Mobile user interaction behaviors

The user’s position and context greatly influences their interaction with their mobile device.

Walking users almost exclusively use their mobile one handed. Walking mobile users are commonly finishing an activity they started before walking, and putting their phones away afterwards, or walking on with the phone in their hand, but without interacting with it. Walking mobile users usually do so while walking more slowly than usual, and pick up speed as soon as they are finished with their interaction. Walking users can also be found on the phone in conversation or looking at maps for orientation, as a help for their primary activity : reaching their destination point “B”.

Standing users alternate between one handed use or two handed.

The choice depends both on their activity and stability. A person standing in the metro using their mobile might need to hold on to something. As a matter of fact however, people who intent to use their mobile often look for a position where they can lean on something with their back or shoulder. This gives them more freedom to use both hands to interact with their phone if needed. They are more likely to use one hand for reading, one hand for holding and the other for playing and both hands for texting or typing in general.

For typing, the use of two hands is more frequent for younger users.

The are used to texting with physical keys on old mobile phones. The use of a swipe input on the keyboard is not very common, but when observed, it is rather used with an index finger. Elder people are more likely to use their index finger to interact with their smartphones, over thumbs, whatever their activity. As a result, a cradling in one hand while interacting with the other hand’s index finger is more common with this population compared to others, specially when standing.

Sitting users have more freedom and comfort. They are more likely to use their mobile in any way that is comfortable for their activity. They are more likely to cradle their phone with one or both hands even for reading, and use thumbs and index fingers to interact with the device, depending upon what the app or activity requires them to. When sitting in front of a table, users tend to put down their phone flat on the table and interact with it with either the index or middle finger. When holding their device, they rest their hand with the device on the table for more comfort.

About 10% of people are left handed, but 50% of user hold their device with each hand.

When observing mobile users, it seems at first that 50% of the users use their phone with their left hand. This is only true if you look at the hand with which they are holding their device. If you look at the hand they are interacting with the tactile screen, only 20% of users that interact with their device with their left hand. This means 10% of right handed users interact with their mobile with their left hand, increasing the need to take in account left handed usage in mobile interaction design.

When interacting with the tactile screen of a mobile phone, users use their thumbs most of the time, but not always.

When interacting with one hand for both holding and interacting, and with both hands for typing. The thumb has a limited reach. depending on the phone size, the user needs to place his hand higher on lower on the phone. the lower position is the most common, both because many phones are still small enough not to require a high position, and because a high position does not allow the user to keep a finger below the phone, increasing the risk of it falling, slipping out of the holding hand.

On larger phones however, like the Galaxy S3 for example, users tend to have both positions and alternate between them depending upon the interaction requirements. If an interaction is out of reach, the user will move the hand until it is needed i a lower area it can’t reach again. Users will tend to use two hands to fill text fields and select dates.

Simple taps on buttons like check boxes or bullet points are most liekly to be done with the thumb if each action is presented as a single line taking up the full width of the screen, or with the index finger if it is out of reach from the thumb, specially if several options are presented in a single row, for example as four square options in the upper part of the screen. Alternating interactions with thumb and index sometimes implies a change of holding position, but most of the time it does not.

Users almost never hold their device horizontally when they’re using a smartphone.

Only 3% to 5% of the time actually. They usually do so when the app or game they use forces them to, preferably when they’re sitting, and when watching videos. Texting is done most of the time with the phone in a vertical position, but sometimes horizontal positions gives more comfort since the touch keyboard is displayed with larger keys. Users don’t tend to hold their mobile horizontally for typing regardless.

Users frequently change the position in which they hold their mobile device.

They cradle their device for an average of 3 minutes. Use one thumb for an average of 2 minutes, and use both hands only for an average of 30 seconds. When cradling their device in both hands, they actually interact with it with their index finger for an average of 50 seconds only out of the 3 minutes they hold it that way.

7% of the time users actually don’t interact with their device, but do something else. For example, they check where they’re going, look around them to asses the real life situation, fetch something in their bag or just stare into their thoughts.

Users most of the time text, read or play on their mobiles

When using their mobile devices, users are likely to text 50% of the time, play mobile games 35% of the time, or read text (articles or emails) 15% of the time. These three activities are the most frequent when using their devices on the move. 3% of them also alternate between texting and reading while they wait for an answer.

When texting and playing, users remain focused on their activity and don’t change the way they hold or interact with their phone on average 30 seconds, with a maximum duration around 4 minutes. When reading though, users tend to change less often, with a maximum focus time of about 5 minutes before they change position.



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