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Many mobile phone owners use their devices for non-urgent purposes like gaming (an addiction to Draw Something doesn’t qualify as urgent). But a huge chunk of U.S. consumers are using their cellphones and smartphones for more pressing needs — something Pew Internet Research is calling the “just-in-time” phenomenon.

A new Pew survey of more than 2,200 U.S. adults shows that 70 percent of all cellphone owners and 86 percent of smartphone owners say they’ve used their phones in the past 30 days to access immediate information, solve a problem or get help in an emergency.

The fact that cellphones and smartphones are being used as need-it-now devices really isn’t that surprising, since they put the world’s trove of information in our pockets. What’s more interesting is how those situations are categorized — something the mobile ad industry might want to pay heed to.

The majority of those surveyed — 41 percent — say they’ve used their phones for the basic task of coordinating meetings or get-togethers.

That outweighs the number of people who say they’ve used their phones to look up a restaurant (30 percent), check sports scores (23 percent) and get transit information (20 percent).

Less than one-fifth of those surveyed said they’ve used their phone in an emergency situation in the past 30 days, which is probably a good thing.

Another interesting tidbit: Despite the fact that slightly more women than men now own smartphones, as my AllThingsD colleague Ina Fried reports, men who own mobile phones are more likely than women to look up information during an argument. Some 31 percent of men admit to doing this, compared with 22 percent of women.

Could this be because women are less likely to experience memory loss? Just saying …

(Image courtesy of Flickr/Brenderous)

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This Q&A is part of a biweekly series of posts highlighting common questions encountered by technophiles and answered by users at Stack Exchange, a free, community-powered network of 80+ Q&A sites.

Alfredo O asks:

I'm in the early stages of developing an application geared toward business use, but I'm unsure whether I should develop a web-based app or a native mobile app.

Developing a separate mobile app seems to mean more maintenance—any time a change goes through online, I'll have to make sure the update carries over to the app. But I know only native apps can utilize certain features such as GPS and digital rights management, and native apps don't require an Internet connection.

Ultimately, what is the best way to go?

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sam on face dot com

Facial recognition software developer Face.com has updated its API and now claims the ability to determine the age of a face in a photograph. The company has already developed a couple of Facebook apps that tag faces in photos but hopes for wider adoption in other scenarios, with mooted use cases such as apps like Netflix gaining the ability to block content based on the person watching it. The technology will need some refining, though — CEO Gil Hirsch admitted in an interview with VentureBeat that it can only work based on how old you look, and that humans are still better than computers at ascertaining age. Indeed, Face.com's software decided that your writer was probably 19, with a "maximum" age of 23 — since I'm actually 25,...

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As this year's Game Developers Conference clearly showed, we have moved into a new era: the Age of Mobile; and there has never been a more exciting, and perhaps challenging, time to be a mobile games developer. Smartphone and tablet proliferation, in particular within the United States, has changed the gaming landscape at such a fast clip that it's difficult to stay on top of the latest trends. Gamers, who in the past may have ...

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If you're one of those people who tend to lose their phone shortly after putting it down, then you'll want to read this. According to a new study, if you lose your smartphone, you have a 50/50 chance of getting it back. But chances are much higher -- nearly 100 percent -- that whoever retrieves it will try to access your private information and apps.

According to a study by Symantec, 96 percent of people who picked up the lost phones tried to access personal or business data on the device. In 45 percent of cases, people tried to access the corporate email client on the device.

"This finding demonstrates the high risks posed by an unmanaged, lost smartphone to sensitive corporate information," according to the report. "It demonstrates the need for proper security policies and device/data management."

Symantec called the study the "Honey Stick Project." In this case the honey on a stick consisted of 50 smartphones that were intentionally left in New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Ottowa, Canada. The phones were deposited in spots that were easy to see, and where it would be plausible for someone to forget them, including food courts and public restrooms.

None of the phones had security features, like passwords, to block access. Each was loaded with dummy apps and files that contained no real information, but which had names like "Social Networking" and "Corporate Email" that made it easy for the person who found it to understand what each app did. Each phone also was loaded with programs to track what finders did with the devices, and to send that information to the researchers.

Among people who found the phones, 72 percent tried to access photos, 57 percent tried to open a file called "Saved Passwords," and 43 percent tried to open an app called "Online Banking." Most of the apps on the phones were protected by passwords, but the username and password fields were already filled out, so that users could simply press a button to access them. Well over half of the people who discovered the phones, 66 percent, clicked those buttons to try and start the programs. The fact that the finders had to click a button to access the apps indicates that their attempts were likely intentional.

"This might be considered to be an unethical access attempt," according to the study. Also disturbing, only half the people who found the phones ever tried to contact the rightful owner, even though the owner's phone number and email address were prominently listed in the phones' contact lists. "This finding highlights the fact that in many cases, regaining possession of lost device may be a losing battle," according to the study.

If this sends shivers down your spine, here are some tips for how to protect yourself:

--Always protect your phone with a password or a "draw to unlock" pattern.

--Use security software designed specifically for smartphones to lock up programs on your phone. Some of these programs can be used to help locate the phone, or to wipe its memory from remote locations.

--Don't lose your cell phone. This falls under the category of "Well, duh." Nobody loses a smartphone on purpose, obviously. But try to make sure you keep it in you pocket or purse when not in use.

--Companies that issue phones to their employees should make sure to train workers on security, and should secure every phone with passwords.

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

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Doofus writes "The Washington Post has a profile of Roger Fidler, who 'invented' the tablet computer in the 1990s, while working as a visionary for newspaper firm Knight-Ridder. He is now embroiled in the Apple/Samsung legal war, as an expert witness. Fidler admits that other prior art influenced him, such as the tablets being used as computing devices in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Prior prior art."


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nk497 writes "Canonical has revealed Ubuntu running on a smartphone — but the open source developer hasn't squashed the full desktop onto a tiny screen. Instead, the Ubuntu for Android system runs both OSes side by side, picking which to surface depending on the form factor. When a device — in the demo, it was a Motorola Atrix — is being used as a smartphone, it uses Android. When it's docked into a laptop or desktop setup, the full version of Ubuntu is used. Files, apps and other functionality such as voice calls and texting are shared between the two — for example, if a text message is sent to the phone when it's docked, the SMS pops up in Ubuntu, while calls can be received or made from the desktop." ZDnet has pictures; ExtremeTech has a story, too, including some words from Canonical CEO Jane Silber.


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In darts, hitting the bulls-eye is harder to do than hitting any other part of the dartboard. This is because the bullseye is the smallest target. This same principle can also apply to touch targets on mobile devices.

Smaller touch targets are harder for users to hit than larger ones. When you’re designing mobile interfaces, it’s best to make your targets big so that they’re easy for users to tap. But exactly how big should you make them to give the best ease of use to the majority of your users? Many mobile developers have wondered this, and most have turned to the user interface guidelines provided by the platform developer for the answer.

 Ideal Mobile Touch Target Sizes
(Image credit: ogimogi)

What the Mobile Platform Guidelines Say

Apple’s iPhone Human Interface Guidelines recommends a minimum target size of 44 pixels wide 44 pixels tall. Microsoft’s Windows Phone UI Design and Interaction Guide suggests a touch target size of 34px with a minimum touch target size of 26px. Nokia’s developer guidelines suggest that the target size should be no smaller than 1cm x 1cm square or 28 x 28 pixels.

While these guidelines give a general measurement for touch targets, they’re not consistent with each other, nor are they consistent with the actual size of the human finger. In fact, their suggested sizes are much smaller than the average finger, which can lead to touch target problems for users on mobile devices.

Small Touch Targets Lead to Big Problems

Small touch targets make users work harder because they require more accuracy to hit. Users need to reorient their finger, from finger pad to fingertip, to hit the target with clear visual feedback. Using the finger pad would cover the entire target, making it impossible for users to see the target they’re trying to hit. Users use the fingertip to hit small touch targets because it gives them the visual feedback they need to know that they’re hitting their target accurately. But when users have to reorient their finger, it slows their movement down, and forces them to work harder to hit their target.

Finger tips and finger pads

Not just that, but small touch targets can lead to touch errors. When small touch targets are grouped near each other, users can accidentally hit neighboring targets and initiate unintended actions. This is because the user’s finger overlaps on to the neighboring buttons. And if pressure is not carefully applied in the right spot, it’ll trigger the wrong action. It’s easy for users to make these errors with their index finger. But it’s even easier for them to make these errors if they use their thumb, because their thumb is much larger than the target. Sometimes users will tilt their thumb sideways and use the thin side to hit a small touch target. But this is a lot of unnecessary work.

Finger and thumb targets

Thumb use among mobile users is popular. Some users won’t always have two hands free when they’re on their mobile device. Many prefer the convenience of using only one hand and their thumb. Users shouldn’t have to switch from using one hand to two hands, or from their thumb to their index finger to hit a target accurately. And more importantly, the size of a target shouldn’t cause them to make touch errors. Small touch targets make things harder for users, where a finger-friendly target does not.

Pixel Width of the Average Index Finger

An MIT Touch Lab study of Human Fingertips to investigate the Mechanics of Tactile Sense found that the average width of the index finger is 1.6 to 2 cm (16 – 20 mm) for most adults. This converts to 45 – 57 pixels, which is wider than what most mobile guidelines suggest.

57 pixel target

A touch target that’s 45 – 57 pixels wide allows the user’s finger to fit snugly inside the target. The edges of the target are visible when the user taps it. This provides them with clear visual feedback that they’re hitting the target accurately. They’re also able to hit and move to their targets faster due to its larger size. This is consistent with Fitt’s Law, which says that the time to reach a target is longer if the target is smaller. A small target slows users down because they have to pay extra attention to hit the target accurately. A finger-sized target gives users enough room to hit it without having to worry about accuracy.

Pixel Width of the Average Thumb

There are many users who use their index finger to tap mobile targets. But there are just as many users who use their thumb as well. The big difference with the thumb is that it’s wider than the index finger. The average width of an adult thumb is 1 inch (2.5 cm), which converts to 72 pixels.

72 pixel target

For users who use their thumbs, 72 pixels does wonders. They’re easier and faster to hit because they allow the user’s thumb to fit comfortably inside the target. This makes the edges visible and easy to see from all angles. This means that users don’t have to reorient their thumb to the very tip to see it hit the target. Nor do they have to tilt their thumb to the side to hit it. One tap with their thumb pad is enough to do the trick.

A Target Size Study for One-Handed Thumb Use on Small Touchscreen Devices found that user errors declined as the target size increased. Users were able to tap the target faster without having to make intentional physical accommodations to increase accuracy such as reorienting the thumb, which would have slowed performance.

Another study on Touch Key Design for Target Selection on a Mobile Phone also found that the number of errors decreased as the touch key size increased. In addition, it was provided that the larger the touch key size, the higher the success rate and pressing convenience.

Finger-Sized is Ideal, But Not Always Practical

As many benefits there are to using finger-sized targets, they’re not always practical in every situation. On a mobile device, you’re working in a limited space. This means when you have many finger-sized targets together, they can take up more space than your screen can afford. However, when you have a few finger-sized targets together, that’s when you can fit them all on your screen without trouble. You will need to measure the size of your screen and touch targets to know exactly how big of a touch target you can afford. If you can’t afford finger-sized touch targets on your interface, use the guidelines the mobile platform gives you instead.

Finger-sized targets are much easier to apply on a tablet than a mobile device because there is more screen space available. You can use them liberally without the fear of taking up too much space and improve tablet usability instantly. However, mobile devices are where users have the most trouble hitting touch targets. And that’s where finger-sized targets are needed the most. The challenge for designers is to figure out how to make the most of finger-sized targets on the mobile screen. This might require using less touch targets than you normally would. But this is a plus because it forces designers to keep their navigation simple and minimal.

Thumb-Sized Targets for Gaming Applications

Another thing to think about is when to use a thumb-sized target over an index finger-sized one. It’s difficult to know whether most of your users will use their thumbs or index fingers on your application. However, if your application is a game, it’s likely most users will use their thumbs to play instead of their index fingers. This is why thumb-sized targets are particularly useful for gaming applications. By making your game control targets thumb-sized, users can play the game with better handling and control. They’re able to see the game control targets as they move their thumbs, and the game will feel more adaptive to them.

It is without a doubt that matching your touch target sizes to the average finger size improves mobile usability for many. Whether your application is a game or any other, touch targets are designed for users to tap. If the user has to take their attention away from using your application to the way they move, orient or arc their finger to tap a target, it degrades their experience of your application. With this new-found insight, you can create applications that are truly finger-friendly. Finger-friendly design isn’t reserved for the few. It’s a new design standard for mobile applications to follow everywhere.

(al)(fi)

© Anthony T for Smashing Magazine, 2012.

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OpenPaths usage

There are a lot of ways to collect your location, whether it's for journaling and personal reflection or for sharing with others, but it can be tricky making use of your data once it's stored behind company servers. OpenPaths lets you collect your data via iPhone or their just released Android app.

We inhabit a world where data are being collected about us on a massive scale. These data are being stored, analyzed and monetized primarily by corporations; there is limited agency for the people whom the data actually represent. We believe that people who generate data through their own day-to-day activities should have a right to keep a copy of that data. When people have access to their personal data in a useful format all kinds of new things become possible. We can become better consumers: for example, we can know whether a monthly rail pass makes sense for us, or which data-plan would be most economical for our smartphone usage. More importantly, when our personal data is readily accessible and under our control we can become active collaborators in the quest for solutions to important social problems in areas such as public health, genetics or urban planning.

You can easily view your data in the OpenPaths map interface, or download your data as CSV, JSON, or KML, and do what you want. There's also an API. Finally, if you choose to, you can contribute your data for researchers, artists, and techonlogists to create their own projects.

I just installed the mobile app. Looking forward to what happens next.

[OpenPaths]

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