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Editor’s Note: Usability and Sociability for Mobile and Pervasive Interactive Television

Interactive Television (iTV) is slowly replacing the traditional “passive” TV platform due to better audio/video quality and interactive services such as electronic program guides (EPG) and communication services, made possible by a set-top box with a return channel. These new interactive services allow viewers to actively participate, and substantially influence, their experience with television and their TV-related social behavior. Furthermore, powerful handheld devices with multimedia capabilities, together with increasing interoperability between platforms are expanding iTV consumption beyond the domestic context.

However, two major factors might undermine the success of these deployments. The first is related to the intrinsic physical diversity between screens (TV and handhelds), making them unsuitable for the same form of content delivery. These dissimilarities influence the way of interacting with them and therefore imply distinct interaction patterns and different service formats and features.

The second threat to success regards the context of use. TV is traditionally used in a domestic environment and usually involves social sharing, while mobile devices are mainly used in public environments and entail an individual experience. Sometimes the users are performing their daily tasks while on the move. Unlike TV, handhelds are regularly used in different situations and with different purposes,making it possible for mobile services to be context related. Mobile iTV user experiences require an increasing need to design pervasive interactive multimedia systems supporting social interactions. Social interaction is one of the challenges in designing these systems. Some basic underlying questions concern the possibilities for technology to support and encourage communication and interaction among different users, and among users and places and events. The high complexity that the design of these systems entails goes beyond usability issues and addresses multifaceted emotional aspects strictly related to the usage context, such as privacy, trust, etc.

This issue’s special theme intends to provide more insight into the design of the interaction in future interactive TV scenarios where mobile and other surrounding interfaces, intelligent environments, and the social context intersect with the purpose of creating and exchanging multimedia content.

As the future of audio-visual media technologies is being shaped at the moment, interactive television will play an important role in this evolution. Interactive television will not only be used in a home context, but will find its way onto mobile devices as well. Taking into account not only usability but also sociability and mobility is a necessary step in creating a compelling user experience for this ubiquitous medium.