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I am designing an app that will require data to be pulled from our main servers, and upon the first use of the app, there is one screen that will take a few minutes for all data to load. I've been looking for examples of "waiting for download" messages within an iPad app and haven't come across anything. Specifically, I'd like to know:

  • Is there a standard icon for how the message should display? We want our users to know that progress is being made, and ideally we'd like to show a spinner icon (there is some concern from our engineers about being able to reflect the results with a progress bar).
  • If we use that, I haven't found any examples of a spinner with a text message. We'd like to let them know that it could potentially take a few minutes. Is there a way to convey a longer text message as well as a "waiting" icon without the screen looking too busy?

I'd appreciate any suggestions or examples of how others have tackled this. Thanks!

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Is there a standard icon for how the message should display?

No. Icons, in general, don't have meaning and are only relevant based on a user's previous experience with them. You should never use only an icon to convey important information.

We want our users to know that progress is being made, and ideally we'd like to show a spinner icon (there is some concern from our engineers about being able to reflect the results with a progress bar).

If you want to show progress, show a progress bar. A spinner implies to the user that something is happening, but if nothing happens for a period of time they can easily reach the point where they believe nothing is really happening, and will abandon their action.

The progress bar should show true progress if possible, using a determinate state progress bar:

enter image description here

But if there is an uncertainty to the process, there are standards for indeterminate progress bars:

enter image description here

Indeterminate bars animate to represent progress being made, but that the application isn't totally sure how long. Spinners just spin.

You can give an indeterminate bar a value too. So if you can take a "best guess" at the progress so far you can represent that while still showing an indeterminate time.

(Source: OSX HIG)

If we use that, I haven't found any examples of a spinner with a text message. We'd like to let them know that it could potentially take a few minutes. Is there a way to convey a longer text message as well as a "waiting" icon without the screen looking too busy?

Assuming that you application must download this information before being useful, there is no reason why you can't present a full screen message telling them exactly what is happening. Tablet's aren't small - you have plenty of space for a very clear message.

You should include those messages show the user is clear as to what is happening.

mockup

download bmml source – Wireframes created with Balsamiq Mockups

However if your application can be used, but just in a limited capacity, then you should let the user in. Don't block them from doing things that they don't require the download to be complete.

In this case you could just disable the actions that require the download to be complete. If the user taps them, you can either ignore the action or show a message that you're waiting for the download to complete. Another option is to use a small portion of the screen while the download is happening.

mockup

download bmml source

If the user is able to play with some options, but not all make sure they understand why those they can't work with aren't available.

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The two common ways to do it have already been presented in your question. Essentially you either show a progress bar with a message or a spinner with a message. Either one is a decent solution. The question of what they should look like is more a design issue than a UX issue as long as the message is clear and clearly associated with the spinner or progress bar.

Engineers often avoid progress bars because they can't accurately predict them, but often when you let go of the requirement for accurate prediction, there is loosely correlated data that can stand in as a proxy for progress. The important thing is that the progress bar shows movement towards a goal over time, not that the movement is constant.

If there's no way to get any useful information that could be presented in a progress bar, then a spinner with a message is your only option. However here there's little difference between an app that has hung and an app that is taking a while, so if you expect it to take a few minutes, make sure to communicate this to users so that they know what to expect.

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