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iPad meets user: UsabilityOne tests the iPad

Sean Owner 28th May, 2010

iPad User Testing

So just how usable is the iPad? To find out, we conducted some usability research of our own. We asked users to complete a number of tasks that use the native apps, as well as some browsing activities.

Our preliminary findings indicate that the iPad is inherently usable. The average score attained by iPad users on our UsabilityOne Task Completion Index (TCI) compares extremely favourably with the average score for the hundreds of interfaces we have tested here at UsabilityOne.

The reaction to the iPad amongst our testing participants, which include a mix of iPhone and non-iPhone users, has been overwhelmingly positive. Users thought the device looks very slick, providing a good overall experience.

The web browsing experience was particularly positive, as it feels more immersive due to the touch interaction.

Downside? People are struggling to see exactly how it will fit into their lives. It clearly is not a replacement for a desktop or laptop computer. In fact, you require one of these devices to transfer and manage content on the iPad.

Mostly, the iPad has been perceived as a luxury device rather than a must-have. The most common use-cases our participants have put forward include: web browsing while sitting on the couch or using it to watch video content, things that you can already do with a laptop or netbook. Other scenarios suggested include use of the iPad in the kitchen as a recipe book or as an electronic photo frame. The touch QWERTY keyboard is seen as reasonable for typing in search phrases, URLs and short emails, but no more than that. Nobody could conceive of using the iPad to create or edit documents.

We also observed that the way in which people held the iPad is likely to impact on how they use it. Users commented that it is actually much heavier than it looks. In order to use it to watch video or read e-books for a long period of time means that – unless you have forearms like Popeye – you will need to put it down or prop it up in some way. Obviously this will impact on the most common usage scenario suggested by our test participants (i.e. sitting on the couch).

the iPad

UsabilityOne’s take on the iPad

So what do we think of the iPad? Whilst a nice piece of kit, the iPad has several obvious limitations.

The keyboard limits the iPad’s potential as a business tool, and the inability of the iPad’s Safari browser to display Flash content clearly impacts on its utility. Whilst it is great as a video device, the continued decision by Apple not to support Flash means the iPad is not compatible with catch-up TV services such as the ABC’s iView. The same goes for all of the other free-to-air broadcasters’ catch-up TV services. In the UK, the BBC created a version of their iPlayer which is compatible with iPhones, and it is interesting to see that the ABC has just announced the release of an app for the iPad that will allow users to access ABC content such as iView.

Given the boom in mobile browsing, many websites are now presented in a format which is compatible with mobile phone browsers, providing an optimal experience on those devices. Our experience thus far with the iPad indicates that websites presented on its Safari browser are not modified in any way; they are the same as you would see when accessing them on a laptop or desktop computer. As touch provides the only means of interaction with websites on the iPad, there are some question marks over the compatibility of traditional website design and the iPad. Just as with the iPhone, target areas (i.e. text links, navigation) can be difficult to hit on the iPad without first zooming in. However, a consequence of zooming in is that some content drops out of view, which suggests that it is important to be even more conscious of ensuring proximity between related controls and content.

Perhaps there is even an argument for creating iPad versions of websites.

Like our participants, we think the iPad would be nice to have but the fact that it does not replace your desktop or laptop computer makes it hard to justify outlaying the cash to buy one.

So, is the iPad a game changer? Its immediate success, and the fact that competitors such as Microsoft, Dell, Sony and HP are preparing their own releases into the tablet market suggests it may well be. There are great hopes that the iPad can save the newspaper industry and that it will find a niche in education as a replacement for traditional text books. It is a lot of expectation for one little tablet device. The true success of the iPad, as with the iPhone, will lie in the development of apps that exploit its capabilities and fit into people’s lifestyles. We will be eagerly watching this space.

Want more info on the usability of the iPad? Keep an eye out here for some detailed findings on this research in the near future.

About The Author

Sean Owner

Sean joined U1 Group back in 2010 as a Senior Consultant and since then his role has evolved going on to become Managing Director and now Owner of the business. Sean has been involved in experience research and strategy for over 20 years. With a background in Psychology and a keen interest in technology, Sean is passionate about the use of research to inform experience design decisions. He firmly believes that the best experiences are those which recognise the human that resides at the centre of all interactions.


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