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Category: Phones

Finally, a revolution in user interfaces: move BEYOND the keyboard for numeric input! You can easily type numbers on your phone using this one never-before-seen UI / UX paradigm. Free yourself from the tyranny of the keyboard!

When using a computer, phone, or tablet, it is occasionally the case that a user must type in numbers.

Typing numbers on a computer with a 12-digit physical numeric keypad is fast and easy (Figure 1). Unfortunately, laptops frequently no longer have these hardware keypads, and smartphones and tablets never did.

The issue:

The “soft” keypad on most phones provides no tactile feedback and is often a completely separate part of the onscreen keyboard interface (i.e. you may end up in a completely different “numeric input” mode instead of the standard alphabetical layout you are familiar with).

This may lead to the user inputting incorrect numbers or, at minimum, taking longer than is necessary to input their data.

 

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Fig. 1: The numeric keypad (A.K.A. “numpad”) shown on this smartphone is not easy to interact with. It would be easy to input the wrong number and have your pizza delivered to the wrong house (or some similar calamity).

Proposal:

Fortunately, modern smartphones and tablets have a number of additional sensors that we can repurpose for fast and unambiguous numeric input.

Below: see Proposal T (“Tilt sensor”) in Figure 2 and Proposal M (“Magnetic compass”) in Figure 3.

 

 

 

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Fig. 2: Proposal T (“Tilt sensor”): in order to input a number, the user simply tilts their phone to a specific angle and holds it there for, say, one second. The value entered is the number of degrees the user tilted the phone (from –90º to +90º). For single-digit inputs, we could make the process simpler and map the range from –45º to +45º to 0 to 9, as shown above.

 

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Fig. 3: Proposal M (“Magnetic compass”): here, the phone’s magnetic compass is used in order to determine the user’s compass orientation (a number between 0 and 359). The user simply physically rotates themselves (and their phone) to point in the direction of the desired numeric input. In the example above, we have divided the orientation value by 10 in order to reduce the degree of precision demanded from the user (as shown on the left side, an orientation of 270º results in the input “27,” as would 271º, 272º, etc…).

Additional Input Methods:

There are alternative input methods that may also be useful for numeric input. For example, to input the number N, the user could:

  1. Raise their phone N inches into the air
  2. Quickly cover up their phone’s camera N times
  3. Shriek at their phone at (50 + 5*N) decibels. This would be faster than relying on normal voice input, since it would not require complicated machine learning techniques to process.

There may be additional yet-undiscovered methods as well!

PROS: Frees users from the technological dead-end of the hardware keyboard. Finally, innovation in the user input space!

CONS: None.

Follow the cruel and unyielding demands of your phone in order to stay fit on a custom jogging route! Bonus feature: allows the user to participate in the “sharing economy.”

Background:

It’s easy to live a sedentary life in today’s world of modern conveniences.

The issue:

Unfortunately, this is not ideal. While there are already apps that remind you to periodically stretch or walk around, people tend to just dismiss the notifications if they’re busy.

What is needed is an app that has “teeth” and can motivate people to really get some exercise.

Proposal:

The idea is that the phone would hold your ability to respond to text messages “hostage” until you walked around to its liking (Figure 1).

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Fig. 1: In this case, the orange “BLOCKED” text message will not be displayed until the phone’s owner has done the phone’s bidding.

This kind of phone-enforced demand could be as simple as a requirement to hold the phone in a specific way (to show that you’re standing up / stretching / whatever), or as complicated as a multiple-waypoints jogging route (Figure 2) that the phone requires you do go visit (thanks to the GPS, this would be difficult to fool).

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Fig. 2: In this case, the phone requires that the user go visit waypoints 1 and 2 before it will deign to show text messages again.

The blocked services on the phone could also include other apps, such as the web browser / videos / podcasts, and more.

Conclusion:

If the phone can require the user to walk to various places, perhaps this could also be part of the “sharing” economy: the phone could refuse to unlock until the user performs some commercially-valuable action, such as;

  • Delivering groceries from a store to a nearby neighbor
  • Walking someone’s dog on a specific route.
  • Going door-to-door on a route in support of a political candidate or religion of the phone’s choosing.

If humans are going to be ruled over by cruel machines in the future, this would be a good way to ease into it.

PROS: Allows a phone owner to get exercise and stay fit.

CONS: May cause the future from Terminator 2 to occur.

Don’t let a modern user interface coddle you with easy-to-identify-buttons—demand a confusing and unlabeled mystery zone of wonders!

Background:

It is often recommended that pet owners buy “challenging” toys to keep their pets mentally stimulated in a world where the owners take care of all the pet’s needs.

Although an owner could simply put a dog biscuit in a bowl, it would be more exciting for the dog if the biscuit were inside a difficult-to-open ball that required the dog to work to figure it out.

The issue:

Similarly, modern automation has removed many elements of daily life that were once mentally challenging. For example, turn-by-turn directions make it theoretically possible for a person to go through life without ever learning how to read a map.

Proposed idea, which has already been implemented:

A long time ago, any user interface elements on a computer were clearly marked: a button would have a thick border around it, a link would be underlined in blue, etc.

Unfortunately, this sort of coddling may cause the human species to become helpless and incapable.

What is needed is an unforgiving type of interface that does not clearly label elements that accept user input: this will force humans to become better at remembering things.

A case study is available in Figure 1. Can you figure out what is, and is not, an interactable UI element?

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Fig. 1: In order to prevent the user’s brain from atrophying due to lack of use, Google has developed a settings screen for Android that has no visual indication of what is and is not a button. Try puzzling through it yourself: can you guess what tapping on each element would do? Answers in Figure 2. This screenshot is from Android 9, but the situation is identical in Android 10 (2019).

 

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Fig. 2: Answers: BLUE is a normal app button and GREEN is a user-interface-related button. The two red rectangles indicate “buttons” that highlight when clicked, but do nothing otherwise (it is theoretically possible that they do something on other phones).

Google shouldn’t get all there credit here, though: the idea of making a complex swiping-puzzle-based interface was arguably pioneered by Apple. If you don’t believe it, find someone with an iPad and ask them to activate the multiple-apps-on-the-same-screen mode: you’ll be amazed by the quality and difficulty of this puzzle!

Conclusion:

With the addition of unlabeled user interface elements and a huge array of “swipe” gestures, modern phones—both iPhones and Android phones—are adding a new category of exciting brain-challenging puzzles to everyday life.

PROS: It is theoretically possible that a user who plays these memory games with their phone will become better at crucial memorization and concentration-based tasks (although there is zero evidence of this, but it seems intuitively appealing, which is good enough here).

CONS: None!

“Potemkin Maps”: Impress foreign dignitaries and out-of-town investors by following a GPS map route through a misleadingly-nice part of your city!

Background:

Phone map apps often have a few optional settings for a route, such as:

  • Avoid highways (for driving)
  • Fewer bus transfers (for public transit)
  • Avoid hills (for walking)

The issue:

Sometimes, you want drive on the most scenic route from point A to point B, without too much concern about efficiency.

For example, you might want to impress an out-of-town guest, or hide the seedier parts of a city from a visiting foreign dignitary or investor.

Proposal:

The “scenic route” to a destination attempts to route you through the highest-economic-value areas that it can find.

This method, called the “Potemkin Route” after the 1787 idea of the same name, uses the following data:

  • Tax records (to find the highest property values)
  • The police blotter (to avoid areas of high crime)
  • Elevation maps (to look for scenic views)

Then, it routes you to the optimum area to show off the most appealing areas of the region near your route (user interface mockup in Figure 1).

 

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Fig. 1: If you select both [AVOID HIGHWAYS] and [AVOID LOW PROPERTY VALUES], as the user has in this example, your route might be substantially longer.

Conclusion:

You could use this route yourself, even if you aren’t trying to impress a foreign dignitary.

PROS: Allows you to ignore the problems of your city.

CONS: Allows you to ignore the problems of your city.

Improve your cell phone reception AND easily use your cell phone even in bright light with this new incredible fashion accessory: the cell phone cowl!

The issue:

Using a cell phone outdoors can present two main problems, as shown in Figure 1. Specifically, you may be far from a tower (and thus, get poor reception) and the harsh light of the noon sun may make it very difficult to read the text on your phone, especially with the recently-popularized “dark mode” user interface themes.

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Fig. 1: A) This cell phone is far from a tower, so it gets bad reception (and the battery drains faster). B) the harsh glare of the sun makes it hard to read the screen. Pros and cons of the sun: PRO: allows life to exist on Earth. CON: makes it hard to read Internet comments.

Proposal:

This new fashion accessory, the “Cell Phone Cowl” (Figure 2, A.K.A. “cell phone hood,” or “cell phone wimple”), allows the outdoor phone user to always have a shaded area for using their cell phone.

Additionally, the hood can have a built-in antenna (shown here as an external antenna, although it would probably be possible to run the antenna along the perimeter of the fabric instead). This will allow for better reception even in such remote and cell-phone-inhospitable locations as Downtown San Francisco.

 

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Fig. 2: C) The external antenna (plugged into the cell phone by an old-style phone cable) allows this cell phone user to get 5 bars of reception, despite their remote location. D) The hood / cowl provides shade, allowing the user to read Internet posts while cowering from the harsh light of the sun.

Conclusion:

You should pre-order your cell phone cowl before the waitlist gets too long!

PROS: Brings fashion and technology together at last in a way not seen since the incredible future predicted in “R.U. a Cyberpunk?” (1994 image from Mondo 2000).

CONS: An external antenna might hit door frames if you forget to collapse it before going inside, but an internal antenna would make it difficult to machine-wash the cowl. The horrible price of progress!

Stop going insane with rage and madness when your phone buzzes twice in a short period of time! Finally, this one user interface tip that will sooth the savage and inhuman beast called MAN.

Background:

When you receive a message on a phone, usually the phone vibrates or makes an alert sound.

The issue:

If someone sends several short messages in a row (e.g. “Here is the restaurant:” “(link to restaurant address)” “We’ll be there at 7 pm.”) or if a conversation has several participants, your phone will be constantly buzzing at random times.

This can be annoying (Figure 1).

The current “solution” to this is totally inadequate: you need to manually set the phone to “Do Not Disturb” for some amount of time. This requires manually futzing with the phone and must be done every single time. Additionally, Do Not Disturb is typically optimized for ease of setting in hour-long increments, but it’s very likely that the burst of messaging activity will only last for a few minutes. In that scenario, you’d still be missing new messages 55 minutes later.

 

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Fig. 1: This conversation has 8 participants, so the phone is constantly buzzing with texting activity.

Proposal:

Instead of notifying the user every time a new messages comes in, the phone could mute further notifications (from the same app) until certain conditions were met.

This “rate limiting” step would mute incoming messages unless one or more of the following was true:

  • A certain amount of time has elapsed (e.g., no more than one notification per conversation thread in a 5-minute period).
  • The user checks the phone (indicating that they are at least somewhat engaged in the messaging process).
  • The user replies to a message.

This way, if you’re driving or in a situation where you don’t want to check your phone, it won’t be constantly demanding your attention (Figure 2, right).

 

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Fig. 2: Left: the current situation. Right: the “solved” situation where each communication app is rate-limited.

Conclusion:

It is surprising that this is not a currently available default option (maybe it is, somewhere!).

The developers who would have added this feature have probably been reassigned to implement increasingly-specific Emoji instead (presumably “blue lobster wearing a party hat” is coming soon).

PROS: Prevents you from being distracted by your phone while you’re in a meeting / in class / at a wedding / etc.

CONS: Implementing this feature would require reassigning highly skilled programmers who are currently working on cutting-edge features like “be a talking ‘pile of poo’ Emoji.”

P.S. For more terrible phone-messaging-related ideas, check https://worstplans.com/tag/text-messaging/.

Stop impulsively using your cell phone, thanks to this one amazing deterrent that is also GUARANTEED to make you way smarter and well-educated! Guarantee void.

Background:

People are often glued to their cell phones at all times, thanks primarily to the ease of finding an amusing distraction on the Internet.

The issue:

There have been various proposals to mitigate the scourge of “phone addiction,” for example, setting your phone screen to black-and-white / grayscale in order to reduce its appeal (https://www.google.com/search?q=set+phone+to+black+and+white).

However, no proposal currently tackles the problem by making the phone-unlock process a mentally-taxing exercise.

Proposal:

In order to unlock your phone, you have to solve some sort of vaguely challenging puzzle, or perhaps learn a new fact about the world.

For example, to unlock your phone:

  • You must win or tie a game of Tic-Tac-Toe (Figure 1). Your AI opponent could just make moves randomly, so that it isn’t always a tie.
  • You must win a game of Go against the phone. This could take substantially longer than the Tic-Tac-Toe example; perhaps decades or more.

 

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Fig. 1: Perhaps you would need to win some sort of strategy game in order to unlock your phone. Other candidates include chess, checkers, and other popular board games. Since the computer will almost always be better than a player at these games, it could start with a handicap (e.g. no queen in chess).

An alternative approach would be to attempt to educate the phone user in some way (Figures 2 and 3).

 

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Fig. 2: High school or college students who are studying for standardized tests could replace their unlock screen with a practice test question. This phone’s owner will undoubtedly become very familiar with the format of the “analogies” section used in some standardized tests.

 

 

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Fig. 3: You’d definitely read a lot more classic literature if you HAD to in order to unlock your phone. Even War and Peace (shown here) would fly by in no time!

Alternative proposal that would help you maintain social connections:

Instead of requiring you to solve a puzzle, the phone could require you to send a message to a friend you haven’t talked to in a while, or call someone on their birthday. This synergizes well with the amazing not-yet-real app Friend Neglectr.

PROS: Combats phone addition AND enriches your life at the same time.

CONS: People would probably try to unlock their phones while driving, and having to read an entire chapter from “War and Peace” on a 5-inch screen would probably greatly increase the risk of a catastrophic car accident.