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Subject: Fw: Article: Audio Menus for iPods

Fw: Article: Audio Menus for iPods

From: Rocker <rocker_at_shaw.ca>
Date: Mon, 14 May 2007 20:51:00 -0600

Looks like someone's attempting to accomplish what Rockbox has done for
quite some time now.

Go Rockbox!

Technology Review
Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Audio Menus for iPods

By Kate Greene

Download an MP3 version of this story
http://www.audiodizer.com/technologyreview/infotech/download.aspx?id=18

703 Researchers are testing ways to let people listen to gadget menu
options
instead of looking at them.

Clicking through the menu on your iPod demands a significant
amount of
visual attention, which can be a hassle (while jogging) and even
dangerous
(while driving). But engineers at the University of Toronto and
Microsoft
Research are working on software that could make it possible to
navigate
the menus of gadgets that use circular touch pads, like the iPod,
without
looking at them--only audio cues would be used.

The researchers have designed an auditory menu technique--called
earPod--that provides audio feedback when a person drags his or
her finger
around the touch pad. Although it's not ready to replace the
expansive
menus on real iPods, the results are encouraging, says Patrick
Baudisch, a
research scientist at Microsoft Research, in Seattle, who worked
on the
project.

LINK:
http://www.patrickbaudisch.com/

Within 30 minutes of beginning to use the technology, people can
navigate
two levels of earPod menus faster than traditional visual menus,
and just
as accurately.

"Requiring constant visual attention while using a PC is
reasonable,"
says
Baudisch, "but if you're using an iPod on the road, [constant
visual
attention] is unreasonable." In addition to giving people back
their eyes,
he says, audio menus could help gadgets save battery life by not
wasting
energy on a screen, and they could add functions to the
screen-free
devices such as the iPod shuffle.

The idea of using audio menus isn't new. Auditory interfaces can,
after
all, be found in touch-tone phone menus and in various assisted
technologies for seeing-impaired users. But historically, handheld

consumer gadgets haven't widely used audio menus. There are a few
reasons
for this, says Bruce Walker, professor in the school of psychology
and
college of computing at Georgia Institute of Technology.

LINK:
http://sonify.psych.gatech.edu/~walkerb/

One reason, he says, is that audio hardware and software have
been
resource intensive, requiring significant amounts of computation
and
energy. In addition, audio software has been difficult to
program.

But computing power is becoming cheaper, and there is an
increasing
need
to find different ways to interact with handheld devices, says
Walker.
Within the past 10 years, he says, the ubiquity of mobile devices
with
small displays "has made us all visually impaired." Currently
there are
only a handful of researchers who are systematically looking at
ways to
make better audio interfaces for various devices, but Walker
expects the
ranks to grow in the coming years.

This first earPod prototype has a two-level menu hierarchy with 8
items
per category, for a total of 64 items. To test how well people use
the
system, the researchers assigned to the first menu level a random

assortment of categories: "clothing," "fish," "instrument,"
"color," and
four others. The next level contained eight examples of these
items. The
iPod analogy would be found in the opening menu, which includes
"music,"
"extras," "settings," and then lower menus that include
"playlists,"
"artists," and "albums," for instance. The earPod approach could
be
extended to read off a limited number of names of artists and
songs as
well.

EarPod was designed specifically for gadgets with circular touch
pads,
says Baudisch. The circular touch pad is evenly divided into eight

sectors: it's cut like pieces of a pie, with each menu item
associated
with each piece. When a person touches the dial of an
earPod-equipped
gadget, the audio menu responds with a prerecorded human voice. If
a
person puts his or her finger at 12 o'clock on the touch pad, the
voice
might say "Color," indicating that the finger is on the color
sector. When
the finger crosses one of these invisible sector lines, the user
hears a
clicking sound. As a finger moves, a new menu item is announced.
To select
an item and go to the next menu level, the user lifts his or her
finger
and hears a "camera-shutter" sound, which indicates that an item
has been
chosen.

Because the touch pad is divided into portions, says Baudisch,
people
can
easily learn where menu items are and quickly jump to certain
items
without having to scroll through a list, as with an iPod. Another
feature
of earPod, he says, is that a user doesn't need to wait until a
menu item
is read before moving on to another. When a finger moves to a new
sector,
the audio is interrupted and the new item is announced.

In the earPod usability study, conducted by Shengdong Zhao, a
doctoral
student at the University of Toronto, and project lead, the
researchers
found that people who had no experience using either an iPod or an

earPod-equipped device used the devices with equal accuracy.
EarPod was
92.1 percent accurate, while the visual system was 93.9 percent
accurate,
but the difference was not statistically significant. It took
people
longer to grow accustomed to earPod, but with experience, users'
performance on the audio menu became faster. After 30 minutes of
training
on both devices, subjects could navigate two levels of menu with
earPod in
2.1 seconds as opposed to 2.5 seconds with the visual menu.

Georgia Tech's Walker is impressed with the earPod approach and
results.
"My overall impression is that this is great ... It was
inevitable: trying
to look at how to take an interface that is purely visual on the
iPod and
turn it into an interface that's purely auditory, because, after
all, the
iPod's an auditory device. Why should a person have to pull their
player
out while they're jogging to look at it?"

Currently, however, earPod could not be a complete replacement for
an
iPod
menu, Walker notes. One reason is that earPod doesn't lend itself
to menu
flexibility. Once a person learns the position of the menu items,
he or
she might become frustrated if those positions need to change due
to a
software update or added playlist. In particular, the approach
would not
work well for menus such as mobile-phone address books, Walker
says.

In addition, adds Baudisch, because the circular track pad is
divided
into
sectors, there are a limited number of menu items that a person
can
access. If there are 8 sectors, each with 8 menu items, then there
are
only 64 total items accessible on the device, and this wouldn't be
good
enough for iPods that hold hundreds of playlists and thousands of
songs.
However, Baudisch suspects that future prototypes will provide
ways to get
around the problem. He and his team are exploring how people
respond to
faster audio output (speeding up the recorded voice) and how
people use
audio and visual cues simultaneously. Developing an
all-encompassing
interface for eyes-free operations on auditory devices is still a
future
project, he says.

http://www.technologyreview.com/Infotech/18703/

rocker
Received on 2007-05-15


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