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Onswipe — a user experience disaster
Frogmarch 2002 - Whitby
My iPad provides a pleasant way to browse the web. Safari is reasonably standards compliant, loading and navigating pages is quite nippy, and it is quick and easy to zoom and scroll around pages. There are useful tools to save pages for later and to synchronise open tabs between the Mac and iOS devices. The iPad is particularly well suited to blog reading — a quick double tap on the page content will zoom it to the full width of the page, and scrolling is smooth and immediate.

So why do bloggers try to undermine this ease of use?

I’ve noticed a grim trend; the presentation of a web site as though it were a native app. There are decent tools available to build iPad applications using web technologies, and for web sites that already behave like an application it makes sense to make that experience more iPad-like. But for blogs all it does it provide the sort of lousy experience that would make one delete a native app and go back to using Safari.

One particularly poor user experience is the Onswipe system. Available for free, it will make a website look and behave like a native app. It claims to work with any CMS, and its selling points include driving traffic and increasing page views.

I get a feeling of dread when I see the twirly loading animation for an Onswipe site; I know that the site will take longer to load, be harder to read, will be split into silly narrow magazine-style columns rather than a readable block of text, will use horizontal swiping to move between pages of an article (instead of the more natural vertical scrolling down the page), will have lots of pages with little content on each, will have juddery animations, will have non-obvious icons, will disable zooming, and will have big blue arrow buttons that look like page navigation but actually are part of advert links. In other words, pretty nasty for the person browsing the site. I can see how it can drive traffic, increase page views, and increase clicks on ads: hapless users click and drag their way around the site trying to work out what they’re doing.

An example of Onswipe in action — this is how a blog post that I read this morning appears on my iPad, compared with the same post in the ‘desktop’ version of the site (which allowed the text to be scaled to the width of the iPad for ease of reading):


The selling point of appifying a blog are all to do with site owners trying to monetize their content and to control how it is viewed, so it is understandable that they see the appeal of tools like Onswipe. But it really is user hostile.

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I can't speak to the rest of the negative points, but horizontal scrolling seems to be seen as natural on a touch device - more so than vertical scrolling. Seems a swipe to move on (or back) a page is more intuitive. Windows 8 is clearly going this way, and love or hate what they ultimately do with it, when Microsoft make decisions like that it's generally on the grounds of a lot of usability testing.

I find repeated horizontal scrolling to be quite an unnatural movement. Holding an iPad or iPhone with hands at the sides, with one’s thumbs on the screen, a vertical scroll feels natural and repeatable, whereas repeated horizontal swipes feel awkward. .

I think horizontal scrolling is the sort of thing that people would say that they like in focus groups, but as soon as they try moving through a significant amount of text it would drive them mad.

Worth noting that apps designed for reading a significant amount of paged content — Kindle and iBooks — allow taps as well as swipes for page-to-page navigation (and I always tap for regular forwards movement through a book). These book-reading apps also make good use of the screen space, and display a decent amount of content on each page, unlike the odious Onswipe.

Oh, and the latest version of iBooks has added the option to view a book as a continuous vertical scroll, like a regular web page; perhaps this is an acceptance that paged content doesn’t actually work very well on a screen.

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