iPad is everything the Kindle isn’t (for my use cases)

I acquired an Apple iPad a few weeks ago and am very impressed with it. Just as background, i’m a PC person (a desktop at work, home, and a Fujitsu P1620 ultramobile tablet, all running Windows 7).  My portable computer weighs about 2.5 lbs but the iPad is a full pound lighter and the battery lasts about 10 hours. Less than the Kindle, but much more than my laptop.

Like my previous look at the Kindle, this isn’t a review, but just some thoughts after using the iPad for a few weeks as an academic. To cut to the chase, it’s everything the Kindle isn’t. If you remember from my post on the Kindle, I loved the e-paper screen but lamented the many limitations, the most severe of which was the inflexibility with note-taking and reading PDFs.

That observation was recently re-iterated in several test trials of the Kindle in academic settings (see my previous post, and the results of another academic trial of the Kindle at UVA).

That inflexibility I mentioned was certainly felt by the students in the UVA trial:

“You must be highly engaged in the classroom every day,’’ says Koenig, and the Kindle is “not flexible enough. … It could be clunky. You can’t move between pages, documents, charts and graphs simply or easily enough compared to the paper alternatives.’’

Koenig learned of the dissatisfaction from a mid-term survey that concluded with two key questions: Would you recommend the Kindle DX to an incoming Darden MBA student? A total of 75 to 80 percent answered “no,” says Koenig.

The iPad, while not perfect, fixes many of these problems.  Navigating the document is fast and fluid and you can view books and PDFs zoomed in, two-pages-at-a-time, or full page.  Note-taking is also very easy and consistent with my usual workflow (marking up documents).  So with that, here are some apps I use frequently for work:


I am generally a pretty paper-less person who scans everything into a PDF.  One of my favorite PDF readers is iAnnotate which not only lets me view PDFs but annotate and then email them:

The application has a PC-based component that will serve your iPad PDFs stored on your computer so you have access to your complete library from your iPad. After you’ve marked up your PDF, you can upload the marked-up copy directly to your computer.


The other app I use frequently is Evernote which is a note application that syncs to a web service.  The notes are then accessible from the web, your mobile phone, or your desktop computer.  Another thing I’ve realized is that the landscape software keyboard (shown below) is surprisingly touch-typeable.  I think I can achieve about 85% of my touch typing speed.



Finally, I also use the iWork apps (Pages, Keynote, and Numbers) but Keynote seems to be the most useful.  The others have very wonky conversion with Word and Excel files.  Keynote seems to handle Powerpoint files adequately:


Facebook and Privacy: A Guest Post by Kelly Caine

Many of my friends have threatened to leave Facebook because of their concerns over privacy, but for the first time, this week one of them actually made good on the threat.

In his “Dear John” letter, my friend Yohann summarized the issue:

I don’t feel that I am in control of the information I share on Facebook, and of the information my friends share… FB has total control of (some of) my information, and I don’t like that.

It’s not that Yohann didn’t like Facebook–he did. He liked being able to see his friend’s latest photos and keep up with status updates. The problem was that Yohann (who is, by the way a very smart, tech savvy guy) felt unable to use the Facebook user interface to effectively maintain control of his information.

The root of this problem could be one of two things. It could be that Facebook has adopted the “evil interface” strategy (discussed by Rich previously on the human factors blog), where an interface is not designed to help a user accomplish their goals easily (a key tenet of human factors), but is instead designed to encourage (or trick) a user to behave the way the interface designer wants the user to behave (even if it’s not what the user really wants). Clearly, this strategy is problematic for a number of reasons, not the least of which from Facebook’s perspective is that users will stop using Facebook altogether if they feel tricked or not in control.

A more optimistic perspective is that the problem of privacy on Facebook is a human factors one: the privacy settings on Facebook need to be redesigned because they are currently not easy to use.  Here are a few human factors issues I’ve noticed.

Changes to Privacy Policy Violate Users’ Expectations

Facebook’s privacy policies have changed drastically over the years (The EFF provides a good description of the changes and Matt McKeon has made a very nice visualization of the changes).

Users, especially expert users, had likely already developed expectations about what profile information would be shared with whom. Each time Facebook changed the privacy policy (historically, always in the direction of sharing more), users had to exert effort to reformulate their understanding of what was shared by default, and work to understand how to keep certain information from being made more widely available.

Lack of Feedback

In general, there is very little feedback provided to users about the privacy level of different pieces of information on their Facebook profile. For example, by default, Facebook now considers your name, profile picture, gender, current city, networks, friend list, and Pages to all be public information. However, no feedback is given to users as they enter or change this information to indicate that this is considered public information.

It is unclear what is public and non-public information

While Facebook did introduce a preview function which shows a preview of what information a Facebook friend would see should they visit your profile (which is a great idea!), the preview function does not provide feedback to a user about what information they are sharing publicly or with apps. For example, you can’t type “Yelp” into the preview window to see what information Facebook would share with Yelp through Facebook connect.

You cannot preview what information Facebook shares with sites and apps

No Training (Instructions)

Finally, Facebook does not provide any training and only minimal instructions for users on how to manage privacy settings.


Fortunately, there are some relatively simple human factors solutions that could help users manage their privacy without writing their own Dear John letter to Facebook.

In terms of user expectations, given the most recent changes to Facebook’s privacy policy, it’s hard to imagine how much more the Facebook privacy policy can change. So, from an expectations standpoint, I guess that could be considered good?

In terms of interface changes to increase feedback to users, Facebook could for example, notify users when they are entering information that Facebook considers public by placing an icon beside the text box. That way, users would be given immediate feedback about which information would be shared publicly.

Globe icon indicates shared information

Finally, in terms of training, it’s fortunate that a number of people outside of Facebook have already stepped up to provide users instructions on how to use Facebook’s privacy settings. For example, in a post that dominated the NYT “most emailed” for over a month Sarah Perez explained the 3 Facebook settings she though every user should know after Facebook made sweeping changes to their privacy policy that dramatically increased the amount of information from a profile that is shared publicly. Then, after the most recent changes (in April 2010) Gina Trapani at Fast Company provided easy to use instructions complete with screen shots.

Perhaps if Facebook decides to take a human factors approach to privacy in the future, Yohann will re-friend Facebook.

Kelly Caine PhD is a research fellow in the School of Informatics and Computing at Indiana University. Her primary research interests include privacy, health technology, human factors, hci, aging, and designing for special populations.

(post image from Flickr user hyku)

“Human Factors” mentioned in NYT article referring to massive oil spill

The BP oil explosion in the Gulf of Mexico hits close to home for me, literally. I grew up in Mobile, Alabama and my parents are watching the arrival of the spill.

The New York Times published a story about oil industry opposition to regulation and safety and included within a discussion of human factors by a vice president at BP. From the article:

Morrison’s letter said MMS already had safety and environmental regulations in place. He suggested that existing rules could be revised to include a “hazards analysis,” stating that “human factors should be considered in this analysis.”

Morrison said that if MMS were going to rewrite the rules, it should develop a “performance based” rule rather than a “detailed, proscriptive” program.

The Minerals Management Service (MMS) called out human factors as an important area:

…MMS said most accidents and spills can be traced to human error or organizational failures and said companies need to ensure safe and environmentally sound operating practices…

MMS regulations historically have focused on proper equipment operation, but the agency said at the time that equipment failure is rarely the primary cause of incidents.

In an effort to regulate the industry, past oil rig accidents were coded as to the recommendations made by the accident reports. These could include requiring: Hazards Analyses, Management of Change, Operating Procedures, & Mechanical Integrity. The definitions for these can be found in the document linked below, but in general it’s important to see how few recommendations concerned mechanical failures.

From the proposed rule by the Interior Department.

Evil Interfaces

Excellent post at the EFF describing “evil interfaces“, or interfaces that may be deliberately designed to make you do things you did not intend to do:

As Conti describes it, a good interface is meant to help users achieve their goals as easily as possible. But an “evil” interface is meant to trick users into doing things they don’t want to. Conti’s examples include aggressive pop-up ads, malware that masquerades as anti-virus software, and pre-checked checkboxes for unwanted “special offers”.

Facebook and other social networking sites are used as prime examples.  Any others?

(via Slashdot)