Framing the Context of Use for Mobile HCI

Framing the Context of Use for Mobile HCI

Satu Jumisko-Pyykkö (Tampere University of Technology (TUT), Finland) and Teija Vainio (Tampere University of Technology (TUT), Finland)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0194-9.ch013
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The need to better understand the role of context has emerged after the revolution of mobile computing, as such devices are used in heterogeneous circumstances. However, it is difficult to say what context of use in mobile human-computer interaction actually means. This study summarises past research in mobile contexts of use and not only provides a deeper understanding of the characteristics associated with it, but also indicates a path for future research. This article presents an extensive and systematic literature review of more than 100 papers published in five high-quality journals and one main conference in the field of HCI during the years 2000-2007. The authors’ results show that context of use is still explored as a relatively static phenomenon in mobile HCI. Its most commonly mentioned characteristics are linked to social, physical, and technical components, while transitions between the contexts were rarely listed. Based on this review, a descriptive model of context of use for mobile HCI (CoU-HMCI) summarising five components, their subcomponents and descriptive properties is presented. The model can help both practitioners and academics to identify broadly relevant contextual factors when designing, experimenting with, and evaluating, mobile contexts of use.
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Mobile computing has emerged a specific research focus within human-computer interaction (HCI) and has gone beyond conventional desktop computing environments during the last ten years. In this change, interest in studying contexts of use has dramatically increased. Still, context of use is not the focus of interaction research, but it is something framing, surrounding and influencing the interaction between users and mobile computers. For designers, it is appealing to know the contextual characteristics that can be taken into account in effectively supporting user’s actions. For user experience researchers, it is desirable to understand the features or properties of usage context influencing an experience. For modern mobile usability practitioners, conducting experiments on the field settings, it is important to understand and report the relevant contextual conditions as a necessary part of evaluation. However, when exploring and understanding what context of use is about, researchers and practitioners face a variety of definitions, frameworks and models (e.g., Bradley & Dunlop, 2005; Cheverts et al., 2000, 2001; Dey, 2001; Dourish, 2001).

There are multiple ways to approach and categorize context of use. Understanding context is one of the main aims of ethnographical research (Dourish, 2001, 2004; O’Hara et al., 2006, 2007), whereas research into context-awareness targets the modeling of features (Cheverts et al., 2000, 2001; Dey, 2001), and usability or user-experience researchers see context of use as a part of a holistic picture of experience (see e.g., Hassenzahl & Tractinsky, 2006; Roto, 2006). Recently Bradley and Dunlop (2005) presented a prominent multidisciplinary model of context by combining theories from the fields of linguistics, computer science and psychology. According to their model, context of use is characterised by task, physical, social and temporal components of context. Furthermore, similar categorisations have been presented not only in the mobile HCI (Roto, 2006; Väänänen-Vainio-Mattila & Ruuska, 2000) and mobile work contexts (Wigelius & Väätäjä, 2009) but also in consumer studies (Belk, 1975). Besides these, technical, application or domain contexts have also been underlined as relevant factors for human-computer interaction (ISO 13407, 1999; Väänänen-Vainio-Mattila & Ruuska, 2000). While previous works provide a good base for viewing characteristics of usage context, their perspective is limited for mobile HCI.

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