As the research team on the Digital Media Test Kitchen’s “In-depth News for Smartphones” project proceeds with its work, we’ve been checking around to see how eyetracking is faring for a digital interface as small as a smartphone.
Can it be done? The answer is, Yes! As you can see from the video below from Swedish eyetracking technology company Tobii, it is best for an eyetracking device to have a stable screen to track user eye movements, so researchers attached the Android test phone to a stable mount.
Some things you will notice from the video:
- The user looks at his fingers quite a bit while typing. I certainly do that, though my 17-year-old daughter is a more competent and fast thumb-typist on her iPhone, so I expect that if her eyes were tracked, she’d be looking more at the content on the page.
- You’ll notice the red dots appearing on the screen, then a line tracking to the next dot. A dot identifies when the eye gazes on a specific point, which can be measured in miliseconds. A red dot that grows larger means the gaze is longer. (If the subject stared at one point on the screen, the dot would grow to cover the entire screen. The user doesn’t see that, of course; that’s the view for the researchers.) After the eyes pauses to gaze or focus on a point, the lines you see track the eye to the next focus point.
Eyetracking research on mobile applications is still slim. But mobile developers and media folks pushing forward on smartphone interface design increasingly will be deploying eyetracking technology. (The technology has come a long way in terms of accuracy since 2004, when I supervised an eyetracking study of PC-screen user behavior on news websites for the Poynter Institute.)