Usability, the iPad, Analytics, and Jakob-freakin’-Nielsen

June 16th, 2010

Topics: Measurement, Optimization

iPad Usability

I have these two theories:

  1. If you want to get nerds fighting, you ask about Mac vs. PC.
  2. If you want to get digital designers and engineers fighting, you bring up Jakob Nielsen.
  3. Nielsen of fame, is ostensibly a usability expert, but he’s really a wedge. Designers and engineers seem to always get fired up about his posts.

    (Justin Garrity, our director of user experience, also has a theory: “Jakob Nielsen is to Jared Spool as Edward Tufte is to Stephen Few.” His point being that you turn to Nielsen and Tufte for criticism, and turn to Spool and Few for inspiration. Ouch.)

    Anyway, so a while back, an unnamed source sent me Jakob Nielsen’s latest rant about the iPad. (FYI, the email brings up different content than the site.) So I emailed a few of our mobile measurement experts to get their take on Nielsen’s opinion. Why? Probably because I thrive on chaos.

    Nielsen wrote:

    If iPad use evolves anywhere like what we found for iPhones, users will soon have pages upon pages filled with icons for apps that they rarely use. For people to pick out your app in that crowd, they better recognize its icon, or rare use will turn into no use.

    Eric Rickson, our head of Mobile Analytics shot back:

    The biggest reason that people don’t use apps after initial download is not that they get lost in the crowd, its that they fail to provide a sticky experience. A really relevant mobile app that is useful to me gets moved to one of my first few screens. Not to beat a dead horse, but this is why it is critical to measure adoption and not just rely on number of downloads. When you find adoption is low it is time to dial up promotion.

    Meanwhile, Eric Butler, who’s the Director of Technlogy and Systems Architecture, said:

    I agree with him on this one. What would be helpful is for Apple to provide an API to allow us to see placement of the app icon on-load. For example, a value of “S1,P3″ might correspond on the iPhone with “screen 1, position 3.” Analytics vendors could provide this information to app developers. We could define an app appreciation score, giving higher marks to “screen number” and “position”.

    There were a few other issues that Garrity discussed. Like when Nielsen discusses naming:

    The iTunes name for the Financial Times’ iPad app is “Financial Times iPad Edition.” Well, if I’m downloading an FT app to my iPad, I *know* it’ll be on an iPad. Just call the app “Financial Times.” Shorter, and thus more scannable.

    Garrity replied:

    He’s missing the problem that is being addressed here, which is the ecosystem of iPad and iPhone and distinguishing apps created for one or the other or both. Apple has a label in iTunes, but it is small and hard to see. By putting it in the title, developers are making a bigger statement to those browsing for apps and making sure the user doesn’t mistake the smaller iPhone app for the iPad version.

    Nielsen goes on to talk about app naming:

    Worse, the actual icon name on the iPad itself is “Mobile Edition.” First, as mentioned, these words contain no added info. Second, the title doesn’t even mention the name of the newspaper. But at least the icon says “FT” with big letters (on a nice facsimile of their trademark paper color), so it’s recognizable enough.

    Garrity concedes this is a problem for brands:

    This is a major problem for brands right now, including Webtrends. What do you call the app? If you only have one app, using the Brand name is a good approach. This is what we did when we named our Insight Dashboard app for the iPhone. It is just called Webtrends. When we have two apps for the iPhone/iPad, we’ll have to rethink that strategy. The name is very useful when you use search for app finding/launching. I have an etrade app for the iPhone and it used to be called Mobile Pro or something. They changed that and it is now called ETRADE. Very useful.

    So what do you think? If you are an iPhone or iPad app developer, what do you measure beyond just downloads? And for what purpose?

4 Responses to “Usability, the iPad, Analytics, and Jakob-freakin’-Nielsen”

  1. Thom Schoenborn

    Oh man, Julien. That cartoon induced a coffee-to-keyboard incident. Hilarious!

  2. Thom Schoenborn

    LOL. Elizabeth, I’m beginning to doubt the sincerity of your statement about wanting to be “behind the scenes.”

  3. Elizabeth robillard

    I love being an unnamed source.

    I blew it


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