Do you ever find it difficult to read what is on your phone? Do you bring the phone closer or move it away from face to help? New research by computer scientists at St Andrews University has found how mobile phone users interact with their devices could result in a phenomena known as ‘change blindness’.

The research, led by scientists from the School of Computer Science at St Andrews, also shows that mobile proximity aware interfaces exhibit more change blindness than static displays. Change blindness occurs when users fail to notice a single change within their field of view.

Phones equipped with front facing cameras or sensors can map a user’s face to detect its distance from the screen and when this changes. As a result, developers can create interfaces which adapt as users change their distance to the display.

In order to accommodate such changes fewer updates may be shown on a device from applications, such as social media updates and messages, which can be obscured as display content changes.

The study, published by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and presented at the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems today, shows for the first time that change blindness can affect mobile device users as they move their devices. They may not notice the subtle but important changes in the blink of an eye or the movement of device.

“This research highlights the dangers this presents with important updates you might miss,” said lead author, Professor Aaron Quigley, “but also new opportunities to adapt interfaces in discreet ways which might make them easier to use, games easier or harder to play, allow for entirely new types of maps, new ways to view your messages or social media.

“Application developers need to be aware of change blindness when creating mobile interfaces to ensure important updates are not missed. These can be surprisingly large changes which many would think they won’t miss but evidence shows they do.”

The discovery could also lead to the development of a new means of interaction; ‘just in time interface adaptation or awareness’ might mean the screen of the future using knowledge of where a user’s face is and orientation in relation to phones as a new input.

“It will allow designers to develop new types of interfaces such as a proximity aware mobile map,” added Quigley.