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The Problem With iPad Apps: Usability

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New research from the Nielsen Norman Group finds that although iPad apps have, in the last year, become "less wacky," many interfaces are still confusing for users and usability problems remain.

Despite the implementation of new features such as back buttons, homepages, and more search functions, the researchers found that "this year’s testing still found many cases in which users accidentally touched something and couldn’t find their way back to their start point, as well as magazine apps that required multiple steps to access the table of contents."

A total of 16 iPad users that had at least two months' experience using Apple's tablet participated in the study, the second of its kind, and a total of 26 apps and six websites were tested.

The researchers noted that there were several usability issues that they observed both in this year's study and the previous year's.

Specifically, they found that users had some trouble navigating content that was too small to tap, clicking on touchable areas that were too small and too close together, distinguishing "touchable" areas (which the researchers referred to as a "low discoverability" problem), and avoiding "accidental activation due to unintended touches."

They also observed that users "disliked typing on the touchscreen and thus avoided the registration process," and, in a similar vein, noted in the report that content creation on the iPad is relatively limited. iPad use is "heavily dominated by media consumption, except for the small amount of production involved in responding to emails," they wrote. Using iPads to shop online was not a highly popular endeavor.

Several new iPad app usability issues came to light as well, particularly relating to splash screens (dubbed "super-vampires that can haunt users from beyond the grave"), swipe ambiguity, content popovers, and information squished into areas that are too small to properly navigate.

All of the study participants that lived with others said that they shared their iPads with other users.

Read the full report--which has helpful images of the apps--here.

What do you love--and loathe--about iPad apps? Tell us below, then check out our list of the best iPad apps.

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