I’ve noticed lately I’ve spent alot of time reading my rss feeds on my iPad rather than using my computer and browser. I think it’s all down to one thing; mutlitouch allows reading/action user experiences to be much faster than using the mouse. I have about 600 subscriptions that on average give me between 500 and 1000 articles a day. My usual routine was to get up and as I worked through my email and first tea of the day go through my feeds each morning. My read/action loop was to scroll through a category or news feed; as I see articles I’d open in a new tab; when I finish the category I’d read the content in each tab, bookmarking/adding to delicious, then closing the tab until I navigated back to the reader tab. With this patttern of usage it’d typically take about half a day (7-12) to go through and scan for interesting content through my entire feed collection (about three teas). It wasn’t really possible to sit down and do it a single period as it would take up too much of a block of time in my morning which meant I’d pick 5-15 minute intervals. My reader of choice is google reader, when using the mouse the typical navigation pattern means moving around quite a lot; navigating between links in the article, scrolling through articles and selecting folders. Each of these actions takes time, tens to hundreds of milliseconds, but that time cumulatively adds up. This is Fitt’s law world where the mouse moves round the screen selecting targets, each action consuming time which adds to the time to process and digest the content. It also meant I felt navigation took a higher cognitive load which meant less capacity to focus on the actual content.
Why I think the iPad for reading is faster regardless of reader is that suddenly having multiple points of action with less requirement for movement makes it possible to execute the read action loop much faster. A simple flick anywhere on the right will scroll the content, and the left or top bars with action controls. means it’s now possible to navigate through my entire feed collection in about half an hour if not faster. The highest cost movement for an action under Fitts law and using a mouse, is to have to move the mouse diagonally across the screen to hit a target at each corner. This is the maximum distance the mouse has to travel which means that it’s harder to hit targets and adds to cognitive load to use the app and perform actions. So under multitouch while there’s still a cost to identifying targets and actioning them there’s magic in that control can be transferred to the opposite hand, in that way instantly more than halving the amount of time to action an intent on the opposite side of the screen when using two hands. So on average it takes less time to navigate and perform actions which speeds up the reading/scanning action loop which means it’s taking me significantly less time to process an increased amount of information. Correspondingly I’ve found I’m even less picky about adding new feeds to my reader which is increasing my knowledge sources and my ability to increase signal to noise and identify the truly valuable information to improve my work.
So here are my key takeaways.
- Giving users the ability to scan/process/action faster actioning always wins.
- Fitt’s law which suggest good size buttons for targets is still relevant, however multitouch has significant implications in UX design.
- Ipad size devices with multitouch are great for reading and processing information streams.