Category Archives: old time story


The Happy Birthday app is one simple and cute app I made (about 7 years ago) that uses the alternative interaction of blowing at the phone to put out birthday cake candles. One cool thing about this project was to actually use the “puffing” interaction for the first time. Also, I had the “joy” of noticing my first big ethnographic mistake: We published the “Feliz Cumpleãnos”, a Spanish version of this app for Latin America. I noticed download numbers in Mexico were not too great, as opposed to the ones in English and Portuguese. Months later I was in Mexico to talk in a developer conference and I heard people singing the song “Las Mañanitas” at a restaurant one night. My colleague (Ludwig Villareal) explained to me that people don’t sing happy
birthday in Mexico – they sing “Las Manãnitas”. A simple phone call to any Mexican person could have solved this. I started to take ethnography more seriously and it is actually *really* interesting. So many obvious mistakes can be easily avoided. Check out for some inspiration.

A cold night in Finland.

The story of how alternative human-computer interaction started for me:

Late 2007, we were invited to participate in a quick meeting with the corporate social responsibility team in Nokia. They had just held a workshop with disable and elderly mobile phone users and listened to their complaints about their limitations and restricted use of this technology. The team shared a few testimonials and ideas. Some of the ideas felt challenging, simply because the sentences we heard were prefixed with “Are you guys able to …[]”. Our brains itched. It was me-the-developer, wilson-the-designer and carlos-the-marketing-guy. A person from Nokia CSR asked us if we could develop a mobile phone app that could use the phone camera as a magnifier, to help the hard of reading to e.g. check what are the nutrition facts on their cereal and make other types of fine printed information legible.

We went straight back to the hotel, on a cold Finnish night and started debating about the use of zooming and macro focus range on mobile phone cameras. We started from there. Countless builds later (around two months doing this after work hours), we came up with an app that adjusted zoom and macro to what we felt it was optimal and we sent it to the accessibility team in Nokia. I have to say they were actually very patient to coach us through several accessibility principles that shaped basically all of our experiments.

So we were at this point: The accessibility team in Nokia was checking out our app! And they liked it?! And after a few improvements and bug fixes we were publishing the app here. They wrote the entry post for Nokia Beta Labs and the guys from NRC Finland produced the video. It felt really rewarding. (good times, sigh..) We have a new version now, downloadable here (S60 3rd Edition) and here (Symbian^3). Also, here is a post on the Magnifier and its results.

From there on, I understand that mobile phones are intimate pieces of technology, full of sensors, fully connected and perfectly equipped to help people assessing their environment. It also lighted up the fact that humans have limitations which will prevent some of their senses to interact with mobile phones. I am not talking to the usual concept of a disabled user. But we can talk about that later. [here]