A principal challenge in ubiquitous computing has been identifying a platform and mechanism that can achieve both affordable sensing and unobtrusive notification. In this paper we investigate the use of peripheral cueing mechanisms on commodity mobile phones. Key constraints are the undesirability of using headsets for delivering cues and the limited functionality of commodity vibration actuators. To explore these issues we designed PeopleTones, which conveys buddy proximity via peripheral cues. We addressed the unobtrusiveness of cues by using short sounds, a novel algorithm to translate the sounds to corresponding vibrotactile cues, and context-based adaptation. PeopleTones was deployed to three groups of friends (17 people) for 2 weeks. Underlying the results is a theme of personal control for peripheral cues. When a person could choose familiar sounds with positive associations – typically music – they both understood the cues better and felt they were less obtrusive.
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