What is it:
Active Edge is a feature to enhance usability on Zebra TC51 and TC56 devices by adding a touch sensitive area to the sides of the devices.
The business unit and marketing thought this would be a cool feature to offer after seeing similar features on a HTC phone. The UX team was notified later in the process and I was requested to make it work. The problem was that the feature was already being marketed to our customers so I had to find a solution that would satisfy the customers and work well with the physical design elements which were already on the concept device. The hardware was there but software was not.
Different than previous requests, this time there was already a concept device with some active touch areas so the problem was somewhat clear. I needed to put some short cuts to increase efficiency on the software side. After thinking about a solution I remembered my old days with Mac OS 9 where the apps were being launched through a bar:
The Mac OS 9 inspiration was good but I could make the interaction area bigger, even full screen, to make interaction easier as the location of the physical buttons were higher than the thumb safe zone. At that point there was still no decision on how many apps/shortcuts we should put to Active Edge so I decided to move forward by creating high fidelity wireframes.
Design and prototyping:
I also kickstarted discussions with the development team and requested a proof of concept with what I had at the moment. This is what they came up with:
This was a good place to start but I quickly realised the importance of the shape and color of the interaction area after some people failed to understand what the graphics stood for. I made further exploration to make sure the graphics would work with the device and the curved line that was already printed on the glass.
We found out that the more the graphic matches with the printed curved shape, the more people associated it with the area and percieved it as a one feature. Having a fairly stable direction visually, I focused on what would happen next. I have created some short videos with After Effects to better communicate how it should function when tapped.
This video really helped people to see the possibilities of the concept and soon I got green light from the business unit to move forward.
Our research team in NY made some user testing regarding the interaction and the results were promising. On the release date, Active Edge was also mentioned but it was soon after the product was finalised. Active Edge is now offered as an optional add-on feature to some customers with full customisation.