Latest Nielsen Study sheds light on Where, When and How people use their iPads, and Best Practice Interface ideas.

The Nielsen Norman group just released there latest study findings on the usability of iPad Apps and Websites, which gives some very interesting points regarding the design of iPad apps, but also which types of websites can be seen as “tablet friendly”. The study was released last year, and many of the findings tend to replicate in this year’s version – but its interesting to see how user interfaces have improved over time.
The major difference between the previous study and this one is that the developers in the 2010 version were still under a cloak of secrecy from Apple, and best-practice ideas was not clear yet because the iPad was only out for two months.
Examples of bad application and web navigation ideas which have become clear recently include:

  • Users dislike Splash Screens. This idea came from the days of the first multimedia websites, and somehow landed on the iPad. Nielsen recommends that splash screens should not be used.
  • Users hate Swipe Ambiguity. Many apps try to define their own swiping standards – for example pull four fingers down to switch to another view, etc. Certain apps also require the users to swipe from certain orginating areas in the screen, to which users instantly react “the app is broken”.
  • Overcomplicated navigation techniques, and squeezing too much info on the screen. Oddly Nielsen uses the example of thumbnails on scrubbers as a bad idea (like Pulse), and that most users prefer hompage-like tables of contents, like Flipboard or Zite. (Read our comparison of Flipboard and Zite here.)

Other than interface guidelines, Nielsen also found a few interesting tidbits with regard to tablet uses:

  • Tablets are shared devices: Despite the iPad not having a multiple user sign on method, iPads tend to be shared between family members. Users have become used to other family members installing apps on their device, and does not seem to be bothered by it. Contrast this to family PC’s where people tend to dislike the idea of any family member just installing apps. This is also completely different to the use of mobile phones – users tend to have a more possessive nature when it comes to their own phone. (My tip to Apple – consider multiuser sign on for iPad.) At the moment this shared device mindset leads to people having to log out of their apps every time, and forget their password. Good on Nielsen to point that out!
  • The most common uses of the iPad were for gaming, checking email and social networking, watching videos and reading news. People tend to avoid the iPad for online shopping though, preferring to use a full desktop machine for it, apparently due to a believe that the iPad is insecure for online transactions. (I am willing to wager that using an iPad for online purchases / banking is probably safer than using your desktop…)
  • The iPad is primarily used as a travelling device, used for long trips. When not taking longer trips, the device tends to be left at home, which means that workers still rely on their office setups for real work. (I reckon this will change if Apple can make the iPad more enterprise friendly. The current “one user, one iTunes account” setup does not mix well in organizations who want to be able to roll out centrally purchased apps. Hopefully this gets fixed in iOS5)

Overall the study is more focussed on user interface guidelines, and what seems to work for experienced iPad users right now. It has a lot of examples of how app and web developers rethink the way to navigate content. If you are in any way involved with application or mobil-focussed web development, it is well worth your while to read. Best of all, its free.
The Nielsen “Usability of iPad Apps and Websites” is available at:
Image: Modern Family (yes, its the best comedy on TV right now)