Tag Archives: usability

Episode 32: Can I see your Facebook password? It’s for work.

We discuss the growing controversy over employers asking employees for their Facebook login information.

Would you give a perspective employer your username and password to Facebook if it were the only way you could get that job?

Usability expert Jakob Nielsen believes that the new iPad with its high resolution display is a usability game changer. Specifically, it makes you want to use it more. This is the future of computing displays.

Also, is faking a students death an appropriate April Fool’s Day joke?

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Episode 29: Blue Screen of Death while driving

Blue Screen of Death

Would you like a Blue Screen of Death while driving?

We discuss the pitfalls of putting touch screens and computers in cars and several other topics. And, finally, iTunes movies are in the cloud.

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The most important design element on your website

The humble, often overlooked navigation bar:

Despite the necessity of an accessible navigation bar, usability studies on navigation across the web aren’t positive. One study by User Interface Engineering shows that people cannot find the information they seek on a website about 60% of the time. While this failure rate might be acceptable for your average blog, a business website simply cannot afford these stats. Even worse, many users often find navigation usability extremely frustrating, citing annoying hover errors and inconsistencies. Another study by Forrester found that 40% of users do not return to a site when their first visit is negative.

Here’s a simple test: Ask a friend, parent, or someone that hasn’t been to your website that often to go and find something specific on your website. Look at how long it takes them to find it. Can they even find it?

I’m not a fan of drop-down menus, and their usability has only gotten worse now that touch screens have taken off. I’m amazed at how many sites manage to come up with some many links to fill their drop-down menus, despite not having a site with much information on it. I like clean, simple navigation combined strong search technology. We’ve actually gotten rid of categories of content on the Interchange Project because we wanted to make the site easier to navigate.

Source: Mashable.

Episode 21: Nobody enjoys plagiarism

Staff and student perceptions of plagiarism

We kick off the show by discussing plagiarism and how it’s handled at the college level. Apparently the process is long and arduous and no one comes out a winner.

We also discuss the state of writing in college today. Most students cannot write well coming out of high school, and this is causing headaches for college professors. Jeremy is a fan of one high school’s new plan to make a student rewrite any paper that has five or more errors in it.

We then get into how Facebook is becoming the driver’s license of the Internet. So many sites require you to have a Facebook account. Is this a good thing?

We discuss a lot this week. It’s a jam packed show and I hope you enjoy.

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Jakob Nielsen: Kindle Fire’s 7-inch screen causes usability problems

Jakob Nielsen has put the Kindle Fire through usability testing and is not impressed:

Amazon.com’s new Kindle Fire offers a disappointingly poor user experience. Using the web with the Silk browser is clunky and error-prone. Reading downloaded magazines is not much better.

The most striking observation from testing the Fire is that everything is much too small on the screen, leading to frequent tap errors and accidental activation. You haven’t seen the fat-finger problem in its full glory until you’ve watched users struggle to touch things on the Fire. One poor guy spent several minutes trying to log in to Facebook, but was repeatedly foiled by accidentally touching the wrong field or button — this on a page with only 2 text fields and 1 button.

Nielsen’s research finds that 7-inch tablets are too small to use full websites properly. 10-inch tablets, on the other hand, work quite well with full websites. Nielsen suggests that the only way for 7-inch tablets to succeed is for websites, apps, magazines and services to be designed specifically for this form factor. “Optimize for 7-inch or die,” he said.

Despite being a Kindle, Nielsen also found the Kindle Fire to be an overall poor reading device.

Personally, having spent a long time using a 10-inch tablet and a smartphone, I can’t see where a 7-inch tablet would fit in my life.

Source: useit.com.

Apple brings multitouch to one finger for the disabled

David Pogue brings up a very interesting new accessibility feature in iOS 5 that allows people with motor skill disabilities to do multitouch gestures with one finger:

One new feature, called AssistiveTouch, is Apple’s accessibility team at its most creative. When you turn on this feature in Settings->General->Accessibility, a new, white circle appears at the bottom of the screen. It stays there all the time.

When you tap it, you get a floating on-screen palette. Its buttons trigger motions and gestures on the iPhone screen without requiring hand or multiple-finger movement. All you have to be able to do is tap with a single finger — even a stylus you’re holding in your teeth or fist.

For example, you can tap the Home on-screen button instead of pressing the physical Home button.
If you tap Device, you get a sub-palette of six functions that would otherwise require you to grasp the phone or push its tiny physical buttons. There’s Rotate Screen (tap this instead of turning the phone 90 degrees), Lock Screen (tap instead of pressing the Sleep switch), Volume Up and Volume Down (tap instead of pressing the volume keys), Shake (does the same as shaking the phone to undo typing), and Mute/Unmute (tap instead of flipping the small Mute switch on the side).

If you tap Gestures, you get a peculiar palette that depicts a hand holding up two, three, four, or five fingers. When you tap the three-finger icon, for example, you get three blue circles on the screen. They move together. Drag one of them, and the phone thinks you’re dragging three fingers on its surface. Using this technique, you can operate apps that require multiple fingers dragging on the screen.

I wrote a piece awhile ago about accessibility and usability features in the iPhone and iPad and how news apps were not making good use of these features. Despite being a touchscreen based phone, the iPhone is surprisingly usable for the blind and people with other disabilities. In fact, it’s often the phone of choice for people with disabilities. It’s great to see a company think of usability beyond just what it means for the able-bodied.

Good design has at its heart good usability.

Internet Explorer drops below 50% market share

This is the end of an era, and everyone is better off because of it.

In the dark ages when Internet Explorer was the Internet, there was no innovation, little standards support and not a bright future for the Internet (and you basically has to use Windows to get the most out of the Internet). Microsoft went more than five years between updating Internet Explorer. Can you imagine that?

Today major Web browsers — save for Internet Explorer — receive updates multiple times a year. Firefox, Chrome and Safari came long to give us open source options that supported standards. These browsers rapidly iterated and gave us new features like tabbed browsing.

Yes, Internet Explorer didn’t get tabbed browsing until version 7 in 2006, years after other Web browsers had this feature. Can you imagine having to open a new browser window for every webpage you were viewing? Internet Explorer was a usability nightmare.

Google’s Chrome is standing the shoulders of giants today and is rocketing towards the top. It came years later than the other open source browsers, and is indeed based on Apple’ WebKit engine in Safari, but it’s a shinning example of what browser innovation can be. Google is rapidly adding new features to Chrome and is pushing Safari and Firefox to innovate and iterate even faster (I personally use Safari and Chrome and occasionally Firefox).

Today we’re all better off for the increased competition. Gone are the days when many websites would only render properly on Internet Explorer. Gone are the days when the only way to really browse the Web was to use Windows.

This is truly a big day for the Internet, technology and usability.


Condé Nast subscriptions up 268% since Newsstand launch on iPhone & iPad

Darrell Etherington reports that Condé Nast publications are seeing huge gains in subscriptions since Apple launched Newsstand on iOS, echoing similar findings for other companies:

Not only did subscriptions increase, but single issue sales also skyrocketed with a 142 percent increase when compared with the eight weeks prior to Newsstand’s launch. Both represent increases as measured across all nine of Condé Nast’s digital titles available on the iOS platform.

What makes this so fascinating is that most geeks aren’t that high on Newsstand. In fact, after Newsstand was launched, there were countless blog posts about how to hide the Newsstand icon. But Newsstand is so powerful precisely because it’s not a geek tool.

Newsstand makes it much easier for non-techies to subscribe to and manage their magazine and newspaper subscriptions. A geek already knew how to do this, including how to group news apps together. Many people don’t grasp how to group apps together.

But Newsstand is bigger than usability. It puts news content front and center on every iOS device. Geeks knew that they could buy and consume news content on iPads and iPhones. Many regular users did not. Now everyone knows, and everyone can see how easy it is to subscribe to and consume news content on iOS.

Let’s see if this trend continues.

Episode 17: Episode 15S, enter the iPhone 4S

This is our review of the iPhone 4S, Siri and iCloud

Spoiler: We really like the iPhone 4S.

Jeremy is in love with Siri, but we discuss how Siri should be much better in a year. How will Siri improve? What does the future involve? Will there be an API that third party applications can tap into?

We also discuss what we like and don’t like about iCloud. We believe it will change quite a bit over the next year.

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iOS needs background syncing to make iCloud ‘just work’

iCloud is a strong addition to iOS and will help the iPhone, iPad, Apple TV and future iOS devices stand out. But iOS has a major missing feature: background syncing.

This is one of the biggest features that iOS needs to add. It’s nice that my devices can sync with each other and keep documents, applications and data synced, but there is a flaw in the model. Outside of a few areas, I have to open each app for them to sync, and the syncing does not occur until an app is opened.

For instance, Pages, Apple’s Microsoft Word competitor, can sync documents between iPhones and iPads. I can start a document on my iPad, make changes on my iPhone to that document and then those changes will sync over to my iPad version. However, these changes don’t happen in the background and require user input on all devices for the changes to occur.

So, what happens if I make changes to the iPad version of the document and then go on a plane with my iPhone? I need to review and make changes to my Pages document before an important meeting, but alas I don’t have Internet on the plane and thus don’t have the latest version of the document on my iPhone. Worse, what happens if I make changes to the iPhone version of that document while I’m offline, after I’ve made changes to the iPad version?

Which version wins? With background syncing, this wouldn’t be an issue.

For those of you who use Dropbox on multiple computers, you know this isn’t an issue. Dropbox just works. It’s always running, always syncing.

That’s how iCloud should be. Dropbox will always be a geek tool that is wedded to the old way of doing things through folders and windows. But it works.

iCloud should be the Dropbox for everyone else. It should be the Dropbox for iOS users (Dropbox doesn’t really do syncing for mobile).

My iPhone could check the sync server at regular intervals like it does with email — say every 30 minutes (or sync could be pushed). With this method, my iPhone would have seen that I made changes to a Pages document on my iPad and then brought those changes over to my iPhone without me needing to do anything.

Shouldn’t syncing just happen in the background without any of my input? Of course. Here’s another example:

I use Omnifocus for task and project management. If I add a new project to my iPad — complete with due dates — it won’t automatically show up on my iPhone version of Omnifocus, unless I open up the app. Why is this an issue? One of the best parts of Omnifocus is push notifications. Omnifocus alerts me as to when I should start a task or project and to when something is due. Well, without background syncing, my iPhone version can’t send me these push notifications, unless I have made sure to open the iPhone version after using the iPad or OS X version (Omnifocus syncs with all three).

Certain applications do truly sync. Email obviously does. If you read, delete or respond to email, it shows up on all of your devices without the user needing to do anything. Same thing is true with Apple’s new iCloud calendars (or with Microsoft Exchange or Google’s calendars on iOS). If I add a new appointment on my iPhone, complete with a notification an hour before I need to be at that appointment, it will automatically appear on my iPad and computers. I don’t have to open calendar to get this syncing to work, which is important since notifications are an important part of how calendaring apps work.

I have two guesses as to why we haven’t seen more background syncing in iOS yet:

  1. There are battery concerns. It’s easy to sync calendars and email in the background. Neither take a long time to do and people expect this to happen. The iPhone couldn’t compete with other phones in business environments if it couldn’t sync these in the background. Syncing Omnifocus wouldn’t take much time or data either. Some apps, however, would require a lot more time and data to sync. How do you handle a big Pages or Numbers document? Should that only sync over wifi? Or should users be able to select when something syncs. For instance, if I’m a business user, and going over my data plan isn’t a big concern, I’d tell my iPhone to sync over 3G and wifi. Just make sure everything is synced. Maybe you’re just a casual user and you don’t have any interest in going over your data allotment if that were to happen. you’d tell your iPhone to just background sync over wifi. Having syncing pushed to your phone would use up more battery, even if the syncs weren’t big. There is no denying this. Apple believes that battery life is king in mobile devices, and I agree. However, syncing isn’t nearly as powerful as it could be if it doesn’t happen automatically in the background. Just like with multitasking, Apple could develop a solution that covers the most important background syncing needs without killing battery life. Apple has already begun rolling this selective background syncing with mail, calendar, contacts, music, apps and magazines/newspaper. More on that in a second.
  2. Apple hasn’t had time to roll out a good background syncing solution. iOS 5.0 is arguably the biggest leap over a previous generation of iOS ever. It has a ton of new features, including some such as Notifications, that are deeply embedded in the OS. Apple may have simply run out of time, and so while they would love to have background syncing, they simply didn’t have time to roll out a high quality system. My best guess is that when Apple does roll out background syncing, it will be like multitasking with specific use cases supported. Apps such as Omnifocus are no brainers to offer background syncing. Same with word processing, spreadsheet and presentation applications. But what about photo and video applications? Would that be too much out of the gate? Apple doesn’t allow desktop-computing class multitasking. I would doubt that they would allow background syncing to be a complete free-for-all either.

Apple has brought background downloads to music and application downloads and to Newsstand, Apple’s app for managing magazines and newspapers. This gives me hope. Now if I subscribe to a bunch of magazines and newspapers on my iPhone or iPad, new editions are automatically downloaded in the background. Some of these issues are big too, and they still download in the background.

These leads me to support the second theory: Apple just hasn’t had time to roll out more background syncing and downloading yet. Certain parts of iOS already support this, and we should see more of it in iOS 6. To me, this should be one of the top priorities for the next version of iOS or even for a iOS 5.5 release. iCloud can’t reach its potential without background syncing and background downloads are the first step towards true background syncing.

Without background syncing, people will run into issues where documents are out of sync, or where they accidentally erase changes made to a document by making changes on another device before syncing occurs. This is bad for users and frankly un-Appple like. This could genuinely give users a worse experience than if they had no syncing at all.

Syncing should just work. Syncing and iCloud currently doesn’t just work.

This will change.