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.


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