iPad 4 or iPad Mini?

Planning to buy an iPad?

If you are thinking to join the Apple world of tablet computers, you probably have already thought about whether it should be a Mini or a ‘regular’ iPad.

iPad4 and iPad Mini

In this article, I give some potentially helpful information for your choice: I present my personal experience owing both devices.

My Experiences

The iPad is regularly use are a 16GB iPad 4 with WiFi only, and an iPad Mini with16GB + 3G/GPS module. My analysis is therefore based on these devices.

First of all, the iPad Mini is indeed “every inch an iPad“. If you are using the iPad Mini, you won’t notices that anything is missing. All iPad apps run perfectly. Even Siri is available. And, surprisingly, despite the smaller screen, it never feels too small.

Handling is where the iPad Mini shines. Its reduced size and weight will come in handy in many situations:

  • You can hold it in one hand for a long time without getting tired. The iPad 4, in contrast, quickly starts feeling heavy, thanks to the bigger battery required for the retina display.
  • When writing notes, an email, or a message, the size factor clearly favours the iPad Mini. It’s much easier to hold it with two hands and use the two thumbs for writing – they will much easier reach those keys that are in the middle of the screen.
  • Because it’s lighter and smaller, you will more often find you taking it on your trips. Therefore, you can use it in more situations, which will make it more useful – in particular if you invest into a 3G / GPS upgrade.

Graphics is where the iPad 4 shines. It’s retina display provides an amazing viewing experience. The screen is far more crisp. Once your eye got used to the 264 pixels per inch (ppi), other displays start to look disappointing. Also, when running apps for the iPhone in double-size, the iPad 4 displays them much smoother than the iPad Mini.

Regarding processing speed, the iPad 4 features a faster processor. If you put both devices next to each other and start an activity on both devices at the same moment, you will see that the iPad 4 is a tick faster than the iPad Mini. However, during normal use you will never think that the iPad Mini is slow. The iPad 4’s A6X processor with quad-core graphics might come in handy for hardcore games, but I haven’t yet felt a significant performance difference.

The amazing display of the iPad 4 come with a caveat: it requires a lot of energy, which in consequence creates a lot of heat. You will find the iPad 4 becoming hot much more often than the iPad Mini.

Conclusions

The decision strongly depends on what is important for you. I would slightly favour the iPad Mini, since all-in-all it’s more useful due to its form factor. However, if your main use for the iPad will be the couch, the iPad 4’s retina display makes it the better choice.

Of course, these are all my personal experiences and opinions. For your specific case, other factors might be more important. Yet, The conclusion matches with the reviews appeared on About.com, The Telegraph, and ZDNet.

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PocketMenu: Non Visual Menus for Touch Screen Devices

It’s a chilly Sunday afternoon and you are out for a walk, listening to music from your MP3 player, and you want to select the next song. How do you do that?

A few years ago you probably didn’t even take the MP3 player out of the pocket. You just used your fingers to feel for the shape of the next button and press it.

Today, we don’t own dedicated MP3 players anymore, but use our smartphones. And since most input in modern smartphones is done via large touch screen displays, you need to take the phone out of your pocket, unlock the screen, and spot the button visually to press it.

The PocketMenu addresses this problem, by providing haptic and auditory feedback to allow in-pocket input. It combines clever ideas from previous research on touch screen interaction for sensory and motor impairments in a novel way.

All menu items are laid out along the screen bezel. The bezel therefore serves as a haptic guide for the finger. Additional speech and vibration output allow identifying the items and obtaining more information. Watch the video to see how exactly the interaction works.

In a field experiment, we compared the PocketMenu concept with the state-of-the-art VoiceOver concept that is shipped with the iPhone. The participants had to control an MP3 player while walking down a road with the device in the pocket. The PocketMenu outperformed VoiceOver in terms of completion time, selection errors, and subjective usability.

This work will be presented at MobileHCI ’12, ACM SIGCHI’s International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction with Mobile Devices and Services, which takes place in September 2012 in San Francisco. The paper is available here (pdf).

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Don’t Ask Users What They Want!

As Human Computer Interaction as a research field is receiving more and more recognition in Germany my collages and me, as members of the Intelligent User Interfaces Group at OFFIS, are more often approached when it comes to developing novel user interfaces or findings innovative solutions for industry partners.

Usually, the idea is that we conduct interviews with (potential) end users and ask them what they want to come up with a innovate ideas. While this may work in some occuasions, I believe that this naïve approach misses a few important points. I will try to elaborate my view in the following:

Most people cannot think outside the box

With his famous quote “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have said “a faster horse”. Henry Ford wanted to say that customers cannot clearly express their needs. What people actually want is getting fast and cheap from A to B with little maintenance and overhead. Most people are not able to imagine a car, if all they know are horse and carriage.

Instead try understanding their problems

Roger L. Cauvin points out that instead of asking users want they want it is more important focus on their problems by asking the right questions and interpreting answers carefully. Sometimes, he argues, it may even be better to ask no question at all but just observe and listen to your users.

Go into detail and then envision perfect solution

Frankie Johnson suggests to do that by going into detail and ask what people dislike about current practices (e.g. horses are time consuming, smelly, and may at times act unpredictably). He believes that talking about people’s dislike and then asking how a perfect carriage looks like would have resulted into the answer “a carriage without horse”.

Serendipity & Being Prepared

In addition, I believe that serendipity – the faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident – plays another important role. A famous example is the serendipitous discovery of Penicillin by Sir Alexander Fleming, who, returning from holiday, found bacteria cultures having been killed by dishes Penicillium contamination. However, “by accident” may be misleading. Most people without the scientific background of Alexander Fleming would not have recognized the importance of that observation. Thus, I believe, that it is important to “go pregnant” with an problem and keep your eyes open for things that might fit that problem.

Get out there!

Helen Walters gives a few tips on increasing the chance of serendipitous findings, including to get outside the office, build prototypes instead of talking about the idea, and explore instead of execute. Further, it is important to not expect results too soon, which is really a tragic insight given that most work today is driven by deadlines and milestones.

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N95 vs iPhone 2G – Usability Matters!

Usability matters! It matters much more than features. A tangible example of this was presented by Scott Jensen at a keynote talk at MobileHCI ’10 in Lisbon, Portugal.

He compared the Nokia N95 with the Apple 2G, which were both top-notch devices in 2008. The Nokia N95 was a brilliant piece of technology that contained many features that got standard later in many other phones. The iPhone 2G was lacking many if these exciting technology, such as

3G

GPS

MMS

5-MP Camera

Video Telephony

Video Output on TV

As we all know, the iPhone became the probably most popular cell phone, at least in the US and in Europe. From my perspective, the iPhone was the first phone that actually made all the advanced technology usable while being on the move. If you’d like to experience what I mean, try to enter a URL with a num pad keyboard.

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How tiny flaws in the user interface can lead to negative user ratings

Usability is important to ensure that your application is successful. In one of our applications we just had to learn that even tiny issues in secondary features can have huge negative effects.

UI professionals keep repeating it: usability is a key to success. One of the most prominent examples is the iPhone 2G. When being released in 2007 it lacked lots of features that were already present in other devices, such as 3G networking, GPS receiver, or a camera. But it arguably it was just the easiest to use phone around then.

However, even when the system is easy to use in general, small usability issues can have huge negative effects. This post reports from an illustrative case that occurred in my research group. Currently, we are working on an Android application called PocketNavigator, which is basically a map-based navigation system.

Screenshot of the PocketNavigators main map view

While the core of the application seemed to be sufficiently easy to use, a rather small ambiguity in a secondary feature brought us bad user ratings.

Due to many requests we added a view that allowed searching for addresses. It provides a text field, where users can enter the address, e.g. “Berlin” or “1 Broadway, New York”.

The address search view as the user initially sees it.
The address search view as the user initially sees it.

For convenience, we stored the last 5 searches and made them accessible through a drop box. To not have to deal with an empty drop box when the application was just installed we initially filled it with five city names.

The address view with the unfolded drop box showing the name of the five initially stored cities.
The initially present cities.

After having released the address view in an update, we faced negative comments in the Android Market saying “only works in five cities”. We could not make sense of this until our colleague complained about the same issue. The UI was giving the impression that the text field only allowed to enter a street and the drop down box had to be used to select the city. So some user’s did not know they could enter any address including a street and a city in the text field.

We addressed the problem by slightly revising the user interface. First, we changed the labels to stress that the user could either enter an address or choose a previously entered one.

New layout of the address view

Second, the drop box would now be filled with complete addresses, such as “Tiergarten Berlin” or “10 Downing Street, London” to demonstrate what types of searches are possible.

The new entries are now more diverse, illustrating different possible entries.

With these countermeasures we hope to avoid such confusion in the future.

In summary, this case is a nice example of how a small usability issue can lead to a bad overall impression of an application. It reinforces that ensuring a good usability should never be neglected when developing an application for a wide audience.

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