RealPhone: Instructions for experimenters / observers

The Product. IBM is experimenting with interfaces that directly mimic real world products. The product you will use is the IBM RealPhone system (note: this product was taken from IBM, as is. It was not altered in any way for this class). They describe it as follows:

Get Real with IBM RealPhone! Welcome to the future; one without distracting windows and menu bars. The RealPhone is an experiment in user interface design for a new, real-world user interface style. This preliminary design implements some elements of the style we are developing. Try it out, and tell us what you think.

Real World Appearance. You will not need to guess about what the RealPhone is supposed to do. If you can use a telephone, you can use this software. Novice users can use it immediately, but expert users can learn shortcut keys and other advanced ways of using the interface to make it more efficient. It is easy to learn and fast to use.

Part of the appeal of the RealPhone is its visual appearance. It is a fully-rendered, three-dimensional phone. When it is off the hook, the phone shows that. When it is dialing, the phone shows that too.

Because it is software, RealPhone can do more than a real telephone without breaking the visual metaphor. It has a built-in drawer for holding your most-used telephone numbers. The drawer works like a physical object, it slides in and out, but you can dial the numbers just by clicking on them. Try that with your paper organizer! Also, the body of the phone can be extended or shortened with a toggle switch. This allows you to have the phone on your desktop at all times to receive calls and extend it when you want to use the advanced dialing features.

No Window Controls. The most obvious missing pieces of this Windows™ app are the rectangular window border and controls. These items are included on nearly every existing Windows program. While they give you control over the "little boxes" (windows) on your computer screen, they are not really part of the task of writing a document, editing an image, editing a database, or sending a note. They also drive visual designers nuts, because they completely disrupt the visual metaphor of the application. The RealPhone is an attempt to produce a useful, robust application that breaks the confines of the little boxes and provides the user with an uncluttered view of the task at hand.

The software has been installed on the PCs on the first floor of the Maths Building. If you want to set it up on your own PC, you can download it (1,470 Mbs) and double click it to install it. Try having your friends/family etc who don't have computer experience use it! You will see it as a new program under the Start Menu.

Selecting Tasks. It is up to you to decided what set of typical tasks should be given to the users. The assignment sheet has a section that indicates how you can go about this, and you are already familiar with task descriptions from Assignment 1. As well, the experimenter should try the system ahead of time, becoming as familiar with it as possible. The experimenter should come up with at least six other reasonable tasks to give to subjects, preferably more. A good task one that is likely to be used by many end-users. Tasks should also be selected to investigate different parts of the system functionality. Note that IBM makes some very strong claims in the description above: test these claims with your tasks!

To get you going, I've included a few sample tasks below. They are phrased as directions that will be given to the user.

Preparing equipment. Have people start the RealPhone by selecting it from the Start Menu. (Tell them where it is).

A few precautionary notes.

  1. RealPhone will save state information, such as phone numbers for speed dialing, in a file called Realphon.ini . You will probably want to make sure that the phone is in a 'virgin' state before people start. We have put in a special utility that will let you reset the phone between subjects. If you want to pre-configure the phone for some of your tasks, you should set it up, save a copy of the Realphone.ini file, and then replace the existing one when you want to use it.
  2. The phone does not produce any auditory feedback, nor does it really dial any numbers. This is a limitation of our setup, not with the RealPhone. Still, you can ask people what they think is happening by the visual state of the phone. [Note that many computers do not have sound blasters, so this may be a more real situation than you think!]

Questionnaires.Administer the pre-test questionnaire. Questions must at least probe for people's experience with the computer they are using, whether they have heard about or tried the real phone system previously, whether they have used software that allows them to make phone calls on their computers, whether they have previously used phones with speed dialing capabilities, etc.

At the end of the test, administer the post-test questionnaires. These should include questions that ask people how satisfied they are with the system (e.g., "I would use RealPhone regularly if it was available on my home / office computer and if it was integrated with my phone system" (Strongly agree, agree, neither agree nor disagree, disagree, strongly disagree).

Instructions. Administer the usability instructions to subjects, as indicated in the handout. Follow the assignment sheet instructions for particular methodologies to use.

Initial and developing conceptual model. The reason you are doing this is to see what initial conceptual model people have of the system, based upon their prior experiences and their interpretation of the visuals on the screen. You are looking for places where the model is incorrect and incomplete. Start doing this as soon as they see the RealPhone.

Task 1. Phoning home. Use the RealPhone to phone your house. Because RealPhone is not actually connected to the telephone, you will not hear any dial tones or phone numbers. Tell us what you think it would be doing as you do your actions.

Reason for choosing this task (not to be read to subjects) . This is the most basic operation of phone use. It is frequent and important. Note that IBM claims "If you can use a telephone, you can use this software". Thus anyone should be able to do this first time around without hesitation. Did people need to look up help to do this basic task? If so, can they understand the help text?

Note to observers (not to be read to subjects): With real phone:
-you can pick up the handset, and then dial, or
-you can dial the number first, but you have to pick up the handset to actually call the number

Task 2. Speed Dial. Add your home number to the speed dial

Reason for choosing this task.This should also be very straightforward, as the phone is obviously set up for speed dialing. Things to notice: Can they add the number they had just dialed in task 1, or do they have to re-enter it? Is the interface immediately obvious on how to do it?

Task 3. Phoning an acronym. Phone IBM to tell them that you are using this system. You remember that they advertise their number as 1-800-CALLIBM

Reason for choosing this task.This is a rare task, and probably not that important. However, its advertised as one of the features of RealPhone.

Note: With RealPhone you can enter letters instead of numbers e.g., G or H or I is the number 4. Note as well that, unlike most phones, there are no letters displayed on top of the number pad.

Other tasks you could develop. The experimenter should explore the system. If the experimenter suspects certain problems, the experimenter can develop a task that exercises that part of the system. Some prime areas for tasks are: