I’m : a programmer, writer, podcaster, geek, and coffee enthusiast.

Hot zones

If you’re reading this, there’s a better-than-average chance that you own an iPad. Have you tried to show it to someone extremely nontechnical, like that parent or grandparent who has never really used computers, or those friends who are always scared of technology because their computers always confuse them and cost them money?

You hand it to them, the screen auto-rotates, and they freak out for a second and think they broke something.

With universal auto-rotation, the massive touch screen, and highly reactive apps, the iPad (and the iPhone, but it’s worse on the iPad) is always “hot” — touch anywhere on the screen, brush off a speck of dust, or change its orientation slightly (often unintentionally), and something changes. You did something. Maybe you think you broke something, maybe you lost your place, or maybe you’re disoriented for a few seconds.

We’re not accustomed to this. You can pick up a TV remote, twirl it around, and run your finger over some buttons without triggering anything. It has very small hot zones that you’re unlikely to accidentally trigger.

When the hot zone is the entire device, and it’s a device you’re likely to be frequently picking up and handling, using it is actually slightly stressful: you don’t want to accidentally trigger unexpected behavior, so you’re more careful and cautious. Every time it auto-rotates when you didn’t intend it, it’s a minor frustration: this device isn’t working right, it isn’t listening to you, and you kinda suck at it.

One reason the Kindle seems like a more “peaceful” ebook reader, and why the Kindle 2 is so much better than the first Kindle, is that it has almost no hot zones. Accidentally rotate it a bit in bed? Nothing happens. Grab the side and pick it up? Nothing happens. Accidentally rest your thumb on the button without deliberately pushing down on the inner edge? Nothing happens. Brush some dust off the screen? You guessed it: nothing happens.

When you want to take an action, it’s not difficult or hard to find — it’s just hard to trigger actions accidentally.

By minimizing hot zones, the result is a lower-stress product that’s more pleasant for people with low technical confidence. When everything is a hot zone, user stress and frustration increases.