We now know how much an iPad will cost in Australia and what data plans will be available from Optus and Telstra, but a common question remains: do I really need one? If you're after a good applications experience, usability research suggests the iPad may not be the best choice.
Picture by mikebaird
User interface expert Jakob Nielsen doesn't pull any punches in his preliminary assessment of the iPad's browsing experience, based on testing with a set of users who were already iPhone users (and were therefore familiar with the basic interface conventions used on the Apple platform). The big lesson? iPad apps look great, but aren't easy to use:
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.
The lack of consistency is also a major problem:
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.
Moving to another page, for instance, might involve swiping left, swiping up, or scrolling down. In my own brief forays into playing with an iPad, this was an aspect that particularly struck me.
Nielsen stresses that his findings are preliminary, and that iPad usability is likely to improve as application developers become familiar with the interface and conventions emerge for good application design. That, though, is a good argument for not racing off to own an iPad too early.
iPad Usability: First Findings From User Testing [useit.com]