Migrating User Interfaces

Think of someone on the Internet who is taking part in an on-line auction. When it is almost over, the person involved has to catch a train to get to an important appointment which cannot be put off. There is no solution other than to turn off his computer and say goodbye to what he wanted to buy.

If the GeReMi (Get Redesign Migrate) software had been installed on his PC, the problem would have been avoided. GeReMi lets the user who is on the Internet transfer his surfing to another device (palmtop, cellphone, voice device, digital TV set, etc.) in a few seconds without having to interrupt and restart the surfing program. The software was designed and developed by a group of researchers at the Human Interfaces in Information Systems laboratory, coordinated by Fabio Paternò, who works at the A. Faedo Institute of Science and Information Technology of the Pisa CNR.

One of the main research area of this laboratory is the design and development of interactive systems for users who are forced to move around during the use of computer devices. The operation of the GeReMi is very simple: the user only has to indicate which device he wants to transfer his surfing onto and the program automatically detects the characteristics of the new platform, adapting the presentation and the activity which was under way. The migration can also be activated by the system when some specific event is detected (low battery or connectivity). In the illustration, an example of how this transference takes place and the kind of transformations made (in this case passing from a normal computer to a palmtop, or to a voice devise of the kind that can be installed in a car) Notice, for example, that the texts that are too long in the initial version (on the right) have been transformed into links on the smaller size screen of the palmtop computer.

A prototype of the software was produced and shown in several events. This prototype was tried out successfully on web applications, XHTML, Voice XML, and X+V for desktop and portable computers, palmtops, cellphones and voice devices. Then, a new version has been developed that can even pass the user interface onto digital television (in this case the interface is implemented in a Java version for digital TV). This research has attracted the attention of the Vodafone which contributed a small sum towards the study of potential applications and it is the object of a project involving other European centers.

With the rapid development of information technologies, the possibilities for using the GeReMi will become ever more frequent: aside from the on-line auctions, there are already numerous activities on the Internet in which the user could want to prolong the connection, transferring the surfing to a different platform (for example, on line auctions, games, experts who have to continuously monitor and interact with some data, such as doctors, scientists, etc). More simply, it might be necessary to change platform because the batteries of the device being used run down.