Defying Gravity: Amazon’s New Patent

Amazon’s recent patent for “gravity-based link assist” aims to direct a user’s mouse cursor to where the system predicts the user wants to click.

The idea’s primary purpose is to solve a usability issue on devices with slower refresh times, such as ereaders that use electronic paper, which can range from 100 to 250ms. Users accustomed to fast refresh of LCD and CRT displays (~15ms) can get confused by longer delay and assume their input was not registered.

Another issue gravity-based link assist intends to address is the difference in pixel granularity, which increases the chance that the device activates a different input than what the user intended. Both hiccups can affect on-device transactions, and could mean more money for the Kindle bookstore, or massive licensing revenue should it be adopted by other websites.

How it works

According to the patent filing, the solution uses “gravity parameters,” or distance thresholds from a clickable target that can be predetermined or configured by the user. Image links may have stronger pull than text links, for example. Or higher-priority actions may be given stronger “gravity” than others. Links with weaker gravity may be skipped over by the moving pointer. The pointer will settle smack-dab in the “assisted-center” of the target link.

So I know you’re all thinkin’ – how can we use this for evil in website optimization? Wouldn’t it be nice to use a Ouija-like director to your primary call to action! But this functionality would likely cause more abandonment when it’s not needed for accessibility or usability reasons on fast devices. Amazon’s apparent intent is better accessibility rather than maximizing profits.

But the patent is drawing criticism that the “gravity wells” should not be patentable, that it’s been applied to assistive technology and gaming applications for years. One commenter on Wired says ”It won’t surprise me in the least when Amazon attempts to patent gravity itself.”

Hat tip to StorefrontBacktalk for the story idea


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