Thanks, Apple, for throwing us back to a beautiful 1999.
Today, web usability is largely a solved problem. We know what works, have experimented and conducted field tests, and routinely optimize websites to increase conversion metrics.
Then comes the iPad. Some apps remind me of the web in 1999, just more beautiful. Remember the web a little over 10 years ago? Some websites that wanted to be especially avant-garde toyed with Flash or large image maps. On those sites, your mouse became more of a discovery device than a point and click device.
Today it is the same with iPad apps: anything can be a user interface element. There are no standards, and it seems Apple is not doing a good job (yet) defining and enforcing guidelines.
Take our recent review of Newspaper iPad apps.
It starts easily enough with the New York Times Editors’ Choice app. To continue reading an article, you swipe left, a very natural motion that resembles actual newspaper browsing.
In the USA Today app, you have to use a different gesture.
If you swipe left, you see the next article (“next/previous article” is a metaphor we have largely given up on the web years ago; people are simple not very interested to read a random next/previous article, they want to pick articles themselves).
The Wired app goes completely wild. It’s interface is beautiful, creative, and forces you to rediscover everything. To continue reading, you normally swipe up. But then you can swipe left to read the next article. And guess what – that one starts at the bottom!
You actually have to swipe down to go to the first part of the article.
The Popular Science app takes swiping down to new heights, literally. As it scrolls line by line, you end swiping four times all the way from the bottom of the screen to top to read an article of a few hundred words.
Three gestures to read an article. There’s more though, even when considering only newspaper or magazine apps. Let’s look at photos. Touching a picture can do nothing, enlarge it, open a gallery, or display a menu.
Of course, Wired is more creative:
These are just two examples on how wildly user interface element differ in apps, even within the same category. In the end, I think it will just take some time for better user interface standards to emerge on touch devices. But Apple, as the leader in the space and benevolent dictator of iPad apps, should take on the responsibility to define at least basic guidelines.