Interrupted by a phone call: Exploring designs for lowering the impact of call notifications for smartphone users

M Böhmer, C Lander, S Gehring, Duncan Brumby, A Krüger
in CHI '14: Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, Journal article


Mobile phones have evolved significantly in recent years from single-purpose communication devices to multipurpose computing devices. Despite this evolution, the interaction model for how incoming calls are handled has barely changed. Current-generation smartphones still use abrupt full-screen notifications to alert users to incoming calls, demanding a decision to either accept or decline the call. These full-screen notifications forcibly interrupt whatever activity the user was already engaged in. This might be undesirable when the user's primary task was more important than the incoming call. This paper explores the design space for how smartphones can alert users to incoming calls. We consider designs that allow users to postpone calls and also to multiplex by way of a smaller partialscreen notification. These design alternatives were evaluated in both a small-scale controlled lab study as well as a large-scale naturalistic in-the-wild study. Results show that a multiplex design solution works best because it allows people to continue working on their primary task while being made aware that there is a caller on the line. The contribution of this work is an enhanced interaction design for handling phone calls, and an understanding of how people use it for handling incoming calls.