I came up onto the District line platform at South Kensington station this morning just as a train pulled in. Normally, I would find my door (the one that opens straight onto the exit at Victoria) and jump in, but this time, whilst minding the gap, I brushed past a man trying to work on his laptop.
Seriously. A man trying to work on his laptop. Whilst stood up. On a busy rush-hour train in central London.
I was astonished at a few things:
the man’s ability to hold a 15″ old-school laptop on a moving train
his lack of forethought in trying to edit a private word document on a very public train
his inability to use something more appropriate
It’s this last thing that really gets to me. At my work, I’m trying to bring my clients to the modern world by freeing their data and mobilising their workforce. This man exemplifies why I’m trying to do these things. It’s simply not feasible to work on the move without a device built for mobility, and no, not even a Macbook Air would have been suitable for this kind of use. A 7 to 10 inch device would have worked, something that isn’t going to endanger the passengers stood next to you if the train brakes suddenly, something that won’t run out of battery before you get into the office. Yet, conversely, something that you can access everything you need at work from your device.
As the PunchCut blog said, “Mobile is not a device, it’s a lifestyle“. Bosses: embrace this. Let your employees use their own phones and tablets to access data. If you don’t let them, they will find a way around it because the busy people of this world simply can’t work the old way any more: there’s just too much to do.
This is the year that businesses should be unleashing their employees. Give them the freedom to work the way they want to (like working from home and flexi time have done) and they will pay dividends, simply by being happier. A happy employee is a productive employee, and when you let that happy employee out of the office, they will tell their friends and be happier still.
So don’t let your employees be the ones stood on the tube holding a laptop, be the ones leaning by the doors, smiling at their iPad.
There are loads of good reasons to look at and study users visiting your site: entrance points, pages visited, time spent reading, adverts clicked etc. Google Analytics (GA) provides a great free service for this and can’t really be faulted considering how much traffic it is receiving.
So, today I’ve been looking at real-time solutions, and I’ve come up with a few.
Reinvigorate gives you a few features the others can’t, such as named user tracking and detailed stats about those users (which pages they visited, in which order and how long they spent on each page). The heatmaps are great, tracking any click (though take some time to generate) and the dashboard updates instantly. It’s also pretty cheap given how powerful it is.
ChartBeat works in a similar way to Reinvigorate, giving detailed real-time traffic analysis of your site. Its detailed and flexible dashboard gives you instant feedback on which of your pages are popular at a certain time. It’s also got a good API and an iPhone app to keep you informed on the move.
Arran Ross-Patterson (@arranrp) sent me this bookmark list of analytics solutions over Twitter, of which MouseFlow and ClickTale looked very promising. These are tools designed to record all movements on the screen over the browser and be able to play them back to the developer, effectively performing silent usability tests. If anyone has any experience using these, please let me know.
So, for now, I’m using Reinvigorate, but I’m sure there are others out there. Let me know what you’re using in the comments.
Aaargh! I hate this stupid thing! Why won’t it do what I ask it to do!
I heard this cry coming from the living room one evening. My fiancée, Emily, was trying to use my beloved iPad to write an e-mail. “What’s it done this time?”, I politely inquire in response.
“Everything!” came the reply, “All I want to do is send an e-mail, how hard can it be!”
Always wanting to help (like the loving husband-to-be I am) I show her how to copy and paste, move the cursor and find the comma key on e-mail layout keyboards, but then it struck me, why is this so hard? So, I asked her to sit down with me and tell me all of the problems that a real person(tm) has with Apple’s latest gadget.
“Firstly, before I met you, I hadn’t ever used a Mac. I had heard they were just for designers and arty-farty people, but they’re just normal computers for every-day use. This is not about not understanding Macs, this is about the iPad. Also, I love the long battery life, and I really like the screen, it’s brilliant.”
“I’m a Hotmail user, and I can’t get more than 50 messages when I’m using the Mail app. Your GMail account works fine, searches on the server and everything, but Hotmail is a second-class citizen and doesn’t get all the features it should. It also doesn’t sync read/unread items back to the web interface (which I use most of the time) so I don’t know what I’ve read and what I haven’t.”
“There’s no iPad app for Facebook. The iPhone version on the iPad looks rubbish, as do all iPhone-specific apps. The visual quality is really poor and not what I’ve come to expect from the iPad.”
“I’m left-handed, and sometimes the iPad doesn’t pick up the gestures that I make. Tapping on an icon sometimes sends me to the search screen! The whole interface seems to have been made for right-handed people.”
“Moving the cursor around when entering text is painfully slow and really inaccurate. When I’m moving it the magnifying glass is right under my finger so that doesn’t help at all! When my wrist touches the screen the whole screen moves and suddenly jumps to the bottom which is infuriating.”
“It’s heavy. For a girl, it’d be nice to have it in a handbag, but the iPad is too large and heavy for that. It wouldn’t fit in 80% of my handbags and any it would fit in would also take a 13″ laptop, which would be far more useful.”
“I’ve not played many games on any platform so I can’t compare the iPad to anything else like that. Still, the games I play on it are fun, if a little pointless.”
“Getting stuff on to it is hard. iTunes is an issue and if you don’t use Google/MobileMe, something like Dropbox or have your work e-mail on it, it’s even harder to put stuff on it. It needs a USB port to load documents on. The camera connection kit is good, but it’s pretty slow.”
“There’s no Flash support for it, and to me that’s critical. For example, checking the weather on the BBC, I can get the basic information but the radar weather map doesn’t work. Sites that have their own video player, like Wedding TV1 don’t work, and for me, that seriously hampers its usefulness”
“I want web sites to work the same on the iPad as they do on the PC. These ‘Mobile-optimised’ sites are suitable for the iPhone, but not for the iPad and they shouldn’t come up (N.B. this is referring to the Hotmail mobile web interface). I don’t want to have to learn another interface. If I wanted just e-mail, I’ll use the Mail app, but since I want the web site in the browser, show me the actual web site!”
“It’s just not an improvement on a laptop for the situations where I’d use it. If I wanted something that size I’d take a laptop instead as it’s has a DVD drive, all my music and all my web sites.”
“All that said, it’s a brilliant device that has its purposes and has generally replaced the laptop for general Internet browsing, but for what I want something that kind of size to do, it just doesn’t do it.”
1Yes boys, it exists, it’s on Sky.
These aren’t the typical usability problems that his lordship Neilsen came up with, they represent problems of someone who uses Macs, works with a computer every day, and still has issues getting things done on the iPad. To be honest, some days I do too (discovering that yet another web site uses Flash is a classic).
What gets me is that many of these can be resolved by Apple and their close partners: making Hotmail work better with Mail, doing more testing with left-handed users, Facebook releasing an iPad app, Hotmail turning off the mobile site for the iPad, making the iPad render pixel-doubled iPhone apps properly (I refuse to believe that text can’t be made smooth), and finally making iTunes work better for file management (or enabling people to use explorer/finder).
The moral of the story is whilst you can’t please everyone with your designs, don’t think solely about your target audience. Try to think about the people around them who will use the device and make sure it works for them too. If you’re after a more practical use for this story, learn that the iPad isn’t perfect, in fact, it’s far from it. I still believe it’s the best that’s out there, and I’d love Emily to get her hands on a Galaxy Tablet to compare the two. We’ll have to wait to see what 2011 and Android 3.0 and the BlackBerry Playbook can bring to the table to gauge if the iPad has a real competitor which can make my fiancée happy!
As a developer and iPhone fan, nothing pleases me more to say that Android has caught up with the iPhone. Android hardware has been great for a while, the Motorola Droid and Nexus One being the first in a wave of great devices, but the software hadn’t been right. Android took its sweet time to develop but finally has all the great features iPhone users have enjoyed since the iPhone 3G and more (wi-fi hotspots for example).
Thing is, the iPhone, and iOS, has moved on.
Since the launch of the iPad, every Android-lover has been waiting for a tablet with Android on it. They want the brilliance and openness of Android on a more useful (day-to-day) form factor. To those people, I say wait, it’s not ready yet. In order to put iOS on a tablet, Apple had to fork the code base into two versions, iPhone 3.1 (later 4.0) and iPad 3.2. To date (though that may change at the September 1st event), these two branches have not converged, nearly 9 months later. Apple did this for a very good reason: the native controllers and views are not suitable for tablet devices and new paradigms needed to be created.
The SplitView Navigation controller, necessary for much of the good UI interaction on the iPad. Courtesy of Apple
So, why isn’t this a good idea. For one, the Android developer API says it doesn’t support screens larger than 4.3″. That should be a pretty good first clue. Take the iPad HCI guidelines for a second clue. It states that full screen transitions are bad, interfaces have to be tailored to the device, and you have to do more than just blow up the interface to twice the size. Take a look at how iPhone apps look on the iPad for that one.
iPhone app on an iPad, now think of an Android app, just blown up.
Truthfully, the current Android SDK just can’t cope with the demands of a tablet UI. Little things like smooth transitions when rotating to big things like having universal apps which cover multiple screen sizes well. Android has support for multiple screen sizes, but it relies on relative positioning for this and is an inelegant solution compared with Apple’s interface builder.
A bigger screen will accentuate the differences in the quality of iOS and Android apps. If you have a mediocre Android app and put it on a tablet, it’s going to look poor, but put a mediocre iPhone app on the iPad, and it’s at least usable. Take a look at this video of a $50 Android tablet from India Do you want a UI like that on your tablet? Didn’t think so.
So, my advice, is wait. Wait until Android 3.0 (Gingerbread) comes out in Q4 this year, then wait until 2011 for some good hardware. 3.0 has set precedent by disallowing vendor customisation, forcing a much-more Apple-esque standard set of controllers which will suit more purposes. Acer and Motorola have already announced that they’re delaying the launch of their Android tablets until 3.0 is available.
Still, when that time comes around, the second generation iPad will be out, and then Android will be playing catch up again.
Update: Just seen the ViewSonic ViewPad 7, a 7″ Froyo tablet. Take a look at the video in the link: it’s full-screen all the way, sluggish and, I quote “a plastic rebadge me-too Android tablet”. When you’re watching the video, think about how that’s going to work on a tablet the size of an iPad (or the Archos 101 for that matter). It’s not going to be pretty.