Yes, the iPad is the 'wild west' of mobile UI

Yes, the iPad is the 'wild west' of mobile UI

Summary: In a screed titled iPad Usability: First Findings From User Testing, user interface guru Jakob Nielsen offers up a long list of interface problems with the iPad. The "problem" is that the iPad platform is so fresh, and Apple is being surprisingly open to interface experiments, that developers are all over the map (or the touch screen) with interaction ideas.

In a screed titled iPad Usability: First Findings From User Testing, user interface guru Jakob Nielsen offers up a long list of interface problems with the iPad. The "problem" is that the iPad platform is so fresh, and Apple is being surprisingly open to interface experiments, that developers are all over the map (or the touch screen) with interaction ideas.
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. For the last 15 years of Web usability research, the main problems have been that users don't know where to go or which option to choose — not that they don't even know which options exist. With iPad UIs, we're back to this square one.

This situation on the iPad is the opposite of the Mac OS X desktop user experience, which has evolved for decades, incorporating elements from the NeXT interface and the Apple Macintosh. There have been times in the 1990s, when Apple was decried as being too controlling about its interface. I agree with a number of Nielsen's criticisms. It's hard to know in programs where there's more "stuff" off screen. Only with an experimental swipe are the extra text or images revealed. In addition, some iPad versions are needlessly dumbed down to smartphone experience. I find the standard desktop browser interfaces for some websites are perfectly usable on the iPad, but the mobile versions, designed for a phone-sized display, seem stripped down on the iPad. For example, the standard Facebook site running on Safari is being perfectly usable on the iPad. In a post a while back, I pointed to some issues that Apple was juggling in the UI department. Apple offers developers UI guidelines for Mac, iPhone and iPad. Check Out: First looks at Apple's iPad user experience guidelines In the post, I mentioned that according to Apple, iPad apps should have a clean, focused look without a lot of buttons or controls.
De-emphasize User Interface Controls Help people focus on the content by designing your application UI as a subtle frame for the information they’re interested in. Downplay application controls by minimizing their number and prominence. Consider creating custom controls that subtly integrate with your application’s graphical style. In this way, controls are discoverable, but not too conspicuous.
Perhaps in some instances, the controls are too de-emphasized. And since there are almost no common gestures or signs on the platform, users have to figure out the values of each app, as Nielsen mentions. Here are Nielsen's suggestions:
•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.
We will see how long Apple takes to "suggest" some UI rules to iPad developers. Perhaps we will hear more details at the upcoming WWDC in June.

Topics: Hardware, Apple, iPad, Mobility

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  • Trouble is...

    Jakob Nielsen is a ui design critic and not a ui designer. His criticisms seem to be based upon the bad habits users have picked up over the years looking at bad design and have somehow evolved in his mind to be acceptable or even good user behaviour and therefore can be predicted and prescribed. Yick...after reading some of his stuff I have to say I am not a fan. In truth the design leads the user good or bad there are really no unbreakable rules.
    • Given That...

      apple's predominant selling point is usability, I would suggest that his points should be considered. Of all the most memorable apple mantras, "Intuitive" comes to mind more than any of the others, and if the user's intuition tells them to do something (no matter how much YOU think it's a bad habit), then as far as apple is concerned, that action had better result in what the user wanted... Otherwise, apple is clearly NOT intuitive (which is what I've found in my apple experiences).
      Is that difficult to understand ?
      • Making crappy adjustments to icons (etc) will not do those more intuitive,

        but definitely will make GUI look like crap.

        <b>Is that difficult to understand?</b>
      • @denisrs

        Hmm. I have seen a lot of users create desktop shortcuts for most used apps, and internet shortcuts. I am not seeing any wrong with icons on iPhone. Of course if you have more apps, it looks more cluttered, but I don't see any User Experience issues there. I for one will keep my desktop clean, but there is no chance in iPhonish devices. Only thing I want to see is there should an easier way to organize the apps or some other configuration settings for Organizing apps on your device based on App Category or you want everything on your phone screens.
        Ram U
    • RE: Why yes. What good would an end user's input have on Apple's UI.

      As you seem to be saying, only Apple can say what designs are usable and good, not anyone else, not a critic who probably knows more about aesthetics than the vast majority of Apple engineers, not the average end user, bah, they know nothing.
      Jobs should have the final say in all UI design and the critics and users need to realize that Mr. Jobs is above human and he should never be questioned and anyone who wants to use Apple products, for any reason,
      will quietly and obediently comply.
      • RE: Yes, the iPad is the 'wild west' of mobile UI


        Oh, geez, what an attitude.

        I've used the iPad almost since it's release, and have had no trouble figuring out how to interface with it. Some apps aren't easy to figure out, but that's not Apple's fault, it's the app designer's.

        About the only thing I agree with on the referenced article is the mention of the Times app's not allowing a page swipe over the ads. Again, not Apple's fault.

        I like Dave's theory that Apple is letting things run a bit wild to find out what works and what doesn't. Nothing like hearing what users are griping about to figure THAT out!

        It's a brand new interface, and it'll take time to settle in. Lighten up on the sarcasm, it really didn't add much to the discussion.
  • If iPad is a departure from the past...

    and forces, er, offers people a new, more efficient, less clicky logic to achieve results, if the GUI indeed is built around an anticipation model and brings a new, "automated response" logic to how people think, then it is a stroke of genius. If it is just OS X with a few less icons or buttons, then it wouldn't be "magic".

    I get mine on May 28th in London and I can't wait to see it work. I might even read a book all the way through, this time!!!!
  • RE: Yes, the iPad is the 'wild west' of mobile UI

    I think Nielsen's points are valid. Having played with an iPad myself, I did find myself lost in different applications, trying to figure out what / where to go.

    UI design calls for 2 dynamic areas: Usability and Learnability. Usability is there. Once you know how to get to the content, navigate the content and perform the functions you desire of a certain app, it works flawlessly. Also, a power user, will be able to "fly" through the UI.

    Learnability: the ability for a "noob" to just sit in front of the screen and perform the desired actions without instruction. This is where the iPad fails, in my opinion. It is easy to "get lost" and not figure out what to do, certain features are hidden, away, and options are hard to find. This design adds a certain learning curve to the device, which could impact the user experience.

    But, this will not be an issue to Apple. I have noticed that every person that purchases an Apple product, somehow signs a contract (probably in blood) to defend the product regardless of any shortcommings; even to a point where they will blame themselves for something, instead of the device.
  • RE: Yes, the iPad is the 'wild west' of mobile UI

    This seems hysterical to me. As a Windows person my whole life, I have been using the iPad for about a month and the interface and usability has been nothing short of brilliance and will bet is the future of the tablet. If you are having issues with this interface, then you need to wait until the tablet can read your mind. The iPad applications correctly designed are simply the best applications ever used.
  • Kids & Old Folks can use it

    Have you ever seen a 4 or 5 year old using an iPhone or touch? They can find the app they want (generally a game) and use it without a problem.

    Same for older people who were able to survive most of their life without using a computer. They are limiting what they are doing with iPads, but have it worked out.

    The mobile OS approach Apple takes these days is about as far as you can get from a command line. People who actually like the command line will not be near as appreciative of Apple's approach as normal people will be, but the product is designed for normal people. :)