Thursday, February 07, 2008

LIFT08 Workshop on Ubiquitous computing: failures and new interaction rituals

As you may already know I am taking part of a wonderful event in Geneva: the LIFT 08 conference. A series of workshops took place during the first day of the conference. I participated to twos of them and I am reporting my experience to the one organized by Nicolas NovaJulian Bleecker and Fabien Girardin on failures of UbiComp.

The format of the workshop was similar to another one I participated in Oslo at NordiCHI 2006 on Near Field Interaction. Audience was asked to write one or more examples of Ubicomp applications who failed in their expectations. Then a few groups were assembled and each group could pick and focus on one theme.

I belonged to a group that focused on the failure of eBook  Readers, namely a specialized hardware for reading digital books. I worked with very nice and insightful people such as Patrick Genoud, Michele Perras, Jean-Noel Portugal, and some other I don't remember the names.

The issues we identified as the causes of the failure of this technology were the following:

  1. Wrong Market Analysis: the expected customers of eBook readers were ordinary book readers (mainly fiction). These people had requirements on the reading experience that could not be fulfilled by the device. For instance, they required quality of the screen resolution and fonts comparable to printed text. First devices offered a very lo-fi quality (around 72 dpi) whil printed books offer at least 300 dpi resolution. Another important factor was the lack of feeling with the physical objects.  Books are not only for reading but also elements of decoration. Other factors were the dependence on electicity because of low battery life, necessity of adequate lightin conditions, lack of available digital content (~1990, the situation has changed today), small storage capacity.
  2. Low Added Value: For early adopters and people that are open to technological innovation, the added value of those devices did not meet their expectations. This was because of some factors like the lack of an open/standard format (one reader is bound to one format), the high price, etc. Moreover, the reading experience was only a downgraded version of an ordinary reading experience since it did not exploit the capability of digital content and devices such as multimedia, sharing, dynamic content, upgradability, etc.
  3. Social Aspects: Books have also a social role. When one is reading a book everybody can see which book he/she is reading by looking at the cover. This represent an important aspect of the reader's self construction. Also, the buying experience is missing. Ordinary and frequent book readers appreciate browsing bookshops and occasionally meet people who are looking for similar books. This kind of experience was completely missing with digital content.
  4. Bad Design: eBook readers were designed for technology-savy people. They required an unnecessary learning effort that was unjustified by the low-quality reading experience.
  5. Sense of Ownership: Several problems with Digital Right Management were experieced. The fact that user has no longer the ownership of the book. It is rather the device that holds ownership. This might be an issue that prevent people from buying electronic books.
We also recognized that eBook readers technology might be more mature today and have a greater impact. Notable examples are the Amazon's e-book reader and the Sony's Portable Reader System, which are both under $400. This is due essentially to the following factors:
  1. Huge availability of (relatively cheap) digital content
  2. Better battery life
  3. Larger (flash) Memories
  4. Better screens (e.g. ePaper)
  5. Multimedia capabilities
  6. Social networks integration
  7. Better acceptance and widespread digital culture
  8. Standard (and relatively interoperable) formats
  9. Previews available in online bookshops
Concluding, I believe that the discussion around this topic were higly interesting. Learning from failures is very important and I believe that this workshop meet both audience expectations and goals.
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