One of the main problems in working with a touch device is the lack of tactile feedback. The screen you
press touch is a flat surface. Without structure that can give you any reference of ‘where you are’. This problem is being addressed differently by different devices.
I took the iPad, iPod Touch and an Android phone to find out what the differences are between the devices. Besides that, I want to find out how the size of the device influence the experience.
The feedback to the user is handled by the software running on the device, as opposed to the hardware which is all the same (a piece of glass). Although each app can create it’s own way of handling feedback, most of the app’s created on Android and (especially) iOS are using pre made components from the SDK’s to handle common tasks such as sliders, data collections, buttons and such. I have divided this post by operating system, but it has not been my intention to give an opinion about the operating system itself. Nor is this an Android vs. iOS post. I just write down what I experience by using it.
iPad (iOS 4.3.2)
I don’t own one, so I had not worked whith it intensively before. Because I knew my way around an iPod Touch I am comfortable with iOS. I had high expectations of the iPad’s interaction model. Partly because of the size of the device, but also because I thought that Apple had put extra effort in it. This turned out to be a mistake.
The iPod Application
The height of a track is approximately the height of a finger tip, so pressing it is not an difficult task. That sounds obvious but the playhead on the scrub bar is much smaller. That actually is more difficult to press. When you drag the playhead across the line, your finger covers it completely. And because a finger is way bigger than the playhead, this leads to inaccuracy. The time is being updated, but I miss some actual feedback around my finger. iOS uses a magnifying glass when searching through text just above your finger, they should have implemented some kind of feedback while sliding over sliders. Kind of what YouTube does in it’s video’s. The volume bar on the other hand is a little bigger. This feels much more comfortable. But then again, I miss some represented data as my finger still covers the slider knob. In the Album and Genre sections, the albums and genres are represented by tiles. When these tiles are pressed they grow and flip around to show the content of the tile ‘on it’s back’.
This all works pretty good and everything is easily accessible. But the feedback that something is actually pressed, is by performing the desired action. So when I press a tile, I know that I did the right thing the moment the tile begins to grow and flips. But there is a slight delay between the two. And that delay is noticeable. When I press a song to play, it’s color changes to blue and then fades back to it’s original state. But it does that at the same time the song is starting to play. So if the song needs to be loaded, it takes some time before the visual feedback is applied. I talk about fractions of a second here, but still. It is notable. However, switching from view (Number/Artist/Album etc.) is instant.
The Photo View Application
In the overview, a single tab on a photo opens that photo. A long press gives the option to copy the photo. The thumbnails of the photo’s are bigger than a finger, so pressing it is not an difficult task.
When a photo is opened, it covers the entire screen. When you pinch it to zoom in, you go into zoom mode. To close the photo and go back you pinch it, but when you are in zoom mode, you have to return to default size before you can close it. Below the photo is a strip of very small thumbnails of all the other photo’s. This strip is very small. When you drag across these thumbnails, the corresponding photo opens immediately full screen. Again, no little popup by my finger, but immediately loading of the photo.
iPod Touch (iOS 4.2.1)
iOS runs exactly the same on an iPod Touch (or iPhone for that matter). But because the device is smaller, it feels all a bit more in proportion. I think it shows that iOS originally was intended for a device you could hold in one hand, and they applied it to the iPad as well. The feeling I’ve got with the scrub bar in the iPad is due to it’s context. Because the scrub bar on the iPod Touch is the exact same thing. But because the device is larger, the iPad one feels smaller.
The general ui of iOS
The buttons have a very subtile feedback, they slightly change color. The ui react to very subtile gestures. On the iPod that is not an issue because the device is small, so you expect to make small movements. But the iPad being a lot bigger, I expected I had to make bigger movements. This works two ways, on the one hand, because you can make small movements, the feeling of control is a bit bigger. But because it reacts to small movements, there is more room for accidental gestures.
I am using a HTC Desire phone that runs Android version 2.3.3 with custom rom CyanogenMod 7.0.3. I think CyanogenMod comes almost as close to the core Android as possible.
The Contacts Application
Like the iOS lists, the contacts in the list of Android are around as big as a fingertip. Slightly bigger than the iOS ones. What stands out is that every interactable object is big. Even the scrollbar is big.
The Music player
The scrub bar is fairly big in the music player. Still, even if the playhead is big, a finger covers it easily. So while scrubbing, I miss an precise indicator around my finger on Android as well.
The general ui
Every thing you touch on Android immediately reacts. As soon as the device registers a touch on something interactive, that element is responding by changing color. The task to be performed can still be loading, but the feedback is already given. Every thing (that is interactible) in Android is big. That results in easy access to everything.
I have been a bit of a hairsplitter on these things. In general both of the OS’s work fine and they all have their pro’s and con’s. It’s clear that Apple goes for aesthetics where Google goes for functionality, that is not new. But what bug’s me on iOS, is that is trusts on it’s speed. So that once I tab on something, it doesn’t give me confirmation that I did the right thing. I have to wait until the actual action is performed before I know that I succeeded in what I had in mind. When the device is a little slow, this shows immediately. I am not talking seconds here, far from it. But just enough to be a little bugging. Android on the other hand gives you instant feedback.
Because iOS goes for aesthetics, the content is better layed out. It’s better proportioned than on Android. So Android can feel a little clumsy sometimes, but I think for sure that this results in fewer fails when pressing things.
What is become clear to me is that instant feedback helps so much. This can be further enhanced by vibrating the device (although an iPad does not vibrate to my knowledge). I still have to try out an Android tablet with Honeycomb (Android 3) because that OS is written with a tablet in mind, instead of a phone.