A report released by the Nielsen Norman Group shows that many iPad apps are confusing users by being too subtle about the gestures needed to navigate them, and some are not sensitive enough to the accuracy limit of fingertips. The authors also found that many companies with perfectly functional websites are wasting their time making a less-functional iPad app.
Many companies with perfectly functional websites are wasting their time making a less-functional iPad app, the authors say
One of the overarching problems was ambiguous implementation of navigation techniques. Apps often weren’t clear about which parts of a screen were tappable and which were not, and often expected users to figure out when they needed to swipe or scroll a screen. The report noted that while users knew to swipe through book-like content, apps without that obvious similarity that required swiping and didn’t include an arrow pointing in the direction of more content were confusing to users.
At the same time, users didn’t want to read instructions on how to use an app. Some apps, like Moleskine’s notetaking app, were abandoned because it required so many unintuitive gestures that it included two pages of instructions.
Users avoided some apps, like Amazon’s Windowshop, because it was more difficult to navigate than the corresponding website. In the case of Amazon, users found that the app was too dissimilar from the site they were accustomed to using on actual computers, and displayed incomplete information about products from a search results page. Because of this, one participant abandoned the app in order to continue a purchase on Amazon’s website.
The authors noted that the appeal of an iPad app increased when it was more functional than the site in way geared towards regular users of the brand. But some appmakers were trying to get too creative: ABC News’ display of stories in a spinnable globe was visually surprising to users, but ultimately was a poor use of the large screen of the iPad.
Another problem with some apps, particularly shopping-related ones, was the lack of a back button. If users accidentally navigated away from a product they had searched for, they would have to go back to the homepage and recreate their search.
The authors also chided a few apps, like the one created for photographer Ansel Adams, because they favored visual interest over functionality, with buttons placed too close together for the average finger to hit accurately (a square centimeter is considered the minimum allowable size for a touchable button, they said). Some apps also crowded popover menus into too-small windows, just so a pretty background picture would stay visible on half the screen.
While apps favoring appearance and subtlety over functionality were the biggest problems, the authors scolded appmakers for a common unsubtle inclusion: splash-screens. The researchers said in no uncertain terms that splash screens that don’t integrate well with the app, and especially long introduction sequences, should always be avoided.
Ultimately, the authors concluded that not every company needs to have an iPad app, and that far too many companies are putting out suboptimal versions of their content, seemingly just to get in on the platform. They stressed that iPad apps should not make users do more work than the actual websites, and are best received when geared toward the actions of repeat users who are already familiar with the brand. If a company can’t create an app with added value, the authors said, they’re better off just making their website more finger-friendly.