DESIGNING MOBILE COMMERCE APPLICATIONS


A usable interface to any application is critical. For example, properly designed Web sites help ensure users find what they are looking for and successfully perform online transactions. Given the uniqueness of the m-commerce environment , good interface design is especially difficult to achieve . Mobile devices are typically smaller than their desktop counterparts, have less processing power, and communicate in lowbandwidth environments. Mobile applications must be carefully designed to account for these limitations. But an even greater challenge to designing successful m-commerce applications, and their interfaces, is dealing with context. People can now conceivably be anywhere at anytime and use a mobile application, unlike the traditional (wired) Web where a physical Internet connection is required. Applications designed for a relatively stable office or home environment may not work well on a loading dock or in a moving automobile. Before mobile devices, computer applications had to consider only a fairly limited set of contextual concerns. These might include organizational culture, user characteristics (skills, education), system goals, and the working environment (lighting, noise).

account during the design process and changed slowly (if at all) after system completion. With the advent of mobile and wireless devices, context is a less predictable influence on the actual design and use of computer systems. People are using applications in environments that are relatively unstable from one moment to the next. In mobile and ubiquitous computing, the notion of context is often equated simply with location but is actually more complex. Mobile application use can vary continuously because of changing circumstances and differing user needs. A context model, depicted in the figure here, can be created using three broad categories of context: environment, participants, and activities. The “environment” category is concerned with the properties of objects in the physical environment. “Participants” includes the status of the user(s) and other participants in the environment. “Activities” covers user, participant, and environmental activities. Additionally, the model includes any interactions or relationships that may exist among participants, activities, and the environment. Table 1 summarizes several context characteristics for each category. Time is also incorporated into this model, allowing for a context history that can be used for predicting future context. This context model builds on the strengths of previously proposed models [1, 7, 8]. Several challenges (summarized in Table 2) that arise when designing mcommerce applications within the boundaries of this context model will be presented here, followed by ways to address them. How Context Affects M-Commerce Many activities compete for a user’s attention on the Web. There are services sending news stories, alerts about stock prices, and notifications of email messages. But at least with wired e-commerce, the environment outside of the Web is fairly stable from day to day. Most offices and homes function with a good amount of predictability, even if they experience a great amount of activity, and relatively consistent amounts of attention can be devoted to performing tasks on the computer. In the realm of m-commerce, conversely, there can be a significant number of additional people, objects, and activities vying for a user’s attention aside from the application itself. Furthermore, since devices are completely mobile, this outside environment can change rapidly from moment to moment. An m-commerce application may not be the focal point of the user’s current activities, as the user may be trying to juggle interaction with a mobile device along with other elements in the environment. The amount of attention a user can give to a mobile application will vary over time

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