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Using Multiple Devices Simultaneously for Display and Control

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he Pebbles research project( has been studying the useof hand-held computers simultaneously with other computingdevices. A key focus of our research is that the hand-heldcomputers are used both as output devices and as inputdevices to control the activities on the other computers. Ourprevious articles [1-3] have described parts of the project indetail. This article presents four scenarios that illustrate someof the capabilities we are already investigating.Scenario 1: PresentationsThe presenter of a briefing or talk has a laptop, and the dis-play is projected onto a large screen. The laptop’s powerfulprocessor is needed to control the animations and externalapplications that are part of the presentation. In the presen-ter’s hand is a PDA on which the current slide’s notes are dis-played. The PDA can be used to cause the presentation to goforward, backward, or skip to a specific slide under discussion.Also on the PDA are custom controls to switch among variousother applications on the laptop that the presenter will bedemonstrating and discussing. Each member of the audiencesees on their personal hand-held the current slide, which iskept synchronized with the talk. Audience members can alsomake private notes and annotations on their PDAs. Whenenabled by the presenter, an audience member’s marks ontheir PDA can be displayed on the main screen for generalviewing and discussion.This scenario is partially implemented in our “Slide ShowCommander” application [3]. Figure 1 shows some screen-shots. This application has been released commercially bySynergy Solutions ( In the future, we will be investigatingmore on supporting the audience members and note-taking.Scenario 2:Public and Private SpacesIn a military command center, several large displays showmaps, schedules, and other visualizations of the current situa-tion that will be useful to the group. Individuals carry a per-sonal PDA. While in the command center, someone mightwant more details on an item displayed on a large display.Rather than disrupting the main activities and the main dis-play, the PDA can be pulled out, and a special unobtrusivecursor will appear on the main display, so the user can pointto the item of interest. Then the user can privately “drilldown” to get the additional specialized information displayedon the PDA. The display of the information is appropriatelyadjusted to the limited size of the PDA screen.We are currently exploring various aspects of this scenarioas part of the “Command Post of the Future” project (see In cooperation with MayaViz(, we have created a PDA-based visualiza-tion and control program that runs on Windows CE andPalm. On the PDA, you can see a view of a map on which youcan scribble and select objects, and a table view of the detailedinformation. The user can operate either connected (so oper-ations on the PDA are immediately reflected on the mainscreen) or disconnected. Figure 2 shows some examplescreens.We have a number of other applications that supportmeetings where the participants are co-located. All partici-pants’ PDAs are in continuous two-way communication withthe main computer, which is often projected on a screen toserve as the focal point of the discussion. Some of our initialapplications use the PDAs as remote mice and keyboards sothat everyone in the meeting can control the main computer.This might be used as a shared whiteboard that supports mul-tiple inputs simultaneously, for private side messages via a“chat” program, and to display multiple cursors for pointingand scribbling on arbitrary applications. More details on ourgroupware applications are presented in another paper [1].Scenario 3: Augmenting the DesktopWhen the user is sitting and working, various devices areplaced on the desk: a laptop, a PDA, a cell-phone, etc. Theyimmediately communicate with each other to establish eachdevice’s capabilities and specifications. As the user works, var-ious controls appear on the screens of the other devices ratherthan on the laptop’s screen. For example, scroll bars might bedrawn on the PDA so the user can operate them with the lefthand while using the mouse with the right hand, which hasbeen shown to be fast and effective. The user’s custom short-cuts for the laptop applications also appear on the PDA, andthe user has memorized their location and can operate themIEEE Personal Communications • October 2000621070-9916/00/$10.00 © 2000 IEEETUsing Multiple Devices Simultaneously forDisplay and ControlBrad A. Myers, Carnegie Mellon UniversityAbstractThe Pebbles research project ( has been studying the use of hand-held personal digital assistants (PDAs) alongwith other kinds of hand-held computers, at the same time as other computing devices. A key focus of our research is that the hand-held comput-ers are used both as output devices and as input devices to control the activities on the other computers. Our previous articles have describedparts of the project in detail. This article presents four scenarios that illustrate some of the capabilities we are already investigating.IEEE Personal Communications • October 200063quickly without looking. Information can be easily movedamong the devices, and other information is automatically dis-tributed based on predefined user preferences.We have started to investigate some aspects of this sce-nario. The PDA can be used as a scrolling device, as a gen-eral-purpose button panel (to create screens of “shortcuts”),as an index page or table of contents for web surfing, and tocut and paste information back and forth from the PDA tothe PC. Initial studies show that scrolling with the PDA inthe left hand while using the right hand to select items inthe window with the mouse can be faster than using themouse with conventional scroll bars [2]. A related studyshows that moving both hands off the keyboard to the PDAon the left and the mouse on the right (or back to the key-board from the devices) is only about 15 percent slowerthan moving one hand to the mouse. Thus, there is littlepenalty to using both devices. Figure 3 shows some examplescreens we have created with our “Shortcutter” application.Other related applications are described in another paper[3]. Currently, we are only using PDAs, and the communica-tion uses the PDA’s cradle and

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