Personal and Ubiquitous Computing

, Volume 8, Issue 2, pp 135–143 | Cite as

Understanding mobile contexts

  • Sakari TamminenEmail author
  • Antti Oulasvirta
  • Kalle Toiskallio
  • Anu Kankainen
Original Article


Mobile urban environments present a challenge for context-aware computers because they differ from fixed indoor contexts such as offices, meeting rooms, and lecture halls in many important ways. Internal factors such as tasks and goals are different—external factors such as social resources are dynamic and unpredictable. An empirical, user-centred approach is needed to understand mobile contexts. In this paper, we present insights from an ethnomethodologically inspired study of 25 adult urbanites in Helsinki. The results describe typical phenomena in mobility: how situational and planned acts intermesh in navigation, how people construct personal and group spaces, and how temporal tensions develop and dissolve. Furthermore, we provide examples of social solutions to navigation problems, examine mobile multitasking, and consider design implications for mobile and context-aware human–computer interaction.


Mobile context Mobility Ethnography Ethnomethodology Context-aware computing User-centred design 



We thank Salla Hari, Sauli Tiitta, Tomi Kankainen, and Esko Kurvinen, and our industrial partners Alma Media, Elisa Communications, Nokia, Sonera, and SWelcom. The second author acknowledges a grant from the Academy of Finland.


  1. 1.
    Dey AK, Abowd GD, Salber D (2001) A conceptual framework and a toolkit for supporting the rapid prototyping of context-aware applications. Hum-Comput Interact 16:97–166CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Bellotti V, Edwards K (2001) Intelligibility and accountability: human considerations in context-aware systems. Hum-Comput Interact 16:193–212CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Dix A, Rodden T, Davies N, Trevor J, Friday A, Palfreyman K (2000) Exploiting space and location as a design framework for interactive mobile systems. ACM Trans Comput-Hum Interact 7:285–321CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Dourish P (2001) Seeking a foundation for context-aware computing. Hum-Comput Interact 16:229–241CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Greenberg S (2001) Context as a dynamic construct. Hum-Comput Interact 16:257–268CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Schmidt A, Beigl M, Gellersen HW (1999) There is more to context than location. Comput Graph 23:893–901CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Svaneas D (2001) Context-aware technology: a phenomenological perspective. Hum-Comput Interact 16:379–400CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    ISO 13407 (1999) Human-centred design processes for interactive systems. International Standard, the International Organization for StandardizationGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Chen G, Kotz K (2000) A survey of context-aware mobile computing research. Technical report, department of Computer Science, Dartmouth College, DartmouthGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Luff P, Heath C (1998) Mobility in collaboration. In: Proceedings of the CSCW ’98 conference on computer-supported cooperative work. ACM Press, New York, pp 305–314Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Perry M, O’Hara K, Sellen A, Brown B, Harper R (2001) Dealing with mobility: understanding access anytime, anywhere. ACM Trans Comput-Hum Interact 8:323–347CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
  13. 13.
    Garfinkel H (1967) Studies in ethnomethodology. Prentice-Hall, New JerseyGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Wolcott H (1995) The art of fieldwork. AltaMira Press, Walnut CreekGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
  16. 16.
    Dourish P, Button G (1998) On “Technomethodology”: foundational relationships between ethnomethodology and system design. Hum-Comput Interact 13:395–432Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Kankainen A, Oulasvirta A (2002) Design ideas for everyday mobile and ubiquitous computing based on qualitative user data. In: Proceedings of the 7th ERCIM workshop for user interfaces for all. Lecture notes in computer science, Springer, Berlin Heidelberg New York, pp 458–464Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Schilit BN, Adams N, Want R (1994) Context-aware computing applications. In: Proceedings of the IEEE workshop on mobile computing systems and applications, Santa Cruz. IEEE Press, Piscataway, pp 85–90Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Suchman LA (1987) Plans and situated actions. The problem of human–machine communication. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Gladwin T (1964) Culture and logical process. In: Goodenough WH (ed) Explorations in cultural anthropology: essays in honor of George Peter Murdock. McGraw-Hill, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Bonnes M, Secchiaroli G (1995) Environmental psychology. A psycho-social introduction. Sage, LondonGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Altman I (1975) The environment and social behaviour: privacy, personal space, territoriality and crowding. Brooks/Cole, MontereyGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Agre PE (1998) Introduction. In: Agre PE, Rotenberg M (eds) Technology and privacy: the New Landscape. MIT press, Cambridge, pp 1–28Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Palen L, Dourish P (2003) Unpacking “Privacy” for a networked world. In: Proceedings of the conference on human factors in computing systems (CHI 2003), Fort Lauderdale, Florida, April 2003, pp 129–136Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Czarnowski TV (1978) The street as a communications artifact. In: Anderson S (ed) On streets. MIT, Cambridge, pp 207–211Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Kopomaa T (2000) The city in your pocket: birth of the mobile information society. Gaudeamus Kirja, HelsinkiGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Garden S, Cornoldi C, Logie RH (2002) Visuo-spatial working memory in navigation. Appl Cognitive Psych 16:35–50CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Picard J, Rosalind W (1998) Toward agents that recognize emotion. In: Actes proceedings IMAGINA, pp 153–165Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Laurier E (2001) Why people say where they are during phone calls? Environ Plann D 19:485–504CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Weilenmann A (2003) “I can’t talk now, I’m in a fitting room”: availability and location in mobile phone conversations. J Environ Plann 9:1589–1605CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Nakanishi Y, Kumazawa S, Tsuji T, Hakozaki K (2003) iCAMS2: developing a mobile communication tool using location information and schedule information with J2ME. In: Proceedings of mobile HCI 2003, Udine, Italy, pp 400–404Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Hudson SE, Fogarty J, Atkeson CG, Avrahami D, Forlizzi J, Kiesler S, Lee JC, Yang J (2003) Predicting human interruptibility with sensors: a Wizard of Oz feasibility study. In: Proceedings of human factors in computing systems (CHI 2003), pp 257–264Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Espinoza F, Persson P, Sandin A, Nyström H, Cacciatore E, Bylund M (2001) GeoNotes: social and navigational aspects of location-based information systems. In: Proceedings of Ubicomp 2001: ubiquitous computing, international conference, Atlanta, Georgia. Springer, Berlin Heidelberg New York, pp 2–17Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Korpipää P, Mäntyjärvi J, Kela J, Keränen H, Malm E-J (2003) Managing context information in mobile devices. IEEE Pervas Comput 2:42–51CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London Limited 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sakari Tamminen
    • 1
    Email author
  • Antti Oulasvirta
    • 2
  • Kalle Toiskallio
    • 1
  • Anu Kankainen
    • 2
  1. 1.Information Ergonomics Research Group (SoberIT)Helsinki University of TechnologyHelsinkiFinland
  2. 2.Helsinki Institute of Information TechnologyHelsinkiFinland

Personalised recommendations