Apple's iPad

At 6 pm GMT last night I, like millions of others, found myself following 140 character updates from a conference given by a company named after a type of fruit.

I should probably disclose, typing this on my iPhone on the ride to work, that I am an Apple fan. I’d like to think that my allegiance isn’t unconditional though…

When Steve (I like to think we’re on first name terms) announced the iPad yesterday, I found myself a little underwhelmed. I guess that after all the media hype, a bit like Obama, it was going to struggle to live up to expectations.

On first glance, it appears be an iPhone you can’t fit in your pocket.

There are already thousands of generic blog posts about Apple’s latest product, but I thought I’d focus on the UX implications of the new device…

Joking aside, the fact that it doesn’t fit in your pocket is important. I can see the size affecting the user experience of the device for three reasons: Expectations, Ergonomics, and Context.

Expectations

Until recently mobile applications were poor. They were ugly and hard to use – crippled by small screens and horrible keyboards. The recent ascent of the smart phone has changed all this, but they are still mobile apps. Because they’re on a phone we accept a limited subset of functionality; they can’t fully compete with their big brother counterparts in terms of functionality, and they shouldn’t.

But this isn’t a mobile phone any more. Users will inevitably expect more – and many of the simplistic interfaces developed for the iPhone won’t live up to the big screen.

As the applications become necessarily more complex in order to take advantage of the bigger screen size, it’s going to take a lot more effort to develop successful applications. Interfaces will be far more complex…

If the web experiences is as good as they say it is, will we still need mobile apps for our favourite websites? Why have a separate Facebook app when I can use the full-fat version?

Context

The fact that Apple haven’t included a microphone or camera in the iPad confirms that, while functionally similar to the iPhone, this device is intended to be used in a completely different context. It’s not a device you’re going to pull out of your trousers while in a shop or just walking down the street.

Not many users are going to want to use their iPad as a spirit level or calorie counter, for example.

Ergonomics

Opinions on touch screen keyboards are divided. I personally have no problem with them, but irrespective of your viewpoint, typing on the iPad ain’t going to be easy.

Gizmodo wrote an interesting article before the iPad launch on why an iPhone type keyboard wouldn’t translate well to a tablet.

The iPad’s pretty big, so you can’t hold it like a phone and type with your thumbs because they don’t make thumbs long enough. You could hold it one-handed while tapping on it with the other, but – unless you’re Tom Cruise in “Minority Report” – touch typing with only half your digits isn’t a skill that’s easily mastered.

The demo videos look plain awkward.

iPad Ergonomics

Will typing-dependent apps stand a chance?

***

Irrespective of the success or failure of the iPad, I think that some interesting UI innovations are likely to emerge from it.
The applications developed for the iPad are going to launch a whole new class of programs. They will sit on a new place in the spectrum. Not mobile, not PC, but somewhere in-between – a kind of halfway house.

That in itself is quite exciting, even if the tablet is not.

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