iPad UI Criticized for Lack of Consistency and Visual Cues

By Matthew Braga

Phenomenal, tremendous and revolutionary were just some of the many words Steve Jobs used to describe the almighty iPad. Unless you're an expert in UI design. According to one report, the iPad isn't as user-friendly as we think.

Phenomenal, tremendous and revolutionary were just some of the many, many words Steve Jobs used to describe the almighty iPad. A lot of people seem to agree. But for some — namely those well-versed in interface usability — there are some other descriptors that should be thrown in there as well. Just ask Jakob Nielsen; the Danish doctor, best known for his research on web usability. His recent 93-page study on iPad UI design reveals that the iPad experience might be a lot more wacky, confusing and inconsistent than we've been led to believe.

tab bar that sits at the bottom of the screen. While this bar is always in a user's peripheral vision on a small, iPhone-like device, it's easily lost on the iPad's larger display. As a result, user both ignore and forget those buttons even exist.

 The oft-forgotten tab bar
early nineties, where "anything [developers] could draw could be a UI, whether it made sense or not." Such is the case with the iPad, where, despite Apple's Human Interface Guidelines, there is no consistency between applications. To prove his point, Nielsen looked at various applications where tapping a picture produced the following results: the image was enlarged, acted as a link, flipped to reveal more information, or...well, nothing. In his tests, he found such inconsistent results often confused users, and made it hard to replicate certain actions where it was unknown how to trigger them in the first place.

Issues like these stem from how developers choose to present 3D information in a 2D space. In speaking with Microsoft Surface developers last year, Ars Technica learned how implementing touch screens can often make it difficult to anticipate user response, especially when the goal is for so-called natural interaction. Simply displaying an image on a screen is not enough; "subtle visual cues like shadows indicate that an object or widget can be flipped," giving it depth much as it would have in real life. It's this lack of dimensionality that makes certain elements of the iPad interface hard to perceive or discover, or so Nielsen's research would have us think.

Touching the USA Today logo brings up a navigation menu. Intuitive? 

For those interested, a condensed version of Nielsen's report is available on his site, with the full, 93-page package available as well. If you've used Apple's iPad, are your experiences consistent with Nielsen's findings? Let us know!    
Images via Flickr user eduMac Centro and Apple.