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The Effects of Touch Screen Technology on the Usability of E-Reading Devices

Eva Siegenthaler, Yves Bochud, Pascal Wurtz, Laura Schmid, and Per Bergamin

Journal of Usability Studies, Volume 7, Issue 3, May 2012, pp. 94 - 104

Article Contents


Our study shows that e-reading devices with touch screens correlate with better navigation ratings. Participants rated the navigation significantly better for the Sony PRS-600 (4.3) and the Apple iPad (5.0) compared to the Sony PRS-505 (3.5). This result was in line with previous studies (Nielsen, 2009; Oberg, 2010). Our study shows that a more sensitive touch screen correlates with better navigation ratings. The difference in navigation ratings between the Sony PRS-600 and the Apple iPad was not significant; however, the Apple iPad has a more sensitive touch screen that might account for its slightly higher navigation rating. This finding is in line with the results of Haywood’s and Reynold’s (2008) study.

If we take a look at the use cases, a differentiated picture can be drawn. Over all tasks, participants spent the shortest mean time with the Apple iPad, but the longest time with the Sony PRS-600 (with a touch screen). Only two tasks, “delete mark” and “page orientation,” differed significantly. We observed that participants who succeeded in solving some tasks, for example the task “page orientation,” were extremely fast on the iPad (multi-touch screen), but not all the participants figured out how to bring the text into a landscape format. To switch from portrait to landscape format using the iPad, you just have to turn the device and the text turns automatically. This function is very quick, if you use it intuitively. But not every person tries it out, maybe because of past experiences with other devices.

Results in design ratings show a significant difference between devices; the design of reading devices with touch screens (Sony PRS-600 and Apple iPad) was significantly better. The Sony PRS-505 and the Sony PRS-600 do not look completely different, but because the Sony PRS-505 has no touch screen, there are a lot more buttons on the device. Based on the higher design ratings for the two touch screen devices, it seems that a touch screen may enhance the appearance of a device significantly, which could have an influence on the user’s experience. The touch screen technology also has its advantages in terms of a higher intuitiveness and flexibility for adaptations of the navigation (e.g., due to firmware updates) compared to devices with static buttons. Furthermore, a touch screen allows for much more functionalities in a device, because the user interface can be adapted to a certain task (position and number of “buttons,” etc.). The multi-touch device (iPad) tested in this experiment has the disadvantage of being relatively heavy weighted. Participants rated the handiness of the iPad worse than the handiness of the two other devices. We think that this could be a big disadvantage for reading (at least compared to devices especially designed for reading) and should be optimized in the future. Because there are also disadvantages for sensitive touch-devices (e.g., shorter battery life and higher weight), devices without a multi-touch screen will likely stay on the market; therefore, the debate will most likely persist in the future.

Overall, this study shows that touch screen technology has a positive influence on some key aspects of usability, especially for an efficient navigation. There is a tendency that more sensitive touch screens enhance navigation. Nevertheless, users still have some problems when interacting with the device; some functions are not intuitively usable, and there is still room for improvement.


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