Study investigates iPhone usability among short-term users

Chicago-based usability consultancy User Centric conducted a usability test with iPhone customers who purchased their iPhones on the first day of its US release. The goal of this study was to identify overall ease-of-use factors and general usability issues among motivated early adopters who had limited experience with the iPhone.

Six days after the iPhone was launched, User Centric tested the usability of the iPhone during 60-minute usability sessions with these iPhone customers. The participants, who had the same short-term exposure to their new iPhones, were asked to carry out the same set of tasks using their new iPhones. User Centric also asked participants to compare text entry on their iPhone with their prior mobile phones (which used multi-tap text entry because their old phones did not have QWERTY keypads).

This study represents the first in a series of longitudinal studies with iPhone users. These longitudinal studies will evaluate the long-term usability and user experience of the iPhone. This allowS User Centric to assess the usability of conventional and novel user tasks, including ease of Web browsing, use of the soft keyboard, visual voicemail, different types of text messaging, placing and receiving calls, and using dynamic map interfaces.

Test participants were recruited from iPhone customers who purchased their devices on June 29, 2007 in the Chicago metro area. Participants were required to bring their personal iPhones to the study as proof of ownership. None had used an iPhone prior to June 29. All participants were compensated for their time and none were employed, related to, or personally known to User Centric prior to this study.

Based on test data from these short-term iPhone users, we identified the following strengths and weaknesses in the iPhone’s user experience:

Major strengths of the iPhone’s user interface
• Participants found the Visual Voicemail feature to be intuitive and useful
• Participants compared text entry using their iPhone and their previous phones (which used multi-tap for text entry). Overall, participants found that text entry was much easier on the touchscreen soft-keyboard of the iPhone compared to standard multi-tap text entry.
• Most participants used the landscape (horizontal) view while searching for a website (The New York Times.) The horizontal soft keyboard was definitely preferred over the vertical keyboard orientation.
• Selecting and playing a song using both the vertical and horizontal views was easy for participants. Participants also commented that the ‘Cover Flow’ navigation feature was a very engaging feature.
• Making an outgoing call with the iPhone was easy for all participants.
• Participants also found that receiving a phone call on an iPhone while listening to music was seamless. They found the interruption of the music and transition to a call to be very smooth.
• Saving a number as a contact and recalling that contact for a phone call was straightforward.
• Answering a phone call while in SMS mode was also straightforward. Participants found it helpful to be taken immediately to their message after the call had concluded.
• Most participants found it easy to take a picture and email it from the iPhone.

Primary difficulties with the iPhone interface
• Participants uniformly found text entry SMS and email to be difficult. They were frustrated by the forced use the vertical keyboard and the lack of visibility for editing the middle of a word or sentence.
• Many participants found Google Maps difficult to use on the iPhone. They experienced issues with the fine-motor control required to pan accurately in different dimensions in Google Maps and predictably zoom in and out. It was unclear to participants how much they needed to adjust the size of their “pinch” gesture to zoom in and out with the control that they wanted.
• Participants were often frustrated with their Web browsing experience and hoped that this would improve dramatically with an upgrade in network capability. The lack of Flash and Java capabilities during Web browsing was considered a detriment to basic Web use.
• Finally, participants were surprised (and somewhat annoyed) to discover that horizontal text entry was available only in in the Safari browser.

As part of their sessions, participants were also asked to rate their first time usage of the iPhone for key tasks. This data will be used as just one of our baseline metrics for iPhone longitudinal studies.

http:// http://www.UserCentric.com/

49 Comments

  1. “Would be interesting to compare these results against, say, the Treo or Moto or Blackjack or HTC…”

    And then ask yourself – how many shortcomings on these phones can be solved with a software update?

  2. Many participants found Google Maps difficult to use on the iPhone. Sounds like a Google problem so we leave that out… Participants were often frustrated with their Web browsing experience and hoped that this would improve dramatically with an upgrade in network capability. O.K. Sounds like an AT&T problem. Leave that out. Finally, participants were surprised (and somewhat annoyed) to discover that horizontal text entry was available only in in the Safari browser. O.K. so was this a fat finger problem?? Next…

  3. Crabapple, Lucky test subjects have ended up with subsudised iphones.

    Are those washing powder suds, or what?

    MW – years, as in: “It’s been years since people could spell.”

  4. I actually hate the horizontal keyboard – too much distance to cover between keys. I like it compact and fast (and it IS. FAST.) But there’s no reason the OPTION shouldn’t be there for the chubby-digited.

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