A Thought Experiment


If the owner of a first generation mobile phone pulled his device out of his pocket, it was clear what he wanted to do: He wanted to conduct a phone call. Over the course of the evolution of mobile phones this has changed: If the owner of a mobile phone pulls out his device nowadays, we cannot know in advance if he wants to make a phone call, read news, check the weather forecast or play a game.

A Thought Experiment. With the increased variety of functionalities that mobile phones provide to their users, the uncertainty of anticipating which function a user would use next also increased. However, a theoretical optimum for the design of current smartphones would be a phone that instantly has the correct application open when the owner wants to use it — as old phones always had the “phone call application” immediately available. Whereas the dial pad was directly available for conducting a phone call on old mobile phones, nowadays a user first has to tell her phone that she wants to make a phone call by clicking on a telephone icon, before she can dial a number. An optimal smartphone would remove the additional effort that users need to make, which have resulted from the variety of applications that became available for mobile phones. Reasons for this optimal smartphone being impossible mainly come down to the uncertainty in modeling human behavior and people’s changing interests; sensor-based approaches bear an a-priori failure that leads to ambiguity.

So, given that we cannot design a perfect multifunctional phone, what can we do to come such an idea as close as possible? You can find more thoughts on this in my thesis.

Study on Icon Arrangement (CHI 2013)




A Study on Icon Arrangement by Smartphone Users
Matthias Böhmer, Antonio Krüger
In: Proceedings of ACM SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. Paris 2013, France (to appear).



The number of available mobile applications is steadily increasing. People have rapidly adopted application stores as means to customize their devices with various functionalities that go beyond communication. Understanding the principles of mobile application usage is crucial for supporting users within this new ecosystem. In this paper, we investigate how people organize applications they have installed on their devices. We asked more than 130 participants for their habits for icon arrangement and collected more than 1,400 screenshots of their devices’ menus to further ground our findings. Based on this data we can distinguish five different concepts for arranging icons on smartphone menus, e.g. based on application usage frequency and applications’ functional relatedness. Additionally, we investigated how these concepts emerge in relation to frequency of application installations, removals and icon rearrangements, as well as users’ experience levels. Finally we discuss implications for the design of smartphone launchers, and highlight differences to icon arrangement on stationary computers.

Also see our studies on mobile app usage and mobile app multitasking, and our study on the impact of context on icon arrangement.


The data we used in this paper is available for you to draw your own conclusions. Please contact me if you need any additional pieces of information.

Screenshots of smartphone launcher menus