Using Wearables to Track and Understand Transitions Between Personal Devices

Many people today interact with multiple personal computing devices: one or more desktops, laptops, tablets, smartphones, and wearables. Each of these devices offers different capabilities and form factors. We are studying how users transition between multiple devices and choose devices to perform specific tasks. We have found that a wearable device such as a smartwatch, positioned on the user’s dominant hand, can accurately identify various input devices and modalities associated with different kinds of personal devices: keyboards v. touchscreens, mice v. trackpads, etc. In most cases identifying several input features of a particular device is sufficient to distinguish it from the users' other personal devices.

We are studying transitions between personal devices for several reasons. First, we suspect that understanding these transitions will help improve the performance and design of the many cloud services that seek to unify the computing experience across multiple devices. File sharing services like Dropbox, for example, may aggressively synchronize state between multiple devices even if they are not used concurrently by the user. In this case, bandwidth and energy savings may result from delaying the updates until it is likely that the user will begin to use the device that updates are being sent to.

Second, we are interested in determining how users choose the right device for various computing tasks. Anecdotal evidence indicates that choices between devices are complicated and interesting. For example, multiple users have reported to us that they like to check email on their smartphone even if other devices are available. Because it is more difficult to write length replies on a touchscreen keyboard, this helps them limit unnecessary responses to emails that are not time sensitive. Eventually we would like to add app usage information to our device tracking dataset to help identify these kinds of behaviors.

Finally, we anticipate ever closer integration between multiple personal devices in the future, eventually forming what we refer to as a personal cloud computer. The goal of these systems will be to enable seamless transfer of attention where users can transition tasks from one device to another without any of the friction that accompanies those transitions today. For example, a user should be able to seamlessly take a photo on their smartphone, edit it on their laptop, and then use it to start a email back on their smartphone. We expect that tighter integration between multiple personal devices will require new operating system services and techniques.

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Created 7/10/2016
Updated 7/10/2016
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