Thumb motor performance varies by movement orientation, direction, and device size during single-handed mobile phone use.

  • Amy Karlson

The Journal of Human Factors and Ergonomics Society |

Objective: The aim of this study was to determine if thumb motor performance metrics varied by movement orientation, direction, and device size during single-handed use of a mobile phone device.

Background: With the increased use of mobile phones and the associated increased risk for musculoskeletal disorders, understanding how design factors affect and improve performance can provide better design guidelines.

Method: A repeated measures laboratory experiment of 20 right-handed participants measured the thumb tip’s 3-D position relative to a phone during reciprocal tapping tasks across four phone designs and four thumb tip movement orientations. Each movement orientation included two movement directions: an “outward” direction consisting in CMC (carpometacarpal) joint flexion or abduction movements and an “inward” direction consisting in CMC joint extension or adduction movements. Calculated metrics of the thumb’s motor performance were Fitts’ effective width and index of performance.

Results: Index of performance varied significantly across phones with performance being generally better for the smaller devices. Performance was also significantly higher for adduction/abduction movement orientations compared to flexion/extension, and for “outward” compared to “inward” movement directions.

Conclusion: For single-handed device use, adduction/abduction-type movements on smaller phones lead to better thumb performance.

Application: The results from this study can be used to design new mobile phone devices and keypad interfaces that optimize specific thumb motions to improve the user-interface experience during single-handed use.