Friday, November 2, 2012

How usable is an iPad?

The Nielson Norman Group decided to do a study where they looked at how usable an iPad is on different websites. The study's goal is to see whether an iPad could one day possibly be a complete replacement for desktops and laptops. It also compared the iPad to the iPhone, in terms of web browsing experience among other things. At the end of the day the research above all, was trying to determine the usability of an iPad.

First Studies

The first studies for this research was conducted a few weeks after the release of the iPad. This already raises problems with me, because I do not believe that is enough time for a learning curve but I digress. The other issue would be who is it that they surveyed? If it is a younger demographic, they will be able to adjust to the iPad easier than an older demographic. The study says it used a grand total of seven people for its research which is way too little for a real study. Surveying one person above 50 is no way to get an idea of how an entire demographic would react to a product. I also found their methodology interesting, because they had people who have possibly never used an iPad before mess around on one. While I understand the appeal of asking people who have never used a product before, I think it is unfair to base decisions of user friendliness based on first time usage. I say this because every product no matter how customer friendly has some sort of learning curve. Having said that the intention of the study is noble, but I do not think it was executed properly to say the least.

Inconsistencies of App Usage

The research found that what people disliked most about the iPad was switching from app to app and from app to website. This is quite easy once you learn how to navigate an iPad but my guess is not everyone knows that pressing the home key twice allows you to multitask. Now I think the issue with multitasking revolves around screen size, in laptops and desktop there is enough screen estate to show everything that you have open in the bottom. I think this may be one of the bigger challenges that iPads and all other tables alike will face. With smaller screens a lot of the functionality of bigger screens is lost, and I really do not see any way around the issues that arise from a smaller screen.

Websites and the iPad

One of the biggest advantages of the iPad over the iPhone is the screen real estate. With a much bigger screen navigating websites is not only easier but it also is easier to navigate the browser website rather than the mobile version of the website. These are clear advantages of an iPad over an iPhone but still compared to a browser on a laptop or desktop it doesn't live up to the mark. I personally think that the article goes too in depth in to every little aspect that could make an iPad troublesome. In some sense the article is more trouble to read through when compared to the issues it discusses. One of the issues mentioned is inconsistencies with pinch to zoom, as sites that load things such as maps may pose an issue on an iPad. The research also mentions differences between apps, websites and possibly iPad specific websites. While apps seem to be the best option as they are built specifically for the iPhone/iPad, but that is pretty obvious and self-explanatory. It is interesting to see companies adapt to the needs of customers rather than the other way around, mainly because these technologies are very easy to adapt to.

Is This Study Worth It?

As I stated earlier, this study is much ado about nothing, I do not think pinch and zoom is a deal breaker for most people buying an iPad, and neither is the difference between desktop browsing and iPad browsing. I am pretty sure that most people buying an iPad realize that. I think this study needs to be reproduced with more people and the researchers should consider doing a study where they see how much users are able to adapt to the iPad in a month. Despite my criticism towards the research, I do believe it was a good effort, they clearly put a lot of thought behind the research and I find their efforts noble but wasted.


  1. The question of this post is could Ipad's one day replace desktops. I believe that in the future this could be true. In their study of seeing if this could be true, they questioned if older people would understand how to know to work the new technology. They mentioned that there will always be a learners curve to the product. For the people that would not like going from app to app I understand their situation. When i first got an Iphone or Ipad at first i honestly did not like it. The more I got comfortable with them, the more I liked them. I think that it takes time to get used to such a difficult product.

  2. This post was very intriguing and I enjoyed your analysis of the Nielson report. It’s definitely very hard to quantify how “usable” an interface is as that is such an objective concept. What someone considers easy to use could be based on their past experiences and the technology they have previously had experience with. I agree with you that this study would have probably produced different results if the people using the iPads had used apple technology before. I think that in this study they should have also taken into account the learning curve, or tried to quantify the learning curve.