Kindle Fire Usability Review from Jakob Nielsen

Jakob Nielsen is perhaps the top user interface expert in the world and his take on Kindle Fire Usability is now up.

The Kindle Fire doesn’t do well at all in his usability review. A few things stood out for me -

  1. It’s not just us Kindle 3 owners who lament the loss of physical page turn buttons. Here’s Mr. Nielsen’s take:

    The lack of physical buttons for turning the page also impedes on the reading experience for fiction. On the older Kindles, it’s easy to keep a finger on the button when all you use it for is to turn the page. In contrast, tapping an area of the screen disrupts reading enjoyment, is slightly error-prone, and leaves smudges on the screen.

  2. It’s not just us Kindle Fire owners who want physical buttons. Mr. Nielsen shares our pain:

    Using apps and websites on the Kindle Fire is less efficient than on other devices because it lacks two key physical buttons: one to return to the home screen (as on the Kindle Keyboard) and one for volume up/down (as on the iPad). Physical Back and Menu buttons would also make the interaction more fluent (as on Android phones). After a while, touching the screen to bring up the control strip becomes less unnatural, but it’s still an extra step compared to hitting a hard button.

  3. He points out the need for websites and magazine apps and apps made specifically for 7″ Tablets. He says Kindle Fire and 7″ Tablets are different enough to be considered a separate form factor.
  4. He very clearly says that Kindle Fire works well only with Mobile Websites.
  5. His main take: Kindle Fire offers a disappointingly poor user experience. It seems harsh given the device is very good overall. However, he makes some convincing arguments.
  6. He says that for reading fiction, the older Kindle design wins. Which is no surprise at all to anyone who’s owned an eInk Kindle.
  7. He says Kindle Fire wins for magazines etc. but that the magazine reading experience is miserable. I know hardly anything about magazines in general so have nothing to say here.

His conclusion is very interesting:

7-inch tablets have either a glorious future or will fail miserably. I doubt there’s a middle path in their future.

For 7-inch tablets to succeed, service and content providers must design specifically for these devices.

7-inch tablet is a sufficiently different form factor that it must be treated as a new platform.

He feels that unless 50 million or so of 7″ Tablets sell by end of 2013 there won’t be enough economic incentive for people to make products targeted specifically to 7″ Tablets and that they will then die out.

My take would be that just 10 million Kindle Fires would be enough. There are already millions of other 7″ Tablets like Nook Color and Galaxy Tab and Nook Tablet. If the total gets to 20 million devices that’s a big enough market for most developers and publishers.

Should Amazon act on Mr. Nielsen’s Recommendations?

Yes, it really should.

The #1 reason is not that he’s probably the top usability expert in the world. It’s that these are the EXACT SAME THINGS that actual Kindle and Kindle Fire owners are asking for. Just check the official kindle forums and these same things come up again and again.

That in itself should have been enough to tell Amazon that a lot of the decisions it has made are terrible ones i.e. getting rid of physical page turn buttons on Kindle Touch, getting rid of volume and Home buttons on Kindle Fire, etc.

Now we also have Jakob Nielsen weighing in and he is, not surprisingly, with users and in favor of a simple user interface. Let’s not try to outdo Apple. Let’s keep making great Kindle devices like Kindle 1 and Kindle 2 and Kindle 3.

While you’re at it Amazon – also bring back the physical keyboard for Kindles.

Is Mr. Nielsen too harsh?

Note: This is all about usability.

No, he’s not. It’s easy to understand why someone 100% focused on usability is upset that there are no physical page turn buttons, there is no volume button, and lots of the product offerings are not built specifically for the device.

On the Note of developing Apps specifically for 7″ Tablets

We do have some applications made specifically for 7″ Tablets like the Kindle Fire. I’m just waiting until we’ve sent out versions that are actually tested on the Kindle Fire and optimized for it before sharing them with you.

Let me just add that Amazon goes out of its way to make it difficult for app developers to make apps for Kindle Fire.

Amazon would not let developers get test units of Kindle Fire until they were actually shipped to customers. There wasn’t even an emulator or simulator. If you’re wondering why there aren’t more apps or why half the apps work wrong – It’s because Amazon treated developers like an after-thought.

 How can developers make great apps if they don’t even have access to the devices?

Amazon, please read what Jakob Nielsen has written. You need apps made specifically to take advantage of the form factor of the Kindle Fire and you need to treat developers very well and perhaps you should focus on apps as products and not loss leaders.

19 Responses

  1. My experiences with the Kindle Fire:

    1) I got one device for my family to share to see if we like it. We all agree that it’s a cool toy, but no one is really using it extensively.
    2) I agree that not having physical volume controls is a disadvantage. the home button, not so much.
    3) No editing of the carosel is a pain, we all just ignore it and use the menu instead. It should definitely ONLY be for favorites.
    4) None of us have any issues with regular websites. You do have to pinch and zoom in a bit, but we’re used to that on our Android phones.
    5) It’s very simple to use, none of us have had any trouble with any features.
    6) Magazines look great, you just have to pinch and zoom to read.
    7) Game play is good as is video.
    8) Although we think movies and TV via Prime is cool, none of us really use it. My daughter watched one movie on it when she was sick. we already have Netflix and I usually get free shipping anyway (over $25) so I don’t see the point in the expense.
    9) No one has read a complete book on it. My son started one when he was sick but never finished it. My daughter, husband and I all have eInk Kindles and prefer to read on those. My daughter and I also find it too big and heavy for a lot of reading. Our Kindle Keyboards are just perfect.
    10) My husband used it the most, mainly for Facebook and games before bed or in the bathroom (which I think is highly unsanitary!).

    Conclusion: I just don’t see the point of a tablet in general. Between TV w/satellite, smart phones, eInk Kindles, and laptops/desktops, we already have devices that give us all the functionality. It would be good for travel, except that it’s WiFi only. I’m also tired of wiping fingerprints off of it.

    • Thanks for the comment. That’s a good point – no one has yet found the killer function for Tablets. And by killer I don’t mean ‘slightly better on a Tablet’ – rather, something that makes Tablets irreplaceable.

  2. The 7″ tablet is one of those “neither fish nor fowl” things: smaller screen than a standard (10″) tablet, but not small enough to carry around in your pocket like a phone (unless you have BIG cargo pockets on your pants). I think anything in that form factor will work best if it’s optimized for one thing (like the Kindle, Nook, and other eReaders).

    On the other hand, I don’t see a need for specialized sites for a 7″ tablet. Mobile-friendly sites should work just fine. I’ve browsed mobile sites on my Kindle 2, and it works well enough.

  3. Go to text version did magazines. I have no problem there.

  4. I bought an iPad in March of this year because I really wanted a backlit reader, and was admittedly, just curious about it. I read on it all summer, but quickly realized it was really too big and heavy to be a really comfortable ereader.

    I have a Fire now…and I do like it. However, having had an iDevice and seen how amazing the selection of apps for it is, I do find the selection of apps disappointing for the Fire. I’d love to see that improve. But since I mostly used my iPad for reading, the Fire really is a better tool for that. My eyes don’t tire with the backlit screen, though I know some people do experience that.

    I sold the iPad on eBay and I don’t regret it.

  5. Excellent thoughts, Switch! I’m only interested in reading books and my Kindle 3 (Keyboard) couldn’t be more perfect. I would be lost without an eink screen, keyboard, and page-turn buttons. I hope the Fire does well for Amazon, but I personally have no interest in any size tablet, at least at this time.

  6. i’ve had my fire for a few weeks and really don’t have any complaints about it. i love the size and while not having the buttons was a bit jarring at first (i had a kindle 2 previously) i got used to it it pretty quick (and my SO appreciates no more clickety-click-click.)

    i had the greatest of trepidation about going from eink to a backlit reader (my experiences with PDAs were uniformly terrible), but after a modicum of finetuning, i got it all to my liking and have no problems reading with it daily. the first time i sat in a dark room and read with just the back light on was almost like an epiphany to me.

    with a few apps sideloaded, i got full access to all my locally stored music and movies. a CBR/CBZ reader from the app store added even more versatility to my reader. add to that th ability to access just about any movie/tv services of note and i got a pretty potent multimedia device in my hands.

    my biggest complaints would be:

    1. carousel. no edit, no use.
    2. battery life. going from plugging in once every 3-4 weeks to once every 1-2 days was a bit jarring.
    3. the espn scorecenter (compared to its analog on my iphone) is powerfully sluggish to the point of being useless. i wonder if thats a fire thing or an android thing.

    bottom line, if you give the newness of the device some time, i think most people will get used to life without buttons (besides, being left handed, the buttons never were perfect for me, anyhow.)

    the excessive fingerprints issue i addressed by keeping a fiberless cloth near my reading space (easy to get from any place that sells glasses or optics.) i kinda had the same issue with my iphone, so i was prepared for that, at least.

    • It’ll be interesting to see how people feel about Kindle Fire after some more time with it. You might very well be right about it being a user interface people have to get used to.

      • it might be that people whose feature path is from the K1-3 to the touch/fire are feeling a bit shell-shocked in terms of the metaphor change of the later devices.

        otoh, if you’ve handled an iphone/ipod/ipad for a while and gestures is all you have, the metaphor of the touch/fire might seem a bit less alien and more intuitive (and yes, i know the iphone has the back button. until siri came along i kept asking myself why they still bothered — it always took me out of the narrative mindset of the UI to use it.)

        i could be way off on this and perhaps there are plenty of apple product users who will come out and call BS on this, but i found the UI of the fire to be something i segued into pretty easily. by contrast, i remember the button-and-stick metaphor of my K2 taking a long time to getting used to originally.

      • There’s definitely an aspect of that i.e the metaphor change being too much.

        However, there’s also the fact that the Kindle Fire is not physically attuned to anything i.e. removing all buttons means it has no buttons for anything. Page turn buttons are a loss for reading, home button is a loss for going back home, and volume buttons are a loss in various apps.

        If the metaphor change led to a device that was actually better for the things it was meant for – then it’s understandable to shock users. But it’s not clear that the metaphor of the Kindle Fire makes it better. For anything.

  7. His points pertain also to the Kindle Touch. After spending extensive time with them in stores, I’ve concluded that having to touch the screen for every page turn is definitely a downgrade in terms of usability. It really is a bother to have to press the screen, then lift your thumb away from it, before pressing it down again. Moreover, the fact that the screen so recessed makes it uncomfortable.

    Amazon made a mistake in removing the traditional page buttons. A touch screen is a nice advance but only if it adds and does not detract from existing usability. Moreover, the buttons on the bargain basement Kindle 4 are decidedly inferior than those from the Kindle Keyboard, which are easier to press by contrast. Not only that, but I find the small boxy shape of the Kindle 4 to be less ergonomic as well.

    Reluctantly I have to agree with you Switch that both Kindles are a downgrade from Kindle 3. Amazon has tried to release too many readers at once and has failed to optimize any of them.

  8. I don’t miss the page turn buttons on the Fire, perhaps because I use it only for bedtime reading, and then only for short periods. I think the Fire is designed to be a media/game device, not a primary e-reading device; for media/games, page turn buttons might actually be in the way.

    Only the other hand, I have to believe that it’s a major loss not to have page turn buttons on the KTouch. I can’t speak from experience there, because I’m sticking with my K3 and haven’t tried the KTouch.

    Any hints on the apps?

  9. My biggest complaint with the Kindle Fire is there are only 3 ways to organize your ebook library: by author, title, or “recent.”

    What is up with that?

    I have over 300 ebooks at Amazon–do you know what a HUGE PAIN it is to scroll all the way down to get to the one I want to read?

    There is no way to organize this sucker into collections like on a regular Kindle–so there goes the librarian in me that likes to organize my books by genre: mystery, romance, sci-fi.

    At least the Nook Color allows you to create shelves for your various books. I don’t have the Nook Tablet, so not sure if it can do that, but I would hope so. Then again, I thought that a Kindle device that reads ebooks would have kept the “collections” ability, too.

    I ended up returning my Kindle Fire. Yes, how nice to watch videos or play games on it, but I also wanted to use it as an ebook reader–and it certainly isn’t very good for that. Not if your collection numbers over, say, 20 ebooks!

    • i have over 200 books on my fire and i don’t find that to be much of an issue — though sorting by genre would be nice to have, i suppose (though it comes with it’s own pratfalls when something is of multiple genres.)

      i positively *HATED* the collections feature on my K2. a reading device should be about me reading and not spending hours giving in to my OCD (imo, anyway.) in order to make it more feasible to better group (or customize grouping) first amazon would have to introduce some sort of tag-editing mechanism for its files (imo, anyway.)

      there is room for improvement in management on the fire, but it is nowhere near as bizarro and time consuming as it was on my K2.

  10. I had a chance over the weekend to compare the Fire and Nook Tablet side by side in a retail store (admittedly not an ideal setting) and I thought the NT was noticeably better, especially in screen sharpness and the accuracy of the touchscreen. But I also looked at the 7″ Samsung Galaxy Tab in the Verizon store and thought it was superior to either the KF or the NT. Of course, it also costs twice as much as a KF unless you sign up for a ball & chain two year contract with Verizon. I think I’m going to sit tight and wait to see what the next six months bring.

    • Straker, I have the Fire and Nook Tablet and Tablet is very good. It’s much faster than Fire and Nook Color. That 1 GB of RAM makes a big difference.

      Not sure about screen sharpness. Will have to take another look. Accuracy of the touchscreen – yes, however both work for me on that front. Nook Tablet is a very impressive device. Wonder how it will do.

  11. Jakob is a terrific usability expert. Wonder what he thought about Kindle 3 (or Kindle Keyboard)? Does he agree that it si the best Kindle yet?

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