Tablet User Experience Benchmarks: Basic Principles

Andreas Pfeiffer | October 06, 2013

The Starting Point

At the outset of this research was a simple but depressing realization: We don’t know how to talk about digital technology any more.

More precisely, we are incapable of properly assessing the actual value users derive from these increasingly popular, not to say ubiquitous devices. As we did ten or twenty years ago, we focus on features: processor speed. Camera resolution, screen resolution, but we don’t realize that this has become not only inappropriate, it has a the annoying side-effect of pushing tablets and smart-phones into categorizations which stay woefully removed from the actual value proposition.

As a result, we see side-by-side comparisons of, say, the Kindle Fire HD and the iPad Mini, implying that they are as similar as two PCs coming from different vendors, totally overlooking the fact that in terms of overall device value proposition and in terms of user experience, the two devices are utterly different.

Inventing the conceptual framework

Tablets such as the iPad are unique in the history of widely adopted consumer products: they are the first devices that do not have a clearly defined primary use. (So much so, in fact, that when the first iPad was launched in early 2010, most pundits predicted that it wouldn’t sell “since nobody needed one”)

It became clear very quickly that the concepts and vocabulary used to describe technology are grossly inefficient when it come to describing these new devices.

In other words, to describe and quantify the user experience of devices such as tablets, we needed to come up with a new conceptual framework that does not rely on the computer/features paradigm currently used when discussing such devices.

About this research

The aim of this research is not to compare or judge features of individual brands of tablets, but to asses and wherever possible to quantify the simplicity, user interface friction, user experience friction, etc. that specific models of tablets impose when compared to the theoretical, ideal device.

The research only analyzes key physical characteristics as well as the basic user interaction. In other words, the research focuses on the user experiences between the moment a tablet is switched on and the moment when a desired app is launched.

About device user experience

The device user experience is the sum or accumulation of a large number of minor aspects, which, taken individually may seem unimportant or inconsequential, but taken as a whole will make the difference between a device that is perceived as pleasant to use, and a device that is merely functional.

Whether these differences are perceived as important is up to the individual user to decide. But that they exist can not be questioned: all of the aspects analyzed in this research are clearly perceptible and in many cases quantifiable.

In other words, we do not set out to judge, but to apply clearly definable metrics that will help potential users to better understand and appreciate the differences that exist between the devices we analyzed.

About the device universe

For tablets, hardware and user interface are only a small part of the overall device value proposition: the other essential aspect of any tablet is what we have called the device universe, which comprises not only the device ecosystem, but the scope and quality of applications and content available for the device – as well as the discoverability of content and apps, and the maturity, sophistication and of the tools available for accessing the apps and content available for the device.

Basic Principles

About digital devices: Basic thoughts

  • Digital devices are increasingly and more and more deeply ingrained into our lives
  • The value digital devices procure is a mixture of tangible and intangible aspects
  • Intangible aspects are increasingly important in the perception of the value we derive from a digital device
  • Intangible aspects can be grouped into objective and subjective aspects, objective and subjective
  • Objective intangible aspects are independent of the user and can be perceived, described and to some extent quantified and rated.
  • Objective intangible aspects include user interface friction, cognitive load, etc.
  • Subjective intangible aspects are wholly dependent on the personality profile and experience of the user
  • Subjective intangible aspects include aspects such as familiarity, technical experience, and brand perception.

Principle N° 1

A tablet is not a small computer, a tablet is a new class of connected device for intuitive tactile data interaction and consumption.

Principle N° 2

It is impossible to judge a tablet out of context.

There are two types of contexts: consumer and professional

Principle N° 3

The context for a consumer tablet is primarily recreational and social. The aim of a consumer tablet is to provide easy, unconstrained access to mobile apps and content.

Principle N° 4

As a consumer device, a tablet should not require learning or getting used to.

Every usage principle should be intuitive and easily discoverable, not requiring any prior knowledge.

Interaction should be totally unambiguous.

Only absolutely indispensable UI elements should be presented to the user. Any UI element should have a unique, coherent unambiguous and easily discovered behavior.

Principle N° 5

The contexts for professional use of tablets can be viewed in two distinct ways:

As an intuitive, lightweight, tactile extension of a professional workflow, allowing the use of specifically developed vertical apps that complement rather than replace desktop applications.

As a lighter, touch-enabled laptop replacement that allows the use of desktop applications crucial to a specific work environment. In this use-case, there is little functional difference between a professional tablet and a light, touch-enabled laptop.

The present document focuses exclusively on consumer devices

Principle N° 6

Based in the context defined above, it is possible to define a reference device, that offers the best combination of hardware characteristics and UI principles to provide the most unconstrained overall user experience.

It is possible to compare existing devices to this ideal reference, and to assess where the actual device imposes user experience limitations or user experience friction on the user.