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

Kontti - Context-aware Mobile Portal

by Juha Kolari

For many, a mobile device is a constant companion during daily routines. Information and service needs vary according to the user's immediate situation. A context-aware service responds to this by offering contextually relevant information. By identifying these contexts and the varying information needs users have in them, mobile services can be made more topical, personal and easily available.

In order to study the technology and concept of context-awareness, VTT has developed a context-aware mobile portal. The contents of the service are adapted to the user’s current context and device. The contexts can be identified automatically according to time or location. They can also be manually defined and activated by the user. The contents of the portal can be existing mobile services and Web pages as well as personal notes and files.

There will be two field trials to evaluate the prototype and the concept. Over 70 users will be involved as the prototype is tested in the field. Conceptually, the evaluations approach the subject from three different angles, namely, everyday contexts, context-aware services and social surroundings.

Everyday Contexts
Everyday use plays a visible role in the evaluation. The goal is a natural integration of the service with what the users actually do. As 'context' itself is a highly personal concept, so context-aware services need to be flexible enough to conform to the varied situations in users’ lives. The system allows users to create their own personal contexts, such as 'at home', 'at work', 'out partying' and 'feeling blue'. The users can link personal notes and existing services to the contexts relevant to them. They can also inform others of their current personal context. The challenge is in achieving this high personal conformity without requiring too much effort from the users.

Context-awareness can bring about a more personal and spontaneous way of using mobile services.
Context-awareness can bring about a more personal and spontaneous way of using mobile services.

Context-Aware Services
Ready-made context-aware services may not adapt to the user’s everyday life but can provide content with little need for further personalisation. The portal allows the delivery of a context-aware service directly to the user. Visitors to a festival could, for instance, subscribe to the festival schedule. The schedule and upcoming events can be presented according to time and the user’s location. We will study the service from this angle at the week-long Tampere Theatre Festival in August 2003. Another case will be a location-based historical tour in the city of Tampere, which will be evaluated in the summer of 2003.

Social Surroundings
One motivation for creating and maintaining everyday contexts is to convey the user’s own status to others; eg whether you are available for contact or what your plans for the evening are. The user can specify which other users are allowed to view his/her current status. Even then, the user can define how the status will appear to others, and the location or context itself is not necessarily conveyed in this description.

User-generated material naturally means the inclusion of context-based messages. The system allows users to send messages which are delivered only when the chosen target context is active, ie when the user arrives at work or home. Targeting the message allows, for instance, a work-related message to be sent to work on a weekend. The message will be delivered once the recipient enters the workplace.

Appropriate technological matches have been chosen for these concepts. Use in everyday life requires a mobile device that is available all the time and is not limited to a certain area. Consequently, the prototype has been designed to work in WAP-enabled mobile phones. It is optimised for use in phones with colour displays and multimedia capabilities. Both WML and XHTML versions are available. The system is open with regard to positioning methods, and the current system supports both cell-based and proximity-based positioning. A trial on a WLAN platform will complement the evaluation both conceptually and technologically. The WLAN trial will be used to study the promising concept of context-aware services more thoroughly.

The development and studies are being done under the project Kontti (Context-Aware Services for Mobile Users). The two-year project began in 2002 and will run through 2003. The project is funded in part by Tekes and its NETS programme. Other collaborative partners in the project are Nokia, Radiolinja and Teamware. In addition, the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE) provides content in the trials.


Please contact:
Juha Kolari, VTT (user studies)
Tel:+358 3 316 3311

Timo Laakko, VTT (project manager)
Tel: +358 9 456 4505