The iPad has become a commercial hit, selling more than 1 million units in a month and setting the publishing world into a frenzy.
Publishers are reacting in myriad ways, from building apps to waiting it out. But most are planning on doing something to cater to the device. My favorite recent bit of irrational exuberance over the device came at a meeting when another publisher gushed about how radical the device could be, then described an app that was about as interesting as a dried sardine in a sink drain. It certainly wasn’t focused on usability.
And usability is a potentially big problem for the device. As I’ve said here before, I gave up my iPad rather quickly. It didn’t work for me, and I found the size unwieldy — gestures were too big, and I felt silly using it.
It seems I’m not alone.
Last week, Jakob Nielsen unveiled his first usability study of the iPad. His summary — well, it sums it all up:
iPad apps are inconsistent and have low feature discoverability, with frequent user errors due to accidental gestures. An overly strong print metaphor and weird interaction styles cause further usability problems.
Nielsen’s analysis goes on — users want a home page experience for most apps, but they don’t get it; they want search tools, but search tools are not provided; they expect to scroll but instead have a confusing array of gestures to figure out.
Essentially, it seems that they want the Web in a tablet computer form, but publishers are creating apps that rely on print metaphors:
Overall, we think that sticking to the page-by-page model . . . is unnecessary and does not make use of the habits people have formed during the many years of browsing the Web. It makes users work more to impose a sequential model of navigating through the magazine. . . . This sequential page model implements some of the worst practices we’ve seen on the Web, in particular, linking with no information scent (the dreaded “Next article” and “Previous article” which say nothing about what those articles will cover).
Nielsen also wonders about the iPad’s implicit design, which encourages immersive experiences. Users, however, like to visit a lot of sites online, browsing, using search engines, sampling, and engaging in “information snacking” behavior. The iPad’s architecture runs counter to this, and users seem frustrated by it.
Interaction models are inconsistent on the iPad — some menus pop up, some slide out, some demand you to find a little menu button, etc. Users can miss entire suites of functionality because of these inconsistencies.
Gestures are the basis for the touchscreen experience, but they’re inconsistently deployed across apps, leading to spotty “gesture memory” among users:
Using many gestures can confuse people: they are likely to forget which gesture they’re supposed to use for what feature, and memories for different gestures often end up interfering with each other.
The summary on Nielsen’s site is, as always, well worth reading, and the full report is available as a free download. I’d recommend both.
But try reading them on your iPad first.