It takes a lot of guts to accuse some of the most popular iPad apps of putting form over function. That’s exactly what the Nielsen Norman Group has accomplished with a usability study which has proved in ways more than one that, unfortunately, many iPad apps and websites could use a little work in the usability department. The study stems from numerous observations collected from sixteen individuals who have owned iPads for two months. Each person performed a variety of tasks in cherry-picked iPad apps and websites. Even the simple tasks such as browsing stories in The Daily app or listening to podcasts in the NPR app posed problems, resulting in frustrated users. Here’s a summary of the key findings.

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For starters, people are often confused about ambiguous and inconsistent gestures-based navigation in apps. Was that a two-finder swipe to create a new tab? Is this button tappable? Why can’t I swipe up from the top of the screen to bring up a settings panel? How do I get back to the previous page? Why pinch zoom won’t work in this app? Unintuitive designs in apps we love has resulted in respondents being left to figure out on their own which parts of the screen are tappable and swipeable. The fact that most people resent even glancing at instructions didn’t help either. Many apps are plagued with irritating design issues, the study has concluded.

Yes, including popular programs such as Bing, Epicurious, Sears, The Daily, Amazon Window Shopper and ABC News, to name a few. For all my love for the iPad, I couldn’t agree more with the findings of Nielsen’s study. Maybe Apple should be more diligent about their review process and establish a consistent set of user interface guidelines, requiring developers to abide to them strictly? Those issues aren’t biggies for technophiles like you and me. But for my mother – despite all of the iPad’s magic and wow – the lack of consistency in what is essentially a totally new way of interacting with a computing device is troubling and often frustrating.

via Ars Technica

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