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Number 53
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Special theme:
Cognitive Systems

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< Contents ERCIM News No. 54, July 2003
SPECIAL THEME: Applications and Service Platforms for the Mobile User

Applications and Service Platforms
for the Mobile User - Introduction

by John Krogstie

The most recent wave in information systems development is the introduction of networked palmtop computers, made possible by the continued miniaturisation of electronic circuits and the enormous resources spent by industrialised countries on deploying a ubiquitously available broadband wireless communication infrastructure.

Because of the mobility of users of these devices and the characteristics of wireless communication, the operating environment for any accompanying services will be much more dynamic than is typical for traditional distributed systems. In order to retain system quality and usability under such circumstances, R&D problems within a number of areas must be solved.

User-Orientation and Personalisation
Mobile information systems often address a wide user group, which means that user interfaces should feature prominently and early in the design process and often need to be very simple. The resulting user interfaces cannot assume a prior acquaintance with computers, and input and output facilities may be severely restricted (no keyboard, small screen-size etc) or based on new modalities (speech recognition and synthesis etc). This means that individualisation of mobile information systems becomes increasingly important, both at the individual level, where user-interface details such as commands and screen layout are tailored to personal preferences and hardware, and at the work level, where functions are tailored to fit the user’s preferred work processes. The latter case can also include the support of novel workplace designs and methods of work organisation that enable collaboration of multi-location and mobile workers.

Individualisation means information systems that are able both to automatically adapt themselves to the preferences of the user and to be explicitly tailored by users through a specific user interface. The main goal is to achieve usability of the applications on all possible interfaces, based on adaptation to the different physical devices. This calls for intelligent, adaptive and self-configuring services that enable automatic context-sensitivity, user profiling and personalisation in a trusted and secure environment, as well as multi-lingual and multi-cultural presentation, and multiple modes of interaction.

Technological Aspects including Convergence and Multi-Channel Support
Mobile devices have severely limited processing, memory and communication capacities compared to other kinds of computers. Performance considerations therefore become increasingly important in the first design steps. Analytical predictive methods are necessary in order to assess a large number of alternatives during the design of mobile information systems. Mobile information systems also pose new challenges to achieving information systems dependability. The drive toward mobile devices has led to the integration and convergence of various technologies into a wide range of innovative mobile and multi-modal applications. Mobile and other new technologies provide many different ways to offer the same or similar services to customers. Novel approaches are therefore needed for the development and evolution of applications on and across different mobile and traditional platforms.

Methodology for Development to ensure Organisational Return
Mobile information systems are radical, and will therefore reward an increased focus on idea generation early in the design process. Understanding and modeling mobile users' requirements for new services is consequently of great importance. One needs both to be able to develop these systems and to address the major hurdles for the deployment of applications and services for the mobile user. Another effect of the introduction of mobile information systems is the spawning of further initiatives for changing other information systems. Overall, it is important to focus on the interoperability of services and the ability to roam across heterogeneous networks and service environments including, for example, working, billing, payment, ticketing and accounting services, as well as having seamless access to corporate and government resources.

This special issue highlights some of the existing European R&D in Applications and Service Platforms for the Mobile User. Although far from being a complete collection, it gives a good impression of where the European research community is putting its effort today, and where one can expect, or at least hope for, more results in the future.

Please contact:
John Krogstie, NTNU and SINTEF
Tel +47 22067425