and Infrastructure for Mobile Multimedia Applications
EPSRC GR/L64140 & GR/L64157
Alan Dix, 21/2/2002
The "Interfaces and Infrastructure for Mobile Multimedia Applications" (GR/L 6140 and GR/L 64157) project ran from the 1st July 1998 to 31st October 2001. The overall aim of the project was to investigate the development of interface and infrastructure support for advanced mobile applications. Such applications (also termed interactive mobile applications) are distributed in nature and are typically characterized by peer-to-peer and group communications, use of multimedia data and support for collaborating users. The major challenge in supporting such applications is that systems operating in mobile environments are subject to rapid and significant variations in their operational environment. These variations can include changes in both support features such as network QoS, availability of networked services and energy resources as well as higher-level aspects that may influence a systems operation (e.g. changes in location, or user context). During the lifetime of the project this has led to an explosion of interest in adaptive systems (within the infrastructure community) and context-aware applications (within the HCI community). One unique aspect of the Interfaces and Infrastructure project is that, from its very conception, we believed that adaptive and context-aware systems are really addressing the same fundamental issues and that system performance and functionality can be improved by adopting a uniform approach to the problems.
The main focus of the project was on the relationship between an advanced mobile applications user interface and its supporting infrastructure. In particular, we wanted to explore how design decisions made at the systems level affected an applications user interface and vice versa. The proposal identified the following objectives:
(i) Analyse and report on the shortcomings of existing interfaces for advanced mobile applications in association with a consideration of different infrastructure technologies.
(ii) Design and implement a new user-interface toolkit to support advanced mobile applications.
(iii) Specify the interface required between the user-interface and the underlying support technologies and develop prototype distributed systems support for this interface.
(iv) Evaluate the resulting interface and infrastructure via a number of prototype advanced mobile applications.
(v) Disseminate the results of the project, including the prototype user interface toolkit and system services, both in the UK and internationally.
As the mobile computing landscape evolved during the course of the project, it became increasingly obvious that attempting to develop and deploy a new user-interface toolkit (as specified in objective ii) was no longer a sensible use of research resources. More specifically, at the time the proposal was written we envisaged advanced mobile applications being used predominately in specific vertical application domains such as support for field engineers or emergency services personnel with high-performance laptops being the end-system of choice. However, the rapid developments in portable computing technology and wireless communications (at the time the proposal was written GSM data services were in their infancy) has led to a proliferation of rapidly evolving end-systems, operating systems and applications for both professional and consumer markets. As a result it became clear that developing a user interface toolkit for a specific combination of end-system and operating system would be unlikely to bring about significant research results: in all probability the combination would be out-of-date before the project had completed and hence we would have little chance of collecting any significant feedback from users. As a result, we decided not to develop a full user interface toolkit but instead to focus on the underlying issues that affect user interface design for mobile systems, and subsequently to develop key services that support exploration of these issues in depth. We believe that this decision contributed greatly to the success of the project and has led to a number of significant publications in international journals such as ACM TOCHI (Transactions on Computer Human Interaction) .