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The publisher Condé Nast has 3.8 million apps installed on iPads and iPhones, and recently analyzed 5,000 in-app surveys along with 100 hours of one-on-one interviews of magazine app users to see what’s going on with this new device.

There were a few interesting findings:

  • Most users leave the iPad at home or in a set location for sharing with a collaborative group. In either setting, the iPad isn’t a mobile, personal device but almost an installed device from a user standpoint.
  • Usability issues within and across apps persist, and “apps and that interactive ads often need to come with directions.” This jibes with Jakob Nielsen’s usability findings from this past spring.
  • Users spend more time with the apps than with the printed editions. However, because it’s impossible to tell which issue the user is reading, it’s unclear if each issue is getting more time or whether the app itself is what’s getting more time.
  • Users get bored if advertising is repurposed or repetitive. Advertisers need to make special ads for apps and mix them up within apps.

The most surprising finding to me is that the iPad isn’t functioning as a mobile device. When I abandoned my iPad, I sensed it was too heavy and beautiful to be regularly hauled around. It turns out, at least in this survey, that most users leave their devices at home rather than lugging them around. To quote from the article:

. . . as the iPad—or other tablet devices—evolve and become cheaper and lighter, the idea of it being regarded as more purely mobile could come into play. But right now, at least, this is something for the couch—not the commute.

This also means that the iPad isn’t just a personal device but often a group’s device — a family uses it instead of one person, limiting the value of personalization strategies. In fact, this also clouds the finding that people are spending more time with iPad versions of magazines than with print versions — if the iPad is a community device rather than a personal device, data might be for a group’s usage rather than an individual’s.

Despite these caveats, it’s clear that fascination with the iPad continues to be high, that at some point Apple or some other vendor will reduce the weight and improve the interface sufficiently to make the tablet reader truly the killer personal device it could be, and users remain willing to dish out money to get digital content — at a price point that’s surprisingly high compared to print.

For publishers and advertisers, the challenge of making things work in this new environment remains significant, but so does the opportunity.

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Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson is the CEO of RedLink and RedLink Network, a past-President of SSP, and the founder of the Scholarly Kitchen. He has worked as Publisher at AAAS/Science, CEO/Publisher of JBJS, Inc., a publishing executive at the Massachusetts Medical Society, Publishing Director of the New England Journal of Medicine, and Director of Medical Journals at the American Academy of Pediatrics. Opinions on social media or blogs are his own.


7 Thoughts on "Publisher Finds iPad Has Usability and Portability Limitations"

The couch is the breakthrough in mobility. The iPad is the first true “laptop” because it works best in your lap. Much follows from this.

“The couch is the breakthrough in mobility.” I’ll treasure that sentence today in my own snarky little world.

But I get your point. It brings computing, entertainment, and reading to the 1′ zone (where reading has always been). As for what follows from this, I found it be a distracting mess of computing, a spaghetti bowl of options and competing priorities.

I completely disagree. My iPad travels with me everywhere and I use it as a notebook with Notes HD or Evernote or Documents to Go. I also use iAnnotate for PDFs – these are really great apps for work. The iPad not only replaces my paper notebook but my laptop. As long as I keep my documents up in the air I don’t have problems with memory.

It sounds like I am definitely in the minority but I do haul around my iPad everywhere I go. I use it just about all day, every day—for notes, email, reading books, looking at apps, browsing the internet. I’m not sure why other owners aren’t as willing to throw it in a book bag and take it along, but that’s one of it’s greatest assets for me.

Most of my notes for school are PDFs and I keep them alllllllll on my iPad. I have barely made a dent on the memory. And professors don’t really care about memory when sending you articles either…. The only reason I even turn on my computer anymore is because the website the school uses (blackboard) is mainly flash. I consider that to be the only draw back… I have since adopted a rmote desktop ap, and even flash can be used.

Just because people share their device with their family/group doesn’t make the device immobile btw.

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