Many of us are used to interact with desktop computers through windows, icons, menus and pointers. But, computing is becoming increasingly more intertwined with the things in our everyday life. As new technologies emerge, new interaction techniques appear and affect how we interact with them. Near Field Communication (NFC) is a low-power wireless technology that contributes to bridging the gap between the physical and virtual world. NFC is a subset of RFID-technology, but more suited for use on mobile phones. Since NFC is a new technology with a new interaction paradigm, it is interesting to look at how people understand the interaction with them. This thesis seeks to investigate how users understand the interaction with NFC and its possible challenges. The thesis approaches the research question by looking at three topics: users’ perception of the technology, feedback, and mental models.
These topics are explored through a qualitative case study, performed in collaboration with the research project MobileSage at the Norwegian Computing Center. MobileSage developed a help-on-demand application, and it is used as a means to investigate users interaction with NFC enabled smartphones and posters with NFC at Stortinget Station in Oslo. The interpretive paradigm serves as an underlying epistemology in our study, which means that we focus on the full complexity of human sense making as the situation emerges. Qualitative methods have been applied in the investigation of the area, specifically observations, interviews and a focus group.
The analysis shows that the NFC Forum symbol, which was used to present the NFC functionality on the posters, was not perceived in the way the NFC Forum had intended. The participants only perceived it at as a branding symbol that did not invite them to interact with it, and thus they did not see the link between the phone and the posters. The feedback the participants got during their interaction with NFC, both typical Graphical User Interface-feedback as well as Tangible User Interface-feedback, did not seem to be sufficient in supporting their interaction in the given context. The feedback needs to be clearer and appear faster. The participants in the study were not familiar with NFC. In order to figure out what to do, the participants used models from their earlier experiences with other technologies, such as photography, credit and debit cards and QR codes. The models they used did not always guide them in a good way, but as they become familiar with this interaction mode the mental models can change and become more suitable for their interaction with NFC. Affordances and metaphors can help first-time users in their understanding and learning, but only to a certain extent. For this reason, we believe it is necessary for users to undergo a short learning process for them to understand how to interact.