Adapting cell phones, media players for interactive applications is aim of project

Topics: College of Communication Information and Media, Emerging Media

March 6, 2008

By simply touching the screen of an Apple iPhone or iTouch, consumers will soon be able to access newscasts, interact with a local car dealer or order dinner from a nearby restaurant because of a project developed at Ball State University.

The university's faculty and students are taking interactive television (iTV) to the next level this semester, will work on developing an interface system promising to expand the capabilities of handheld communication devices.

Ball State's iTV project allows viewers to customize and enhance their news watching experience by accessing content with the remote. For example, a viewer can flip through news segments provided by NewsLink Indiana, the university's converged news program, or go from sports to the Web simply by navigating around the screen.

"This is a very innovative project that could change the way we use our cell phones, PDAs or portable media players to consume news and entertainment as well as interact with advertisers," said Jennifer Palilonis, a journalism graphics professor who is one of four Ball State faculty working with 35 students as part of the immersive learning experience.

Other faculty are Vinayak Tanksale, a computer science professor; John C. Dailey, a telecommunications professor; and Michael Hanley, a journalism professor who teaches advertising. Participating in the project, as well, are members of Ball State's Center for Media Design (CMD), Teleplex and NewsLink Indiana.

"From the design standpoint, it is very hard to wrap your brain around the idea of working with small screens as opposed to larger computer screens," Palilonis said. "However, this generation of students has grown up with cell phones and portable media players. They get the technology because they use it from the time they get up until they go to bed."

Small screen
During the next few months, students enrolled in the multidisciplinary interactive design course will develop an interface for the widely popular iPhone and iTouch, a portable media player released in late 2007. 

Research will play a major role in the operation of the interface, as students will test the devices on four focus groups.

"For the first time, we will be talking to consumers to find out what they think," Palilonis said. "We'll quickly turn that information around to improve the product in just a few days or weeks."

Also contributing to the project will be Ball State advertising students, who bring their promotional and marketing expertise into the effort. In partnership with three local businesses, students are creating customized advertising content for various products, including a local car dealership, restaurant, and a home and garden center.

Consumer-controlled media
Interactive television and advertising is expected to become to more common in the coming years due to consumer demand. A recent Harris Interactive survey found that viewers want iTV functionality for news, entertainment and advertising, said Hanley, a nationally-recognized scholar on mobile communications.

"It's just another step toward consumer-controlled media," he said. "Many in the ad industry know that traditional advertising does not work as effectively as in the past. Interactivity gives consumers and advertisers another option when it comes to who controls the message being delivered. The genie is out of the bottle for most consumers who want to control how news, entertainment and advertising messages are delivered to them. This allows advertisers to begin building positive relationships with consumers."

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