Are tablets a lean-back or lean-forward experience?

Jeremy Rue
Jeremy Rue, lecturer at UC Berkeley, has an interesting essay that suggests we look at tablets in light of Jakob Nielsen's "lean back" or "lean forward" concepts of user experience. In the 1990s, Nielsen, one of the earliest Web usability experts, first talked about the idea that for computers, we lean forward to interact, and for television we lean back and watch. Those ideas informed a lot of work on navigation and interaction on the Web.

Steve Jobs, in the release of the new iPhone software and iAd advertisements offered through Apple, said people spend far more time consuming on apps than actively using search on the phone. That may be true in terms of time spent, but in terms of importance, I'm not convinced.

On the phone, I use search constantly. Some of that comes in apps, like AroundMe and Yelp, and maps, but most of it is in Google. In fact, I think Google's voice search for Android and iPhones is absolutely brilliant. I'd give up a lot of things on my phone, but you'd have to take voice search from me by force (and I'm tougher than I look). So I'd argue that phones are a very lean-forward experience. As evidence, let me point to this photo gallery.

But what about on the iPad? Rue suggests that the iPad is a lean-back experience, more like TV than a computer. In my time on it, I do not search as much, and I probably do less general Web browsing, but that may be partly because I didn't have my Twitter feed running. If it is a lean-back, more passive experience, then we may need to take interface cues from TV and print rather than the Web or the phone.

What do you think?

>iPad the Spork (Andrew Lih)

  • Regina McCombs

    Regina McCombs is a faculty member of The Poynter Institute, teaching multimedia, and social and mobile journalism. She was the senior producer for multimedia at in Minneapolis-St. Paul for 11 years.


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