The Functionality, Interface and Uptake of an energy saving application for mobile devices
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Four focus groups involving 18 participants took part in a structured elicitation session in which they gave their views and opinions on the functionality and interface design of a possible energy saving application for mobile devices. A qualitative topical analysis of their discussions indicated a distinct expectation that the application would enable them to save money, and a preference for displaying information in a financial or cost-based format rather than in physical units. Summarising this by time period (especially day), rooms and even devices would be welcomed, as would relating consumption to a personally tailored target or baseline amount, and to normative comparisons (e.g., a typical person / household like you). Comparison of the tariffs of different energy suppliers would be a useful feature to promote initial acquisition of the app. Data entry on first use followed by use of the camera to scan codes would be acceptable. While seen as useful when mentioned, integrating meter-reading functionality into the app was not seen as a key attraction. Provision of basic energy related information for the specific devices owned would be expected by users. Technology permitting, the ability to monitor each device’s usage and to remotely control them would be welcomed – even the ability to turn on a device remotely would allow people to leave it off when away from the home. Alerts should be used with caution: where they are specifically informative and directly help the person reach goals that they recognise as beneficial, they will be acceptable, but they do run the real risk of annoying users. Games might play a useful function for users with children, who might prevent users from deleting the app if the game is attractive to them, but they seem unlikely to be a key attraction. Social networking was seen more as a way of virally spreading uptake of the app and maintaining its use within a community of users than as a way of motivating people to change behaviour. As with use of alerts, the ability to post to networking sites on behalf of users should be treated very cautiously, but allowing people to provide (or pass on) tips to each other might enhance the impact of advice suggested by the app. Any graphical representations should be simple, with complexity presented on demand by the user (‘drilling-down’). There was no consensus on bar or line charts, although dial and rainbow metaphors were well received: optionality would seem to be required here, with users able to select their preferred format. Any use of emoticons should be seen as additional to the main display of information, rather than as the central approach. Physical units such as kWh or joules should be avoided, and consumption expressed in financial terms wherever possible. There was clear awareness of the nature of thermographic images, which suggests that they could play a useful part in communicating consumption, even in simulations. Short-term financial consequences dominated the discussion in all of the groups, but there was a realisation that for some the longer-term environmental benefits of behaviour change might be worth presenting. A jaded awareness of fear-appeal visualisations (e.g., polar bears on melting icebergs) suggests that such negative approaches to the consequences of energy use would have limited effect. Positive consequences were not mentioned often (e.g., ‘saved a child in Tibet’) and might thus have more impact, through being novel and unexpected.
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