Some suggestions for Urbanspoon’s iPad interface

I was lured into reading a post on TechCrunch about Urbanspoon’s new iPad app. The author calls it “beautiful” but I’m inclined to agree with some of the commenters that it’s nothing special. However, since that’s hardly constructive criticism, I thought I’d go a step further and offer some advice drawn from my years of tablet experience.

For the uninitiated, Urbanspoon is a service that helps you find restaurants according to the criteria of location, type of cuisine, and price range. If you’re looking for a specific restaurant, you’re better off doing a straight search. But if you want something new or different or just want to let the machine make your decision, Urbanspoon is for you.

Up at the top, there’s a screenshot from the Urbanspoon HD app page. It keeps the “slot machine” look and design of the iPhone app and uses the extra space to display the map of the pick, plus other restaurants in the area. Appears to be a functional though hardly ground-breaking design. But from my personal tablet experience, there are some elements I just don’t like.

First, I would not put the selection fields at the top. Top works fine on the iPhone, but on the iPad that means reaching up across the screen. Those are your primary input fields, so move them to the bottom, like the keyboard. They’ll get covered whenever the keyboard pops up, but that’s okay because you’d only use that for a search, which means you’re not using the selection fields.

Next, that bar in the middle is just wasted space. The map and list buttons can be shifted to the top bar. For the Spin button, however, I propose making it vertical and shifting it next to the selection fields. Those fields are wider than they need to be anyway, so tighten them up and give the freed-up room to the map.

I further recommend turning the spin button into a swipe-activated pull-lever. If you’re going to go with the slot machine metaphor, go all the way. Yeah, I know slot machines are all button-operated now, but everyone loves the old-school pull-levers.

So that’s what I’d do with the portrait view. What I don’t know and didn’t see on the app preview page was a landscape view. If the Urbanspoon iPad app doesn’t have a landscape view, it should.

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Tablet controls, in my opinion, should be kept near the sides for easy access. Middle is fine for the iPhone where the whole screen is within reach, but on the iPad, the sides are more accessible. Thus, by shifting the selection fields to the side in landscape, you make them easier for a person to reach with their other hand or spin with their thumbs. I’d recommend going a step further and making the selection field area switchable with the map area via accelerometer control. That will make it good for lefties or righties, and let people control which side the map is on. Notice how this configuration is just a few flips different from the portrait mode I presented.

Anyway, I hope the guys from Urbanspoon take these design suggestions under consideration, and some of the points I made will work for other tablet apps too. No, I don’t own an iPad, but I have plenty of experience using slates and have spent way too much energy customizing my own Tablet PC interface. Everyone, please let me know what you think in the comments and feel free to share your own thoughts on what they can improve.

  

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