Applications for the iPad are nice to look at but hard to use, according to a usability study conducted by Nielsen Norman Group (NNG).
Jakob Nielsen, a principal at NNG, studied 34 iPad apps, and said that he found an inconsistent user experience across the board.
"Hard earned" web interaction skills had not transferred well to the iPad, Nielsen argued, and early iPad apps are "marked by inconsistent interaction design".
Applications and sites studied included Associated Press News, Time, USA Today, ESPN.com and Nike.com.
Apple said earlier this month that it had sold one million iPads in the US, and that users have downloaded over 12 million iPad apps from the App Store.
However, Nielsen claimed that the apps user experience harked back to the bad old days of web design, when surfers were presented with a confusing array of user interfaces and experiences.
"It's the Wild West all over again in interaction design. We're seeing the same thing we saw 17 years ago when anything a designer could draw could be a user interface whether it made sense or not," he said.
"That's happening with the iPad apps. Anything you can show and touch can be a user interface on this device. There are no standards or expectations, and users just don't know what to do, or even what options exist."
For example, Nielsen found that touching a picture or image, such as a logo, could result in one of five actions depending on the app in question: nothing; the picture enlarges; it hyperlinks to a page with more detail; it flips over to reveal additional pictures; or a set of navigation choices pops up.
Users wanting to navigate the applications could be confused because the interfaces are "mostly hidden", according to Nielsen.
He warned that actions frequently occur after an accidental gesture, and that few apps have a consistent 'undo' or 'back' button that lets the user revert to the previous page.
However, despite these issues, most Apple customers believe that their iPad apps are good looking.
"When we asked our study participants for their first impressions of many iPad apps, the word they gave most often was 'beautiful'," said NNG lead researcher Raluca Budiu.
"Still, we think that beauty should not have to come at the cost of being able actually to use the apps to derive real benefits from their features and content."
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