Learn to use iPad, Safari on the iPad and iPad apps

learning iPad, beginner on iPad, getting apps from app store, learning safari on iPad

Jakob Nielsen critiques iPad

No, no — the iPad is perfect. Isn’t it?

Well not quite.

I teach people how to use their new iPads, and they are anything but intuitive, or consistent.

My favorite story from a student is that she was told to go home by a staff person in the Apple Store and upgrade her iPad2 to IOS5.  “It’s intuitive,” he said.  That’s why she took my class.

Try remembering which button puts the iPad to sleep and which two buttons reset it.

The iPad isn’t intuitive, unless you play with it for a few weeks using a wide range of apps, that aren’t consistent from one to the other.  Dr Nielsen discusses some of the ways the iPad isn’t intuitive and that it’s foibles aren’t easily discover-able.

“With the iPad, it’s very easy to touch in the wrong place, so people can click the wrong thing, but they can’t tell what happened,” Nielsen says.

There are also problems with gestures such as swiping the screen because they’re “inherently vague”, and “lack discover-ability.” There’s no way to tell what a gesture will do at any particular point.

Boy, is this true. Thank you Dr. Nielsen. Try re-sizing the font in the Khan Mobile app.  Try changing this app’s orientation.

Discover-ability? Try to figure out what causes the lists to move around. He may know how to teach math, but you can’t infer that from the usability of the Khan Mobile app. I’m not picking on it, it is just an example of many more apps that are not designed to make us comfortable so we can move on to the reasons we got the app in the first place.

“People don’t know what they can do, and when they try to do something, they don’t even know what they did, because it’s invisible,” Nielsen explains. “With a mouse, you can click the wrong thing, but you can see where you clicked.”

Lack of consistency and lack of discover-ability are problems that should worry Apple, because they have been its strength for decades. Discover-ability was the core attraction of the Mac’s pull-down menus when it was launched in 1984, and the main reason Apple opted for having only one button on the mouse.

“One of the great successes of the Macintosh was that it had very detailed human-interface guidelines for how applications should work,” says Nielsen. “In those days, as a Mac owner, you could pick up another application and just use it.”

There are three main problems with iPad apps, Dr Nielsen said, the first of which is finding the good ones in the iTunes store. He said: “How do you find out what is a good game or news application? There’s really nothing other than the bestseller list and a few topic categories, particularly compared with the eco-system around getting an application for a PC or Mac. You’re very often left with recommendations from friends.”

This is a constant point of mystery for students. “Do I rely on the many TopTen lists? They appear to reflect the latest new apps the author found. Or, can you rely on the stars on iTunes?  Watch closely, some are excellent “5 Stars” based on two recommendations and the one next in the list may be a “4.5 Stars’ app based on 2,400  people.

Be careful, there isn’t even a standardarized way to describe an app. So you have to think through what you want the app to do and try them out. Each one. One at a time. I recommend starting with the free apps that have a” Pro upgrade” if the services a useful.

Once in a while, after an exhaustive search there is a reviewer that tells you what an app actually does. I’m still trying to find an iPad app to use with my business computer when I’m away from its monitor’s glare.

Dr Nielsen also said that inconsistent features between apps are a problem.

“You need conventions for what’s movable, for example, or how to zoom in or out. But you only really learn things if they are consistently applied. If you try something now and it works and then I go to another application and it doesn’t work, I start losing faith. I don’t get that reinforcement, which is an essential learning technique. You want people to not pay attention to the interaction, you want them to pay attention to the content or the features. One of the problems now is that the device itself screams to you – it wants you to pay attention.”

This critique reminds me of the early PCs.  Every time I did something the PC didn’t like,  for example, not format a date “properly,” it would make a noise so everyone nearby knew I hadn’t leaned to type yet.

I want to thank Dr. Nielsen for  saying the unthinkable. If you want to follow his group, here they are on Twitter, @nngroup.

I tell my students over and over, “It isn’t you, the iPad’s still a computer.  A very good one, but you have to learn to cope with its foibles.”

(Photo from iPad Users Guide.)

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This entry was posted on November 2, 2012 by in Learning the iPad and tagged , .
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