John Paczkowski

Recent Posts by John Paczkowski

Usability Guru Pours Cold Water on Kindle Fire

What’s annoying, heavy and slow and suffers from bad UI design?

Amazon’s new Kindle Fire tablet, according to the usability experts at the Nielsen Norman Group. In a report published Monday, Group founder Jakob Nielsen says the Fire suffers from all sorts of usability problems and offers a disappointingly poor user experience.

Nielsen takes issue with virtually every aspect of the device, from hardware to operating system, but his chief complaint seems to be its 7-inch size and Amazon’s failure to optimize the user experience for it.

“The most striking observation from testing the Fire is that everything is much too small on the screen, leading to frequent tap errors and accidental activation,” says Nielsen, who labels the issue the “fat finger problem” and notes that he’s seen it occur on pages with as few as two text fields and button.

Equally troublesome, the fat Web site problem — cramming a site intended for a desktop browser into the Fire’s significantly smaller screen with little or no optimization. “Using designs intended for a full screen on a 7-inch tablet is like squeezing a size-10 person into a size-7 suit,” says Nielsen. “Not going to look good.” Yet, that’s what the Fire attempts to do, even though it does wonderfully with mobile sites optimized for 3.5-inch screens.

Beyond these, Nielsen has plenty of other criticisms. The Fire is too heavy; its screen updates lag; its “Page” and “Text” views are lousy. But again, most of the gripes come back to the 7-inch form factor. In order for the Fire to succeed it needs content and services that are designed specifically for it. Repurposed content from other platforms just isn’t going to cut it.

“A 7-inch tablet is a sufficiently different form factor that it must be treated as a new platform,” Nielsen concludes. “Optimize for 7-inch or die.”


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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik