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By Chris De Herrera 
Copyright 1998-2007
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Ergonomic Design
By Chris De Herrera, Copyright 2001
Revised 11/18/2001

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Ergonomic Design

Currently the Pocket PCs are all starting to look more and more alike.  In this article I point out some common sense items I would like to seen considered in future designs.  These features will make the Pocket PCs easier to handle and use.  These are my personal ideas on what the OEMs should consider.

The Case

The current case designs are either boxes or round backs.  I believe that the consumer prefers the rounded back since it is easier to hold regardless of their hand size. I believe that unpainted plastic in the right color wears better than paint.  Examples of where this works well include the iPAQ sleeves that get scratched on the back all the time.  If the design calls for paint, I recommend that the unit be painted with more than one layer so that any initial scratches do not go all the way to the plastic. Further it would be great if the OEM made the plastic a similar color so it would hide the scratches.  An example of painting is the Casio E-125 or the HP Jornada 565. In the 565, the case is a powder blue.  The plastic underneath is a dark grey.  So when the paint gets scratched or worn, it really stands out.  Also, I believe that all devices should have rubber feet.  That way when you set them down on a desk or table, they do not slide easily.  Further, any jacket or add-on should have rubber feet for the same reason. Further, I believe that a mount for a wrist strap should be included on all devices.

Buttons and Speaker

I believe that the buttons should be placed so either a left or right handed person can use them with equal access.  Further, the finger joystick should allow smooth single thumb operation in all directions, including diagonal without requiring extra effort.  An easy way to test this is to put your thumb on the joystick and move in a circle.  If there is resistance to moving in the circle so you have to first move up/down/right/left then over, this will negatively affect their ability to use it.  The speaker should not be in the joystick if possible.  Placing ones thumb over the speaker muffles the sound.  I think that NEC is on to something cool by lighting the buttons. That way people can use the buttons in the dark. Further, I believe that the OEMs and Microsoft should design these system to be operated with one hand. I highly recommend that testing of one handed operation be performed.


The displays on the Pocket PCs are all going towards Reflective TFT.  I believe that using Reflective TFT should be an option in addition to a standard TFT display like Casio used in prior generation of Pocket PCs.  Further the sidelight of the display should be white and cover the whole display.  The HP Jornada 560 series do not light the whole display evenly and their backlight is blue rather than white.  If the OEM uses a Reflective TFT, I believe that a light sensor for automatic adjustment of the backlight is important to maximize battery life.  For example, I've used the @migo outdoors and forgotten to turn the backlight off. This cuts the battery life down significantly.


Current designs of the Pocket PCs either use a coin cell backup battery or a portion of the main battery to retain settings.  I believe that the minimum data retention when the unit shuts off should be 7 days.  The current standard is approximately 24 hours which is too short for most people that are traveling and do not have their AC adapter with them. Further as the batteries are used their ability to power the unit for the 24 hours is reduced as well.  Another option is to use flash memory to store all programs and data.  This would eliminate the need to even have a backup battery since the only thing you would lose is whatever data is in applications that are running and not saved.   Also, I recommend that 10 hours with backlight be the standard for judging the battery life. The concept of quoting battery life without the backlight does not measure up to real life use. Most users either leave the backlight on all the time or turn it of almost all the time. 


OEMs need to plan on testing their devices in loud environments that users visit with common headphones to make sure the audio is loud enough. For example, when users are on an airplane, the user needs to turn the volume up louder than if they are in a quiet room.  Further the ability to control the bass and treble or an equalizer would allow users to adjust the sound to their liking. Right now none of the Pocket PCs offers this feature.

Standardize Connectors

Right now each OEM goes off and does their own thing with the connectors.  I would like to see OEMs design their devices with standard connectors for synchronizing and the ac adapter. Further the AC adapters should be all the same voltage, amperage and connector so users can easily take advantage of any available charger.   Making these design changes will allow users to buy peripherals such as GPS, printer cables, etc without having to throw away their investment each time they consider the purchase of a new unit.  I would be happy to see a standard connector that allowed travel cable (ie: not docking stations) to work on all units.  I understand that the hardware design of the device may require different docking stations. 


I would love to these changes put into effect. That way users can really focus on their experience with the software while they enjoy the features of the hardware.

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