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USB headset usability

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Hot on the heels of my last post about USB key usability I have another one to share, this time about headsets.

Nate Graham’s usability series is going full steam ahead and we have a lot to look forward to in upcoming releases.

For now let’s focus USB headsets. I use a USB headset for Skype and Linphone calls and KDE has good support for this peripheral device. In fact, the KDE team was thinking well ahead of its time when years ago it provisioned for a number of use cases with audio devices. An audio stream can be directed to a type of audio device WHEN it was most appropriate (or, to meet a use case). For example, a “communication” use case can priorotise a headet over the computer’s loud speakers. Conversely, a system notification can be directed to use the computer’s speakers instead of a headset.

The Phonon AV framework abstracts the devices from the applications so audio or video can be added to any app, such as a file manager, without having to code it from scratch.

KDE multimedia (Phonon) system settings.

The only challenge for a polished end-user experience is third-party applications must take advantage of this flexibility, and KDE must respond accordingly. Take USB headsets. When you plug one in ,you get:

Plug in USB headset -> No device notification -> No backend change -> The user has to manually promote the headset to be the preferred device for audio playback

No notification when a USB headset is plugged in

Quick question: If one plugs in a USB headset is it not a reasonable assumption the person actually wants to use it?

So we have two possible scenarios to improve usability:

  1. Plug in a USB headset and the system sets that as the default (not unreasonable),
  2. Or, plug in the USB headset and the notification system ASKS the user to select that device as the default for audio playback and capture or not (most refined option). This is similar to how the notification system asks the user how to respond when a USB key is inserted.

At present the user is left to her or his own devices (yes pun) to manually select the headset for audio playback and “recording” (should this be changed to “input”?).

Once you set the default audio playback and recording device to the USB headset VoIP apps work fine.

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