Mobile computing refers to a host of portable technological devices that allow easy accessibility to the internet. These devices range from standard cell phones to the personal digital assistants like iPhones and Blackberries and to the notebook computers and make mobile computing an indispensable way of life for almost everyone in the world today. Notebook computers and mobile laptops can use one of two types of wireless access services when the owner is not in the office or home, with the most commonly used and the cheapest being Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi makes use of radio waves to transmit internet signals from a wireless router to the immediate environment. If the wireless network has not been encrypted, anyone would be able to access the internet. The other mode of accessing the internet is through cellular broadband, where makes use of an AirCard or a cellular modem connection to cell towers to access the internet.
Cloud computing is another service associated with mobile computing. Cloud computing refers to the access, computation, storage and access of software over the internet as a server. It involves delivery of hosted data services over the internet. The term cloud computing came up as a result of the cloud symbol often used in representing the internet through diagrams and flowcharts. Cloud computing allows accessibility by use of powerful servers and large data centers through the internet. Any person with the strong internet browser and suitable connection can access a cloud application.
Human-computer interaction, on the other hand, refers to the study of the interaction between computers and people. Such interaction mainly happens through the user interface. One of the major issues that continue to concern professional practitioners is the designing of user interfaces that will be user-friendly and affordable to all users. Consequently, the fundamental goal of human-computer interaction designers is making mobile devices more usable and friendly to the users. The designers' aim at providing the best likely interfaces within the given limitations. The designers are thus to develop and design systems that will go a long way in minimizing barriers between what people want to accomplish and the devices that understand the people or users' needs.
Use and context of mobile computers
People are increasingly using mobile devices in various fields. Mobile computing is becoming an integral part of people's everyday life. In medicine, for instance, PDAs are used in recording and maintaining the patient's information and history, and assist the doctors in the decision-making process. Schools are also using mobile devices to make the mode of study easy for the learners, for instance, through E-learning and M-learning. M-learning enables the learners to study while on the move (Huang, 2009). People have also turned to mobile devices for entertainment through watching movies, playing music and playing games. Global Positioning System is another mobile device used widely by people from all around the world. GPS can be installed on the mobile phones, watches and personal computers used to locate any place in the world.
The use of mobile banking and context in which it is used is a combination of the tasks and the environment in which the tasks will be completed. The HCI in the traditional office setting is entirely different from the HCI in the portable computing applications. There are four key elements that result in such differences. First and foremost, the task external to the portable devices are more important than the task taking place in the computer; for instance, the spreadsheet for the office worker. Secondly, the user's hands in the mobile have the ability to manipulate physical objects unlike the users in a traditional office setting where hands are ergonomically and safely placed on the keyboard. Thirdly, the traditional office setting requires high degree of visual concentration unlike in the mobile computing where one can work while moving around or when doing other things (Lumsden, 2011).
A major concern in the mobile computing relates to the amount of additional work needed by a user to accommodate IT resources to be able to fit the work context. The workers lose productivity and time when they have to configure their devices' settings and processes. Workers can solve these problems by modifying the task or by employing complementary designs for addressing specific work contexts (York and Pendharkar, 2003).
Challenges in HCI and mobile devices
Designing of user interfaces for mobile applications alludes to many human interaction challenges. These challenges from software to hardware related challenges.
Due to the limitations relating to the size and weight for mobility purposes, developing the interface for mobile applications results to many hardware as compared to other devices like desktops, phones, computers or even printers. The challenges include designing for mobility challenges, limited output challenges and limited input facilities. Designing for mobility challenges arises due to the fact that mobile devices need to be portable and simple to handle. Power facility is the major challenge in designing for mobility. Though it is possible to use these devices for a considerable amount of time without the need for power, at some point the user will have to recharge the device (Chittaro, 2003). This becomes a challenge when the user is in a place where power is not easily accessible.
Limited output facilities are the other challenge under the hardware challenges facing the mobile devices. This also arises due to the fact that mobile facilities need to be portable. For instance, large screen is one of the output devices and designing a large screen for outputting purposes would result in a trade-off for mobility.
According to Huang (2009), the limited input facilities are the third challenge under the hardware challenges facing mobile devices. There are three main input facilities available in mobile devices, and they include the keyboard, the touch screen stylus and the scroll wheel. The design of keyboards has been a challenge since mobile devices do not have enough space for keyboard installation. The use of a keyboard on the mobile devices can be hard for people with fat fingers, those with poor manual dexterity and those with difficulties in selection of tiny buttons on the mobile devices. Touch screen and stylus would be a solution for the keyboard challenges, but this would be a problem in the event that mobile devices have small screens. The scroll wheel can be a solution to the limited input challenges by allowing the user to navigate through the mobile device and also acting as a push button for specific tasks.
- Hierarchical menus challenges
Having a menu on the desktop can be quite helpful for users in finding the items they want from the computer in a fast way. With the use of the menu, someone would be able to find other items of sub-menus until the user gets the desired item or function. However, developing such hierarchies for mobile devices has not been an easy task. Attempting to design and apply such menus in mobile devices without clear understanding can result in ineffective interaction design.
- Navigating and browsing challenges
Navigating and browsing can be troublesome in HCI design for mobile applications, particularly those with small screens. Displaying information designed for large screens and requiring segmentation into small presentable units on small screened mobile devices can be a challenge. It is very difficult to organize such information on the mobile devices making it difficult for users to navigate through the information they need.
- Images and Icons Challenges
Images and icons have been recognized as important information and data visualization in traditional desktop computers. However, they are still restricted in mobile devices compared to the desktop computers. This is because mobile devices suffer from limited resources arising from their small screens. Attempting to downscale images from the regular image size into the size of a mobile device still proves to be a challenge with some devices not being able to support some sizes of the images and icons.
The aim of this paper is to explore the challenges of human-computer interaction in designing and developing applications in hardware and software for mobile devices. Mobile devices are being increasingly used by people from different experiences and backgrounds, and user interface designers are attempting to develop applications that meet the users' needs and deal with the challenges discussed (York and Pendharkar, 2003). The key design challenge is making such devices affordable and usable to different people using them in their everyday lives. Owing to the need for portability of mobile devices, there are various challenges that face interface designers since these devices have limitations of weight and size as compared to other traditional computer devices.