iPad usability study from Jakob Nielsen

Although the study only tested seven people, it reveals a few interesting points. Here is the summary if you don’t feel like reading the whole thing.

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.

“It looks like a giant iPhone,” is the first thing users say when asked to test an iPad. (Their second comment? “Wow, it’s heavy.”)

The iPad etched-screen aesthetic does look good. No visual distractions or nerdy buttons. The penalty for this beauty is the re-emergence of a usability problem we haven’t seen since the mid-1990s: Users don’t know where they can click.

To exacerbate the problem, once they do figure out how something works, users can’t transfer their skills from one app to the next. Each application has a completely different UI for similar features.

He also offers some suggestions on how to improve usability on the device.

  • Add dimensionality and better define individual interactive areas to increase discoverability through perceived affordances of what users can do where.
  • To achieve these interactive benefits, loosen up the etched-glass aesthetic. Going beyond the flatland of iPad’s first-generation apps might create slightly less attractive screens, but designers can retain most of the good looks by making the GUI cues more subtle than the heavy-handed visuals used in the Macintosh-to-Windows-7 progression of GUI styles.
  • Abandon the hope of value-add through weirdness. Better to use consistent interaction techniques that empower users to focus on your content instead of wondering how to get it.
  • Support standard navigation, including a Back feature, search, clickable headlines, and a homepage for most apps.

Note that he is talking about specific applications from the app store and not about the default apps that come with an iPad. Go here to view the full list of applications he tested.

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