Communicating in Wales:
design and architecture for mobile applications over poor connectivity

Alan Dix

HCI Centre, University of Birmingham, UK

Keynote at Internet Technologies & Applications (ITA17), Wrexham, North Wales, UK, 14th Sept 2017

I In 1994 I wrote the first journal paper on mobile systems from a HCI perspective;  the focus of that paper was connectivity rather than screen-size.  Twenty years on, in 2013 I walked the complete periphery of Wales, over one thousand miles: up Offa's Dyke (calling in Wrexham Glyndwr University en route), and then all around the coast.  Amongst other outcomes of this journey was a lived experience of the paucity of mobile and internet access 'at the margins' – the problem has not gone away.  However, you do not have to travel into the rural extremes to experience poor connectivity: business hotel WiFi often saturates and even for those living in cities mobile coverage drops once you travel by train, or even in urban 'not-spots'.  Furthermore, many in rented accommodation rely solely on mobile internet.

This would be bad enough for those affected, but many applications fail in avoidable ways when connectivity is poor or intermittent.  For example, the Twitter API wraps every 140 character tweet into 5-10K of JSON or XML and many mobile Twitter apps download 50 items of the feed before allowing interaction; that is a quarter to half of a megabyte – impossible in areas of poor connectivity. 

This talk presented ways to design both the user experience and the underlying application, data and networking infrastructure to cope with poor or intermittent connectivity.

This is important from a business perspective if you want applications that work anywhere for anyone, but perhaps more critically from a social perspective.  Those at the social, physical and economic margins will, for the foreseeable future, have less effective connectivity than those who are more privileged, if we are to shrink rather than grow the digital divide, we must truly seek to design for all.

Communicating in Wales: design and architecture for mobile applications over poor connectivity from Alan Dix







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