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On keys' meanings and modes: the impact of different key solutions on children's efficiency using a mobile phone

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The present study investigates the impact of different key solutions of mobile phones on users' effectiveness and efficiency using the devices. In the first experiment, 36 children (9 – 14 years) and in the second experiment 45 young adults (19 – 33 years) completed four common phone tasks twice consecutively on three simulated phones that had identical menus, but different key solutions. An approach was undertaken to quantify the complexity of keys in three models, incorporating different factors contributing to the keys' complexity (number of key options, number of modes and number of modes with a semantically dissimilar meaning), in order to predict users' performance decrements. As a further main factor, the degree of the users' locus of control (LOC) was measured and interactions with performance outcomes were studied. As dependent measures, the number of inefficient keystrokes, the number of tasks solved and the processing time were determined. Results showed a significant effect of control key solutions on users' efficiency and effectiveness for both children and young adults. Moreover, children's LOC values significantly interacted with performance: children with low LOC values showed the lowest performance and no learnability, especially when using keys with a high complexity. From the three factors contributing to the complexity of keys, keys exerting different functions with semantically inconsistent meanings had the worst effect on performance. It is concluded that in mobile user interface design keys with semantically inconsistent meanings should be generally avoided.

Keywords: Children; Cognitive compatibility; Key complexity; Menu navigation performance; Mobile phones; Modes; Usability

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Psychology, RWTH Aachen University, Germany

Publication date: September 1, 2006

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