Mobile Implicit Communication Review

Familiarizing Yourself With CoupleVIBE

CoupleVIBE is a mobile application designed to satisfy needs being unmet in relationships where distance or time constraints limit the types of everyday interaction that are usually sought in romantic partnerships. Some measures are already taken by most people in such relationships to fill in the holes that distance brings.  However these measures are explicit in nature, requiring purposeful intent by sending a text message or email.

CoupleVIBE introduces implicit messaging channels to make communication more natural.  A common app that many people may be familiar with that has similar settings is life360. While they serve different purposes (life360 is more akin to something like life alert without security personnel involved) they both provide the ability to feel closer to people who are separated by large distances.    CoupleVIBE uses vibration settings to facilitate implicit messaging between parties so that their lives sink up more easily.

The meat

It has already been shown that a great many distinguishable vibrotactile patterns are capable of being generated.  By using these vibrations, locations and activities of one partner were able to be sent to the other partner without any intent necessary from the first partner.  In this way the desire to reciprocate, which most messaging systems evoke, was not present.  Which allowed for passive communication between parties.

Meaningful locations are selected by each partner to share with the other.  A partner chooses a pattern to associate with departure and arrival to these places allowing users to sync up and understand what their partner is currently doing.  For example some partners chose to call each other when they knew they were driving long distances.

An important decision in the project was to promote privacy by allowing the ability to disable the sending of messages but limit control by disallowing the disabling of incoming messages.

Because users often missed part of the vibrotactile cues a four message system was employed in such a way that users would have sufficient time to receive and understand the cues.  The first part was a vibration to describe arrival or departure, the next two parts were two instances of the vibration associated with the location, and the last part was again the vibration or arrival or departure.

Conclusion and Implications

This research shows that implicit messages facilitated by mobile devices are extremely useful in giving a sense of connection between long distance individuals.  Although it limits privacy, the privacy limited isn’t the type of privacy that most partners would be worried about.  Most locations chosen by users were places like “home, work, friend’s house.”  These are locations that people not in long distance relationships would likely know about regardless just as implicitly as the users of this application were.  In this way communication felt more human and natural than before.

The awareness of each other granted by this research has implications for other fields as well.  Although meant as a means to provide a deeper romantic connection between partners the idea and methodologies could be used to help other fields as well.  The design for inattentiveness, where information is acquired rather than sought or purposefully sent, has a broader usefulness.  Although the specific means may need tweaking, any telecommunication position or jobs such as pipeline technicians who frequently travel long distances in a given day may benefit from such a tool as a means of understanding what their colleagues are currently doing.  Though it would likely only be of use in small groups where the number of patterns for passive cues  necessary to facilitate awareness wouldn’t be too high for people to learn.