Integration of Natural User interfaces for illiterate users
This chapter has illustrated the results of the research. Using quantitative research methods, the researcher established the depth of use of mobile devices among literate and illiterate users. Results obtained from the study highlight a number of concepts. Mobile device users majorly fall in the 16-55 age groups. Though most of the users know how to read and write, those without any academic qualification equals those with degree/certificate qualifications. Most holders of mobile devices did not report any difficulty in using them while those without the gadgets cite lack of knowledge to using them as the major detriment. Though illiterate users do not know how to read and write, complicated interfaces account mostly for their lack of use. It is accepted from the research that a person’s literacy starts from the younger age of 7-9 years. The capacity to develop it decreases as the person gets older. Also, the research found that 60% of the respondent’s belief that mobile devices cannot improve their literacy levels whiles a paltry 20% belief the contrary. The design of the mobile interface is the prime determinant of its utilization among literate and illiterate users. In the next chapter, we shall analyze these results to derive sufficient explanations of why some user’s belief those mobile devices can enhance their literacy while the majority do not.
ANALYSIS OF EXPERIMENTAL RESULTS
Designing mobile phones for illiterate users has to do with deriving the same benefits from mobile phones as literate users. When we talk about the same benefits, we mean other functions other than the ordinary and limited functions such as receiving and answering phone calls. Of course, illiterate users use mobile phones, but their use is not the same as literate users who can utilize it as phonebook, create a shopping list, keep and remember appointments, send textual and graphic messages among others. Designing for illiterate users means opening up an increased of these functionalities to them. Telecommunication experts predict a surge in mobile phone usage, in developing countries. There is also a prediction of doubling of mobile phones on global contexts from the current 4.5 billion to over 8 billion in a few years. The growth is particularly expected to originate from developing countries, where the amount of mobile penetration is rapidly on the rise. Many of the expected new users will be illiterate people in need of customized devices to help them fully.
There are approaches towards making technology for the illiterate. Taking advantage of oral guidance from the users/instructors or pre-recorded materials, using graphics instead of texts or developing mobile phones exclusively for illiterate users. There are challenges to both of these methods. The approach cannot be used in noisy places, and there are restrictions in the form of language barriers. Finally, the instructor cannot be following the user every time to issue instructions. Therefore, the new breed of mobile devices must be intuitive so that users can pick it up and immediately understand how to use. Using text free interfaces is an approach that key studies have found to be viable.
Back to the results, 90% of the respondents from the study who responded that they do not possess a mobile phone did so because they lacked basic skills to work with it. With a 66% mobile penetration, South African has more access to mobile phones than to TV and radio. Currently, majority of mobile phones are feature phones though smart phones are penetrating more easily due to cheaper prizes. Lack of basic skills is directly linked to illiteracy in South Africa.
This result can be explained as follows: Majority of the adults falls in the age group 16-55 and their daily activities revolve around communication. For those with mobile devices, the question as to how easy they can use the device classifies users into the highly literate, medium and low literate. From the study, a small proportion of those with mobile devices have difficulties in using it. The small proportion might represent the elder generation who are new to computers and technology and are mandated to use them because of the nature of their works. Most of the respondents are literate with the ability to manipulate the phone to achieve a number of operations. Of those without mobile devices, the prime reason for lack of it is lack of skills (probably due to lack of formal education) and hence found it too difficult to work with the devices. Users found it complex to manipulate the devices due to complicated user interfaces.
Most of the users are of the opinion that a person is literate from the age of 7-9 with the probability of literacy decreasing rapidly as the person gets to the age of 16 and above. This indicates that a person over the age of 16 and with no basic reading and writing skills will most probably remain so for the rest of their lives. Respondents are of the opinion that such persons cannot gain reading and writing skills and, as such, cannot benefit from mobile devices. Of more concern is the fact that 60% of the population think that mobile devices cannot improve the literacy of its users. On the other hand, 19% and 21% believe that they can or may improve their literacy consecutively. This can be attributed to the fact that, at the time of asking this question, respondents had not been exposed to the different kinds of user interfaces. Some of the different interfaces include simple, moderate, and complex in that order to help them make their judgements. When respondents were exposed to the different user interfaces, they had a different opinion concerning their complexity and consequently their ability to learn. User interfaces showed to the respondents are in appendix C question 8 for simple, 9 for moderate and 10 for difficult. For a simple UI, respondents recognized it and responded to that effect. A simple user interface has minimal icons with representative images arranged in an uncomplicated, and compact manner. A moderate interface has more icons compared to the simple interface. The simple interface is arranged in a compact manner with caption names. A complex user interface has no icons but is represented in drop-down menus of texts leading to functions or sub-interfaces.
The interface of a mobile device determines the level of ease/difficulty of the user in interacting with it. Users rate mobile device interfaces from easy to difficult based on their ability to interact with it. An interface with minimal icons is conceived by the human mind as easy while that with numerous icons displayed in a disarranged manner is conceived as the most difficult. Interfaces with icons arranged according to their functionality are considered moderately difficult because they present a different and moderate approach for the user to reach a certain function.
Mobile phones have become an crucial aspect of human life, and it is as much a status symbol for the illiterates in developing countries as developed countries. A case in point relevant to this discussion is the Motofone F3 project undertaken by Motorola. Motofone F3, a cheap and simple device developed for the illiterate that provides audio feedback for its functions from power on throughout its small menu failed to inspire the illiterates as much as anticipated. The device was characterised by an e-ink screen that allows it to be read in bright sunlight as well as a phenomenal battery. According to unpublished reports from Motorola, the company has underestimated the aspirational aspects of the device owing to its poor performance. Given that many people use mobile devices as an extension to their daily lives, there are reasons against the development of mobile devices specifically customized for the illiterate. One of the reasons is that the illiterate do not want to be seen with cheap devices just because of their illiteracy. With this, an indication to learn and two, custom made phones made specifically for the illiterate would create stigmatization that will not be readily accepted in the society.
This brings us to the question of the research: Will natural user interfaces help illiterate people to become literate in South Africa? Chipcase (2009) argues against the creation of unique phones for illiterate users because of associated stigma. According to the author, better mechanisms could be applied to develop natural user interfaces that would benefit the illiterate also. One such approach is the use of text-based and audio-based interfaces. Text-free interfaces could eliminate a person’s illiteracy as mobile phone user interface is often visible to others. The same can be achieved from constant audio feedbacks such as those provided through current accessibility tools in iPhones and talkback, in Android.
Research results indicate that users who do not have any academic qualification hence illiterate did not have mobile devices. The main reason they cite for their lack of has to do with their use. Because they can not read or write, user interfaces are exceedingly complicated for them. Texts make user interfaces complicated and difficult to use. As depicted in the Figure 18 on the previous chapter, high complex interfaces are difficult to use due to their table formats, which show only words and no icons or pictures for users to predict their functions. Users without any basic education will find it extremely difficult or impossible to use. This is because they cannot comprehend what is contained in the interface. Also, they can not know their position at a time. With each word that is on the interface of a complex UI, there are more words for functions or sub-interfaces linking further inside. Illiterate users have problems following on this as they will not go for long before they get stranded.
Illiterates use techniques such as spatial arrangements, shapes, colours, handwriting and doodles to manage information. If these features are not available in mobile devices, illiterates have no chance of using them. Pictures in address books are an exception but are not always available for contacts and worse, it cannot be searched or filtered in large lists. Contacts in the address book, as an example, are saved in the form of numbers and words and graphics. Sometimes, contacts are saved under the same name in a number of times causing duplication and confusion. Using icons (just as many mobile devices has adopted) to represent meaning is widely accepted among the illiterates because it is easy to learn their meaning and memorize. Usually, names are used along with images in saving contacts. Contacts saved in this kind can be identified in two ways; either by reading their names or by recognising images with which they are saved. By using names, the retrieval of the contacts is rendered difficult. Illiterate users who can successfully navigate to contacts list and scroll around find their preferred contacts. They achieve this by recognizing images even if they do not know how to read. However, prior to getting to the contacts list, they must understand the meaning of texts name used to differentiate contact icons from other applications. This is where difficulty and complexity set. Their inability to read implies that they cannot navigate to the contacts list in the first place. Even if they can successfully recognize the contacts they have saved in their devices through images, accessing the contacts list proves a challenge. This proves the assertion that people find basic user interfaces easy to use in spite their illiteracy but experiences difficulties when they have to read. Interfaces become unnatural when users have to read and understand captions for them to make the next step.
Pictures and icons are interpreted more easily by illiterate users more than text. Since pictures and icons are easy to memorize, they provide a platform for learning than texts. After being shown how to access a certain application such as the picture menu, for instance, the user easily memorizes the steps - “click the menu icon, scroll two steps downwards and click”. This kind of memorization is easy and less taxing for learning, and in case the illiterate user accidentally makes a wrong move, they need to struggle to locate where they are in the UI but rather cancel the whole process and make a fresh start. This explanation reinforces results from the research pointing out the fact that 40% of the users belief that mobile devices can improve the literacy of illiterate users. Initially, respondents had shown negative feedback concerning mobile user interfaces and how it can help them become literate. Although this is the case, when users sampled the different user interfaces including the simplest of them all, the assertion becomes that natural user interfaces can be used to make users illiterate is justified.
The design of natural user interfaces for illiterate people is a considerable challenge. Achieving a natural user interface is self-restricting and complicating. In one, hand, the use of non –text interaction is termed as the solution, but on the other, there are numerous social and cultural issues that impede the use of graphic-based interactions. For instance, non-text interaction allows users to accomplish much of the activities without thinking about the interface. This is a positive move in eliminating the impediments associated with lack of knowledge for reading and writing. Traditionally, text-based interactions are termed tedious because they tax the user’s memory by not making state information readily available on the interface and by forcing the user to try to recall how the interface performs complex operations. In order to steer away from text-based dependencies, application interfaces such as those in figure 13 and 14 have been developed. These applications are not complex, and in fact, most illiterate users can use them. They present information in a simple and systematic manner that does not confuse the user. The steps are easy to memorize though they are not purely natural. According to Chipcase (2009) illiterate users who are exposed to simple interfaces develop skills over time to enable them derive the best out of their devices. Figure 18 illustrates the use of icons captions to represent photography menu. An illiterate person who cannot read will struggle to find the photo section on the mobile phone. However, the same person can understand and open photography icon when they were represented in a graphical form. If photography icon has the image of one of the pictures saved by the user, it would be simple to recognize it and open it.
A solution to this problem is the use of meaningful and appropriate images for the interface that are acceptable across all cultures. However, this proves a challenge as different cultures interpret different images in diverse ways and even the most innocuous differences in an image can result to dominant cultural confusion. South Africa has eleven official languages and a high level of illiteracy; thus interpretation of icons used to represent applications for mobile interfaces can polarize the users instead of solving their problems. In one, research, a Zulu-speaking respondent interpreted a no-smoking sign as a directive to “only smoke half a cigarette”. With this aspect, there is the disparity in giving a standardized meaning to icons used for mobile applications. For this reason, a natural user interface for illiterate users is a serious challenge that developers have not been able to surpass.
Natural user interfaces can also be achieved in mobile devices through the use of audio. Everyday exposure to texts in conjunction with audio in the same language subtitles improve illiterates reading and writing skills. Illiterates according to Findlater et al (2012) benefited from a combination of audio and text and developed superior word count after using it for a while.
The current reliance of text as the main method of accessing and storing data on mobile devices is not favourable for learning of illiterates. Learning texts is cumbersome and impossible for some groups of users. Research has found that the literacy of a person starts at between 7-9 years and continues. Persons past some age limit usually 18 years experience insurmountable difficulties in learning reading and writing texts. However, learning can be simplified if graphics and audio are employed in the design of natural user interfaces. Therefore, designing for illiterate persons should take advantage of multi-channels to create strong and agile interactions in the social-technical context in which they can learn and better utilize mobile devices.
The results from this study form the foundation for initiation of other research works. With the other research work, media and graphics are explored to, effectively, determine how they can be utilized in natural user interface. Constraints such as cultural disparities in the interpretation of meaning of images, effectiveness of audio in augmenting the speech interface, privacy of audio in respect to the user and noise have been raised. For instance, how can icon-based and audio-based interfaces are designed to meet the needs of illiterate users? This research opens an exploration avenue for correcting these limitations and delivering mobile solutions to illiterate users.
In conclusion, this paper has satisfactorily explored the results of the study. In essence, it found that most respondents who do not have mobile devices cite difficulty in use as a reason for their lack. Mobile user interfaces are classified as simple, moderate and complex and most users associated with simple interfaces.
Chipchase, J 2009, Understanding non-literacy as a barrier to mobile communication, Retrieved from research.nokia.com: http://research.nokia.com/bluesky/nonliteracy-001-2005/index.html