Touchcloud
Category: Work

Esteves, A., Quintal, F. and Oakley, I. 2014. TouchCloud: An Exploratory Study in Physically Tagging the Cloud. In Extended Abstracts of the 8th International Conference on Tangible, Embedded and Embodied Interaction (TEI ’14). [download]

Esteves, A., Quintal, F. and Oakley, I. 2014. TouchCloud: 클라우드에 저장된 데이터로 실제 사물들을 강화할 수 있게 해주는 서비스. 한국 HCI 학회 학술대회, 777-779. [download]

This work was a winner of the ChallengePost Internet of Things Hackathon 2015.

Touchcloud is novel service that enables users to tag their physical environment with their Dropbox files. This is achieved through a set of bespoke NFC stickers and an application running on NFC-enabled Android mobile phones. The system is simple. Firstly, users attach the stickers to, on or in objects in their environment. Secondly, they choose specific Dropbox files or folders to physically tag and select the Touchcloud command from a context menu (available via the Share Dropbox menu on Android devices). The user is then prompted to bring a Touchcloud tag in range of their device in order to finalize the association.

Physically, Touchcloud tags are NTAG203 NFC stickers. These are relatively inexpensive (approximately $0.50/tag) and unobtrusive (34 mm diameter by less than one mm thick). When compared to similar technologies, such as QR codes, these NFC stickers are generally more robust (as sensing is not affected by dirt or smearing), reliable and easy to use – tag reading is fast, and not affected by issues such as tag and sensor alignment or precise positioning. The only downside of using NFC is in regards to availability, as Apple has still to natively adopt NFC on their devices. As such, these tags can be accessed by a bespoke application developed for Android 4.0 or above.

The overarching goal of Touchcloud is to improve the user experience of cloud storage applications such as Dropbox through providing readily available, customizable and physical mediated access to digital content. A pilot study with four participants suggests Touchcloud achieves these aims and highlights a number of trends for future exploration. Firstly, nearly one fifth of the digital content used in the study was uploaded specifically for use with Touchcloud, suggesting that physical handles can increase the types of information stored in cloud services or the contexts in which information is used. We suggest this indicates that physical handles offer valuable new usage scenarios to users and plan to conduct future studies to better understand what these are. The comments of two participants directly corroborate this notion – both reported expanding their use of Dropbox to new areas of activity (e.g. extending their usage to include either their work or leisure activities).

A second issue that emerged related to the perceived security and understandability of the system, factors that have previously been identified as strongly impacting users’ experience of cloud services, and hampering adaptation of cloud technologies. Specifically, three of the four participants reported that their cloud-stored data was safer with Touchcloud (despite the service having no influence on the security of Dropbox files). This suggests that the use of tangible tags with remote data can convey the same sense of security users feel with local data – basically reinforcing the notion that they are able to limit access to digital content via simple and easy to understand physical restrictions.

Touchcloud interface

Three stages of the Touchcloud interface (from left to right): the user has selected a file or folder and is waiting for a NFC tag to finalize the association; the user has successfully tagged a file; and the user is opening a tagged file.

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