5 Quick Usability Fixes for your iPad app

interactions & patterns,mobile design | Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

I am quite enamored of my iPad, so much so that I can’t imagine how I functioned before I had one. As a left-brained Virgo information architect, though, I can’t use it without thinking about how to make it better. I’ve installed many apps from publishers large and small, and in many cases it feels like we’re back to 1995 when it comes to designing something that actual humans can use.

Here’s a top 5 list of my main pet peeves. Just a starter, certainly, but I need to vent!

1. Where am I? How do I get around?

The tablet UI is a learning curve for desktop users (no dock, Start button, etc) so why complicate things? Make sure the Home and Back buttons are easy to locate (“Back” preferably in top left), and the current state (i.e. page) of the app is labeled in some way so the user can orient herself more easily. Many usability problems I’ve encountered could be solved just by attending to basic navigational rules.

2. Where are the things I use on the web version?

If the iPad app is a mobile version of a site that your customers are already using, make sure that you include the basic functionality they will expect. Omitting basic task flows -> frustrated customers.

Example: the Netflix iPad app doesn’t allow me to manage my DVD queue. This seems like a very obvious user scenario: I’m sitting in front of the TV, watching previews, and want to add a DVD to the queue. Clearly the iPad app was designed only for streaming (when they planned to separate the DVD business). As a result, however, even the movie catalog is constrained to streaming titles. If you search for something that’s only available on DVD, the app presents a null result:

3. Follow established interaction patterns. Please.

Just because the content is presented via an app doesn’t mean you need to invent brand new interactions for standard functionality. For example, search results. The Epicurious app allows me to search the catalog for recipes based on ingredient, dish, occasion, etc. Awesome, and now indispensable in our kitchen.

However, it took me awhile to realize that the side tabs next to the list of search results are actually sorting tools. Say it ain’t so! Granted, there are space issues, but I think a simple drop-down would still work in this context, and would stay within established conventions.

4. Account for landscape mode

The screen cover sold in the Apple store rolls up into a handy little stand for the iPad — in landscape mode only. Make sure your app’s orientation can rotate.

5. Help, settings, & accounts

As with many web apps, these are the neglected stepchildren of the app world. I would argue that with an app it’s even more important to provide easy access to the nuts and bolts of how to use the app and protect your data. Most apps provide some way to sync your data to the cloud, but often the function is manual and/or hard to find.

This one I discovered the hard way: if you upgrade the operating system, you lose your data. So, make sure the account management details are straightforward.

That’s it for now. Venting complete. I feel much better!


Further reading on iPad usability:

iPad Usability: Year One (Jacob Nielsen)

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