Thoughts on UX for the iPad

All the panelists at the iPad panel in SXSW were in agreement that the iPad is a new genre of mass market device. It’s large form factor made it difficult to carry around all the time unlike a mobile device. Because it lacked a full keyboard, it was not a workstation in the sense that a laptop or desktop is. I would call the iPad a casual consumption device. It’s not meant to replace my laptop or the mobile phone. If I am composing a blog post, photoshopping or coding, I probably want to do it on my laptop. If I am standing on the train on my way to work, I would use my phone to consume my news and RSS feeds. The iPad is ideal when I am on the couch and just want to surf the (non Flash) web, watch some Youtube or play some games. It’s also great for bedside reading I would imagine. One of the panelists even went as far as saying that you would probably bring the iPad to the toilet.

 

I got my hands on the iPad the day it came out and here are some impressions. It’s heavier than I thought. The Kindle is super lightweight and I have it in my backpack at all times. The fact that it’s a bit weighty might dissuade me or someone else to carry it around as much. I didn’t hate it but I wasn’t in love with it either. However, it wasn’t built for people like me. I do a lot of content creation whether it’s coding, designing, writing a blog post, or uploading a video to Youtube. I also don’t really listen to music or play video games. However, the target audience is not people like me who are producers of content but rather consumers. The iPad is perfect for this. With a few simple taps you can do things like listen to music, watch video, read facebook, and play games with relative ease. The file system is completely abstracted from you. The old desktop paradigm of files and folders is gone. That was true with the iPhone as well, but it was mobile device, and people who had no need for a smart phone never saw the benefits.

You might argue that the iPad is a giant iPhone. In fact in some ways it is even less than a giant iPhone. It doesn’t even come standard with apps that the iPhone ships with, like calculator, weather, and stocks. You can’t make calls and, it doesn’t have a built-in camera either. It’s more like a giant iPod touch in that respect. I think this is where the similarity ends.

The one big thing I notice is that all the existing iPhone apps look horrible on it. This represents an opportunity in it of itself for enterprising app developers who missed the boat on iPhone apps. However playing with the iPhone apps on the iPad also exposes another issue. iPhone apps are very single minded. I mean because the real estate is so small, you can really only do or see one thing at once whether it’s a list or a view. It’s very rare that an app presents you with more than just one dimension of data at a time. Because the iPad has a much larger screen, you can now have child parent windows on at the same time. Apps like Outlook which show you both the list view and the detail view now don’t have to show you only one view at a time.

 

Secondly, I think the use cases are different. With an iPhone, you are mobile, on the go, on the run. You are basically in between states and you only have a few moments to access information. Most people I see on the train with their iPhones are either playing casual games or listening to music. With an iPad, you are probably comfortably situated somewhere, either on the couch or bed. You have some leisure time to consume content for more than a few seconds or minutes. So an app designed for the iPad would be more similar to a desktop app in the sense that the user has some time to devote to the task.

I also thought the form factor lends itself really well for dashboard applications. Dashboard are at a glance apps that usually don’t require a lot of interaction. You want to take a look and see the key performance indicators (KPI) and maybe drill down. I can see this on factory floors as well as command centers. Dashboards are passive displays and currently you can see plasma or 42″ LCD screens being used like this, but I think a personal dashboard using an iPad is something down the road as well. Its form factor is also convenient for being handed down from person to person in a more intimate presentation or discussion. I hate it when I have to bring people over to my laptop or try to hand my laptop to other people.

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