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Optimise data for mobile devices

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Maricelle's picture

We own mobile devices that are very powerful. They have cameras, web connections, applications and even satellite navigation. But, you know that already.  So, why am I boring you with useless information, right?

Nowadays, we are able to access information anywhere and anytime on devices with a secure web connection. In essence, mobile devices are like computers, really smart and powerful. What we do on computers, can be done just as easily on our mobile devices.

You are probably wondering how a mobile device can compare to a big monitor when we consider data visualisation. Stick around, because an answer will be provided in due course.

Although we can access information at the office, university, school or even in the comfort of our homes, we must consider the screen resolution, memory and power of mobile devices. Indeed, the memory and power of these devices will be improved in the long run, but I doubt that these devices will be upgraded to bigger screens as the purpose of the device is to be small in order to carry it anywhere you go.

Let’s look at the aforementioned problems more closely.

Problems with screen resolution, memory and power
Noirhomme-Fraiture et al, in Data Visualizations on small and very small screens state, “whereas human computer interaction was concerned up to now on how present information on screen which enlarged and improved, from year to year, we discover now new (or old) problems due to the size and the bad quality of the screens”. They argue that information can be received in bad lighting conditions and is difficult to consume.

I concur, as it becomes really difficult to interpret information that requires thorough examination on our mobile devices. The battery of some devices, for once, does not even allow you to browse the internet for a long period of time.

It is therefore important for designers to be innovative and come up with solutions to make the visualisations more accessible to the public. No one wants their phone to freak out from an overdose of visual information.

Dashboard Insight provides suitable solutions to the three problems we are faced with:

  • Firstly, visualisations must be designed in such a way that the user is immediately able to view it. The small screen resolution does not allow for the consumption of a lot of data at once.
  • Secondly, people must be able to take action as soon as they access the information. It makes more sense to look at one visualisation at a time.
  • Thirdly, it is useful for designers to only make charts, gauges and tables available on the mobile device. Maps, however, make it very difficult to display information on the screen. Using the option of zooming on a smartphone, such as the Apple iPhone or the BlackBerry, can be tedious and a real pain, to say the least. I’m not even talking about how time-consuming this may be. But this does not really solve the above-mentioned problems, because some important information may get lost in the process.

So, what now?

Well, one solution may be to use as little text as possible when visualising information. Precision is the key when designing visualisations for mobile devices. Conciseness is really important when it comes to mobile screens. Language must be understandable to the users of these visualisations as people usually want a quick summary of the information when accessing it directly from their mobile phones. If we are bombarded with a lot of information at once we tend to miss important aspects of the message. The solution may be to split visualisations into a few screens, in order to make navigation easier. In this way, information can still be consumed quickly and efficiently. 

Come on, the mobile device is not all bad
Apart from the problems of the screen resolution, memory and power of the mobile device, data visualisation is growing for it is made available to a larger audience (at least to an audience that owns smartphones). Mobile applications are designed to operate on smartphones, tablet computers and other mobile devices. There are several applications available at the click of a button, provided that you have access to a credit card.

The AntiMap Log utility application allows users to record their own data on the go. So, this is one way that maps can be made available to mobile users.

The free and open-source application gathers real-time data that can be used in conjunction with other free AntiMap applications in order to create visualisations. The application uses the GPS and compass stored on your smartphone to save the longitude, latitude, compass direction, speed, time and distance for your points of interest.

However, you can only use the application outdoors and must always check that your compass and GPS is functioning properly.

Scientists are on the verge of a breakthrough in mobile applications as they are developing healthcare applications that could possibly save a life or two. By using the iPhone and Android application, ResolutionMD Mobile, doctors are able to effectively make a diagnosis by examining radiology results and images straight from their smartphone.

Mayank Goyal, director of research in the department of radiology at the University of Calgary, argues that "there are definitely benefits for doctors to have the ability to analyze and diagnose these images from virtually anywhere. We were pleasantly surprised at our ability to detect subtle findings on the CT scan, which are often very critical in patient management, using this software...Another strength of this platform was its ability to handle massive imaging datasets of over 700 images seamlessly over the iPhone."

Although the mobile device can be very powerful when we regard the issue of data visualisation, it is faced with myriad problems. These problems must be addressed in order to examine information efficiently.

In the next post, I will focus on food that represents a certain topic (that’s right, food).