. First another attendee and I futzed with the phone for a while, trying to figure out who it belonged to. I Googled the phone number but came up blank (besides finding the same number in various other area codes). So I put the phone in my pocket, figuring they would call it. Which they did, about 15 minutes later. But they sounded annoyed, like I had stolen their phone. Hey, was I the genius who left it on a chair?

Posted by AdamBa at January 27, 2005 10:09 PM

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