UX Magazine

Defining and Informing the Complex Field of User Experience (UX)
Article No. 746 October 18, 2011

Usability Issues in Pulse iPhone App

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How NOT to design for multiple screens

Pulse is a news reader that aggregates feeds from various sources using RSS and presents them in an attractive interface. I’ve been using RSS readers for a while and at a first glance Pulse seemed like a great leg up from the existing apps such Reeder or Byline. It feels like you’re using a proper app with all the goodies of immersive experience instead of a web browser wrapped in an app. Steve Jobs showed off the iPad version of the app in his keynote and there have been lots and lots and lots of rave reviews about the app, so I won’t go into those details but focus on the issues instead.

The Key Differentiator Is the Problem

This is a classic example of how not to design for multiple devices. This interface was designed for iPad and it worked great there, but the problem started when the exact same UI was scaled down for the iPhone. Now when you start off its all hunky dory, but when the novelty wears off, you realize it’s not that usable. Here’s a comparison between BBC, which has a layout similar to Pulse.

Comparison of BBC reader and Pulse

Now I understand the need to stand out and be unique, but that can’t come at cost of basic usability. As described above, this layout works for BBC because it has control over its content but won’t work for someone who sources their content from independent feeds and has no control over their content.

Suggestion

I suggest something on the lines of TIME layout, which works better when you cannot exert control over the content.

Time magazine reader

I understand the business need to stand out and be unique, but that cannot come at the expense of basic usability. If there is a business need to present content in a particular manner, the designers should at least give users the choice to shift to a layout that aids efficient and easy consumption of the content.

Engaget Reader

Conclusion

The Pulse news reader interface was designed for iPad and it worked great there, however, the adaptation of the interface from iPad to the iPhone by scaling it down created a broken user experience.

Takeaways
  • Users expect delightful experiences across devices.
  • UIs created for one device may not work for others.
  • Understand the context in which you application will be used.
  • Understand the limitations and strengths of the device and other dependencies.
  • Adapt the content presentation to achieve a great experience for each device.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)

User Profile

Sachendra Yadav has worked in mobile UX and product strategy since 2001, and has worked across the mobile value chain, including mobile operators, device manufacturers, app developers, and platform vendors. He holds patents in Usability/Human Factors and UI Design areas.

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Comments

29
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This is really interesting to read somebody else's opinion on Pulse for the iPad and iPhone. I actually thought about 6 months ago that there was an issue, but I prefer using Pulse on my iPhone rather than iPad. It could just be that I used the iPhone version first, so that created an expectation that it would be a similar experience.

One that that we both agree on is that resized versions of the same application are generally not a good idea. Even with games, there are big differences in the experience (ex: Infiniblade). With both the Apple's UIViews and Customer Views alike, there need to be subtle differences that are more suitable for the provided screen real estate.

36
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I don't mind the images not showing up as much as the headline text exceeding the margin most of the time. You need to be able to read news in a news reader, and if headlines won't show up properly, that's a deal breaker for me. I like the fact that you've provided alternate design suggestions as well.

31
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I use Pulse a lot. I also use other aggregators such as SkyGrid and Feedly. What constantly drives me insane are theses hack job articles talking about black and white Usability issues when all I'm hearing from this article is that Pulse doesn't display images when the feed it incorporates doesn't supply any. This is NOT a usability issue - it's a functional problem inherent to all feeders. The comparisons made here are from different apps which are not native aggregators (but I bet they collect news/stories from other sources not their own.

Pulse is a great tool for scanning through stories. I find this hackjob article baseless except that "in your opinion" the app has usability problems since it won't show images when none are available. And while your takeaways are valid, your use of this app and the manner in which you approached the topic are irresponsible as a strategist. I realize this is a clash of mental models but you offer no facts or even a heuristical approach.

38
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Really liked the article!

If you have different screen sizes, make different interfaces!

Scrolling through a list feels natural on an iPhone, and the pulse squared layout don't. Tried using pulse with one hand? Half of the content is hidden because your hand is over them! And it's impossible to click on the 3rd column (if you are right handed, of course)