Tuesday, 18 May 2010

iPad musings: the good, the bad & the ugly

I've now been using the iPad intermittently for a fortnight. I have played with apps, the AppStore, written a short presentation using Keynote and the medium of touch, taken notes in meetings, surfed the internet and watched some short form content. I haven't had a chance to watch the film I downloaded but can't see why the experience would be any worse than watching it on a screen on a plane. Albeit you'd also have to provide your own headphones as there weren't any in the box.

So my thoughts so far...

I am still loving the interactivity of the touch interface on the larger scale than the iPhone or iTouch. Adding touch into the way you can deliver experience adds a dimension that is incredibly engaging. But, you get used to it very very quickly and then find yourself disappointed very quickly too when other things don't deliver or offer that interaction. It adds a layer of curiosity, you jab fingers at the screen in places where you expect things to happen, and so far at least it is a bit of a lucky dip as to whether app developers have really thought properly about how touch can enhance the interplay.

Usability and experience architecture should absolutely become part of the brief for content going forward from NOW. Some people are already annotating and adding links to videos on YouTube ( I saw this great example from Berlei bras in Australia recently), and as we increasingly seek to navigate via touch rather than typing or mouse pointer I imagine this will become a default must-have. It will also have implications for how we search and the power of associated content suggestions for navigation around the web. Throw in Facebook Open Graph functionality and the game is very definitely changing. Let's save that for another day.

iPad ergonomics: definitely in the ugly category. In short pretty dreadful, for anything more than a casual -on-the-sofa dip in select and go activity. Even having bought a case which folds back to form some slightly angled desk,  I have neck ache already, several paragraphs into a post from having to peer at the screen from an un-natural over the top angle.

I will generously award marks for the keyboard interface overall, but do have a few niggles & observations: No delete key, just a back space which means you have to practice inserting the cursor carefully when you want to go back and amend things. Double tapping allows you to select, cut, copy and paste text readily though which is quite useful if you can get the cursor dropped down into the right place to move the selected text to it's new location. Arrow keys on the alt keyboard would help. Having to swap to the numbers pad for an apostrophe is pretty annoying too.

I can touch-type fairly easily, although points deducted for giving me a capitals keyboard just like a real physical one but with just a blue arrow shift key highlight when you ask for capitals, but because I have no choice but to look over the keyboard when I am using it, it feels that the interchangeability of the display of small or capital letters I get on my HTC Android phone is more natural, and having the numbers and punctuation on the same keyboard helps too.

All of those points continue to reinforce my opinion of this as a secondary device (for me and my needs I hasten to add), for quick and easy, touch based experiences rather than serious document writing. Although I admit that using Keynote to write a presentation was a hassle-free experience, and best still, due to screen size, and the fact that typing had to be done on the screen, and I was on the train with the iPad on my lap, it made for short punchy slide writing. No bad thing. I managed to insert, resize and rotate images easily (albeit only from the images I had already put on the machine, the lack of ability to multi-task or swap between programmes, to find and copy / insert images from the internet for example, is distinctly annoying), but as yet I haven't tackled making charts.

Lack of ability to switch between apps or applications is rather annoying although at least you can switch between virtual "tabs" when web browsing in Safari.

Moving on to apps then: iBooks - I talked about them in my last post on the iPad so let's skip on by with only a passing mention. Fine but personally unless it's in between time when I have finished a real book earlier than expected when a train got delayed or I am stuck on a plane with the iPad out and someone snoring next to me so I can't readily get to a book in my bag I think I will stick to paperbacks predominantly. I think I'll just add iBooks to my repertoire of options rather than give up on the physical format. I am seemingly in good company too.  I've always had more than one book on the go at the same time anyway. Usually in different languages. It keeps you mentally agile.

Comics however, are another story! The French and the Japanese with their love of the comic format are going to soooo love the iPad for that. Although top tip comic publishers, spend a smudge more and add that nice page turning feeling you get with the iBooks and you'll make the experience even better!  I've not read a comic since I was last living in France over a decade ago, (albeit for a while then I was a huge fan of Gaston la Gaffe,)  but I've downloaded Rex Libris (just can't supress my inner bookworm) and am quite enjoying flipping through that.

Magazines are a different story, or at least the ones trying to cross the divide from paper to e-Paper. 

Cool Hunting, a web based magazine type site has an app that really works, and caches some content so you can engage with it even when you are not connected to a wifi hotspot. I downloaded and paid for both Esquire and GQ, and to be honest the experience is a bit patchy.

I accept that the publishers had to turn around something in a hurry to meet launch timings, so no doubt there is a big learning curve and we will see big changes as everyone learns what works and what doesn't, but Esquire seems to be mostly a large PDF of the paper version. Or at least that is what it feels like.

GQ did better, albeit I was thoroughly confused for a bit as I was initially using the iPad in portrait mode, which feels more intuitive in relation to how I think about reading magazines, especially smaller format magazines like Glamour which are equivalent in size to the iPad, as used in portrait mode you get a very odd magazine experience in terms of scrolling between articles which feels rather unlike leafing through the pages of a magazine.

Let's face it, that's how magazines are read, not necessarily sequentially, or read cover to cover in one sitting. I was puzzled. I could only find one ad that seemed to be the digital equivalent of the inside front cover or first facing page. Weird. Especially as I knew that one of my clients had ads in there at I was specifically looking for.
Sometime later I went back to the GQ app, and must have had the iPad opened in landscape rotation, at which point all of a sudden my view and my experience completely changed. Here was the magazine I was expecting. The swipe interface makes leafing through pages a pleasure and being able to touch and go straight to a website for more info on an advertiser makes a lot of sense. It will be even better when advertiser start building richer iAds so you can deliver that depth of info without leaving the page, particularly until you can multi-task and switch between things more easily. Getting richer display ads formats right will almost certainly alter the role of created PPC search campaigns for certain ad campaigns too, depending on the media formats and touch points involved.

There's a Toy Story app which I love, it allows you to have the story read aloud to you, with the text highlighted as it's read just as you would follow it with a finger if you were helping a child learn to read. Or, you can record a version of you reading the story for the child to play back later. Virtual bed time stories for when Mummy or Daddy is away. How cool is that?

 The app has lots of other fun things to do too, and it was free, but I can easily imagine paying a small amount for similar content for a child's favourite character.

Then there's a whole pile of "just for fun"things to play with and talk about, but I'm now so uncomfortable in the pain-in-neck stakes that I am going to save that for another post when I am back at a physical keyboard.

I have also used 15% of the battery life in the hour it has taken me to write this post on the iPad, and I have yet to figure out how I add hyperlinks or insert images. Maybe it is time to get the extra widget I bought so I can take images straight off the sd card out of the box?. A challenge for another day. I will just add the images and links I want to put into this post from my laptop later.

Let's just finish this post with 4 key take outs:

1) think about how touch could enhance your experience and interaction with your app, website, ad or content. There might only be a million or so people with a touch interface tablet in the world at the minute but I am sure it will change fast. Apple have already announced that unless you have pre-ordered an iPad for the international release wave, you are going to have to wait another week to get one, such is the level of demand.

2) whatever you deliver app-wise make absolutely sure that it rotates properly and by that I mean not just landscape or portrait but also which ever way is up, make sure you can scroll whatever angle it's at too.. It must also deliver a good and relevant experience in both portrait and landscape modes, as what you intend may not be how the consumer picks it up and it just causes confusion / frustration or things to be missed.

3) Make sure whatever your app does it, it does at least provide some basic cached content / experience for when your iPad is not connected to the web. It's a big turn off to try to engage with something because you had a spare 2 minutes and then find there's nothing there. Not going to help postive brand scores for sure.  If the internet is a place where short attention spans already rule, and you are only one click away from something else, on a touch-based tablet the feeling is exacerbated thousand fold. One touch of the big round button and you are out of sight giving that time and experience to someone else who does deliver offline.

4) There is no "Back" button!  Remember this - unless you build in easy nav you'll end up being "exited" in just one touch of that oh so tempting big round button.

More to come as I continue to experiment.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


  1. Great review.. You have confirmed my decision not to buy an ipad :)

  2. Useful tip- touch and hold an image on a web page, and you'll get an option to save it. You can then add it to a Keynote presentation. (I think you'll be able to add it to a blog post as well- I haven't tried that yet.)

    And pressing the home button+power button takes a screengrab, which can be useful. (Especially if you've got an app that will let you do all your image cropping etc.)