Kindle Fire usability study shows 'disappointing' user experience

Posted:
in iPad edited January 2014
A small usability study on Amazon's Kindle Fire tablet has found the device offers a "disappointingly poor user experience," especially with respect to web browsing and magazine reading.



Usability guru Jakob Nielsen published his findings (via Daring Fireball) from a qualitative study that tracked four users' experiences with the recently released tablet. According to the report, Amazon's proprietary Silk browser for the Kindle Fire is "clunky and error-prone," while magazine reading is "not much better."



"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. You haven't seen the fat-finger problem in its full glory until you've watched users struggle to touch things on the Fire," he said.



During the test, one user spent "several minutes" trying to log in to Facebook because he kept accidentally pressing the wrong field or button. The study found that Fire users are better off opting for mobile versions of sites, which feel "luxurious" because they're designed for 3.5-inch mobile screens.



Participants in the study had between 1.5 and 2.5 years of experience with touchscreen devices -- half were Android users while the other half used Apple's iPhone. Nielsen also pointed out that the study wasn't meant to advise consumers on whether to purchase a Kindle Fire, rather the study's goal was to "discover design guidelines for companies" that may have Kindle Fire users.



But, his observations on the device, which drew from both personal use and the usability study, found the Fire to be a "heavy object" that was "unpleasant to hold" for long periods of time. He also disagreed with the lack of physical buttons for page turning. Other issues that Nielsen had with the Fire included the lack of a home screen button or volume buttons and "bad UI design in many areas."







"For reading fiction, the older Kindle design wins," Nielsen wrote, though he did find that the Fire beat out older Kindle models when it came to reading magazines and light nonfiction. However, Nielsen went on to point out that the magazine reading experience on the Fire "could be good but actually is miserable because the content isn't designed for the device or for interactive reading."



Nielsen also took issue with screen updates being too slow on the Kindle Fire. "Scrolling can feel erratic and there's a huge lag in response after pressing command-buttons," he wrote, noting that the poor performance was a surprise to him and may be caused by "sloppy programming."



"If I were given to conspiracy theories, I'd say that Amazon deliberately designed a poor web browsing user experience to keep Fire users from shopping on competing sites. Amazon's own built-in shopping app has great usability, so they clearly know how to design for the tablet," he wrote.



Nielsen extrapolated the Kindle Fire usability results to mean that 7-inch tablet interfaces in general "have either a glorious future or will fail miserably." He believes that service and content providers will need to design specifically for 7-inch devices in order for them to succeed, since repurposed designs offer a "terrible user experience." As such, he recommends that the 7-inch form factor be treated as a "new platform."



"Furthermore, these mid-sized tablets are so weak that suboptimal designs ? that is, repurposed content ? won't work. Optimize for 7-inch or die," wrote Nielsen.



7-inch tablets may face an uphill battle as a result, since magazine publishers, websites, application programmers and other providers will only design for the form factor if there is a critical mass of millions of users. According to him, rapid sales of 7-inch tablets would drive a "virtuous circle" that would support a "rich ecosystem of 7-inch-optimized services," but sluggish sales of the form factor would create a "vicious circle" that would cause the platform to "either die or be reduced to serving poor people who can't afford a full-sized tablet."



With expected Kindle Fire shipments of 3.9 million units this holiday season, Amazon may be on its way to building the base it needs. Though Apple will maintain a sizable 18-month head start with its 9.7-inch iPad, analysts predict Amazon will surpass its other rivals to quickly assume the No. 2 spot in the tablet market.



The results of the Kindle Fire usability study contrast Nielsen's findings for the iPad. He wrote that, based on similar testing of the iPad, "full sites work quite well on 10-inch tablets."



For its part, Apple appears to have discovered similar results to Nielsen's study in its own usability tests. Late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs revealed last year that the company had performed thorough research into the ideal size.



"Apple's done extensive user-testing on touch interfaces over many years, and we really understand this stuff," Jobs said in a quarterly earnings call. "There are clear limits of how close you can physically place elements on a touch screen before users cannot reliably tap, flick or pinch them. This is one of the key reasons we think the 10-inch screen size is the minimum size required to create great tablet apps."



Jobs went on to predict that 7-inch tablets would be "Dead on Arrival." In fact, a number of 7-inch iPad competitors have flopped this year. Research in Motion's PlayBook became the most recent casualty when the BlackBerry maker announced last week that it would take a $485 million charge due to unsold Playbook inventory.



Apple management has indicated that it believes the Kindle Fire will actually attract users to iOS and the iPad. According to them, users will "gravitate to more feature-rich experiences," analyst Mark Moskowitz noted them as saying last week.



Ben Reitzes of Barclays Capital also reported the company's top brass as having said that the Kindle Fire would "fuel fragmentation" because it represents another platform. "The more fragmentation, the better, says Apple, since that could drive more consumers to the stable Apple platform," Reitzes wrote in a note to investors last month.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 101
    apple ][apple ][ Posts: 8,360member
    I saw videos of people using them when it was first released. It operated like pure garbage and the usability was extremely poor, with the interface being very non responsive and inaccurate.



    I don't care if it costs ten dollars. If something is bad, then it's bad, regardless of how little it costs. It also doesn't matter how many they may happen to sell. That is not going to magically transform garbage into something good. Garbage X 3 million is 3 million pieces of garbage.



    People who say that they like it, clearly have very low technical standards, as to what they expect from their devices.
  • Reply 2 of 101
    asciiascii Posts: 5,456member
    Even on my iPad, viewing a normal (non-mobile) website, I sometimes zoom in just to be sure I hit the right button. I just don't know how 7" would be practical, though I guess it depends on what particular sites you visit.
  • Reply 3 of 101
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Apple ][ View Post


    Garbage X 3 million is 3 million pieces of garbage.







    Quote:
    Originally Posted by 'Apple


    People who say that they like it, clearly have very low technical standards, as to what they expect from their devices.



    Some poster here, you-know-who, is claiming that the Kindle Fire has excellent build quality, better than the iPad2 since it "doesn't slip" and "doesn't have the LCD pooling issues".



    It's sad that it is almost 2012 and most electronics manufacturers still don't "get it" and are churning out this plastic that will just clog landfills. Where is Greenpeace now on this issue? HP, Dell, BB, Nokia, RIM, Samsung, now Amazon, just plastic chunk after plastic chunk. The aluminium and glass design is... just... breathtaking, really. Apple is still miles ahead of anyone else. PS3 and Xbox360? Good for gaming but still yet more plastic chunks.
  • Reply 4 of 101
    My wife bought one. It lasted a week and was a total frustration in its usability. From our family's experience with using one, I would have to agree with all the points in the study.



    We returned ours to Amazon and my wife bought a regular Kindle Touch instead.
  • Reply 5 of 101
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 4,013member
    Doesn't matter. The iHaters, trolls, and whiners will just sing the same old song. "just wait till <insert yet another future OS update here> comes out. Then, it will be kewl!"



    This usability study comes to no surprise. Typical bottom-barrel tactics and a waste of resources. I'll bet that Bezos knows most will be an impulse-buy, and they will end up gathering dust in some desk drawer or filling some landfill.



    Shame on them for manufacturing utter garbage.
  • Reply 6 of 101
    apple ][apple ][ Posts: 8,360member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by nvidia2008 View Post


    Some poster here, you-know-who, is claiming that the Kindle Fire has excellent build quality, better than the iPad2 since it "doesn't slip" and "doesn't have the LCD pooling issues".



    I read that too. There is no pooling on the iPad. I just pressed the screen on my iPad 2 pretty hard, and there is no pooling at all. Nothing, nada.



    There are two possibilities that could explain that statement.



    (1) It is a bald faced lie.

    (2) Their iPad is very defective, and they should get it fixed, pronto.



  • Reply 7 of 101
    apple ][apple ][ Posts: 8,360member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by sflocal View Post


    Doesn't matter. The iHaters, trolls, and whiners will just sing the same old song. "just wait till <insert yet another future OS update here> comes out. Then, it will be kewl!"



    Yep, there's always something new on the horizon that the Fandroids have to look forward to.



    "Just wait until Honeycomb comes out, that will fix those issues!"



    Then that quickly turned into "Just wait until Ice Cream Sandwich comes out, that will fix those issues!"



    By the time Android gets to "Z", the shit will still suck.
  • Reply 8 of 101
    I'll admit, the usability blows, but I think people are trying to make this out to be more than what it is. It's more of a PMP than a tablet.



    Besides the fact that this has nothing to do with Apple (until we see some deformed iPod 7", highly unlikely), the study itself is qualitative and N=4. It's garbage. I can do a qualitative N=4 study on the Macbook Pro and find that it has terrible usability and low ratings, despite the fact that it's arguably the best laptop out there.
  • Reply 9 of 101
    jd_in_sbjd_in_sb Posts: 1,466member
    It's amazing that nearly 5 years after Apple raised the bar and showed the world quality touch interfaces and hardware, other companies continue to make touch products that they know are junk. I actually thought Bezos is the one guy who could demand a quality tablet from his engineers. I'm very surprised that Bezos green lighted the Fire when he undoubtably knew from testing that the 7" platform doesn't work. More than ever, I appreciate Apple's unique talent in the design universe and their insistence on a quality user experience.
  • Reply 10 of 101
    nagrommenagromme Posts: 2,834member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by ascii View Post


    Even on my iPad, viewing a normal (non-mobile) website, I sometimes zoom in just to be sure I hit the right button. I just don't know how 7" would be practical, though I guess it depends on what particular sites you visit.



    7” done well would be better than an iPhone (in terms of easy pointing etc.) and worse than iPad. But Safari on iPhone/iPod Touch is already very usable despite being smaller than the Fire; I’m constantly amazed at how easy it is to tap the link I want without zooming in. That’s good programming that figures out what you meant to tap, even if you only tapped near it. In fact, I think people by habit have a little vertical offset (they actually tap low, as if they’re pointing with part of their finger near the nail, rather than with the true center of contact). iOS realizes this, I’m pretty sure: try tapping stuff on an upside-down iPhone and accuracy suffers. And many buttons in iOS have larger touch areas than their visible size. Thus, a 3.5”—or 7”—screen CAN be practical, even if the Fire isn't. These details matter!
  • Reply 11 of 101
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,354member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by ascii View Post


    Even on my iPad, viewing a normal (non-mobile) website, I sometimes zoom in just to be sure I hit the right button. I just don't know how 7" would be practical, though I guess it depends on what particular sites you visit.



    I use pinch to zoom constantly via Safari on my iPad. As to a 7 inch device if it works as well as the current iPad it would be fine, people would choose it where size matters. It is an especially handy size for a reader or for field use.
  • Reply 12 of 101
    djdjdjdj Posts: 74member
    Of course the article here at AppleInciter doesn't say anything about how the same guy had roughly the same things to say about the iPad and its apps too. Selective reporting for the win.
  • Reply 13 of 101
    tylerk36tylerk36 Posts: 1,037member
    It's a toy! When people buy a 200 dollar electronic toy and expect it to perform like a iPad they are bound to get upset.



    Where's your Kindle Fire? Oh I think it's in my desk. How do you like it? Um it's OK.
  • Reply 14 of 101
    apple ][apple ][ Posts: 8,360member
    The thing that surprises me the most is how many people pre-ordered this thing blindly. These people deserve to be disappointed, because frankly speaking, they were ignorant and not thinking very clearly.



    I don't have anything in particular against Amazon, I do order stuff from them sometimes, but why would anybody believe that Amazon has the experience or know how to deliver a good tablet product?



    Their track record is zero. Their simple e-ink Kindle devices do not count. The people who got excited about the Kindle Fire were operating on pure, blind faith.



    Apple is a company with many decades of experience, in both hardware, software and OS'es. Why would anybody think that all of these other companies can just release something and hope to even get close to the level of quality and user experience that Apple has? It makes no sense, but then again, a lot of people out there have very little common sense.



    A few moronic fools like to say that Apple has good advertising, and that's why people buy Apple products. Of course, we all know that is a bunch of BS, and the real reason that people can get excited about Apple products is because they have a huge track record of delivering great, groundbreaking products that people love. That's also why Apple has a higher satisfaction rate than anybody else. People know what they're getting and they know what to expect.
  • Reply 15 of 101
    By the same line of reasoning any smartphone becomes unusable.

    Obviously software simply needs a size setting and why we can still get by with small smartphones.



    I wonder how those using Opera Mobile or Firefox find it.
  • Reply 16 of 101
    Just buy and iPad for crying out loud cheap skates! Lol
  • Reply 17 of 101
    cash907cash907 Posts: 893member
    Eh. My wife likes hers well enough, but I suppose people without an Amazon Prime account might find it less useful. I don't have the same control problems others in this forum have had with it, but I'd never ditch it in favor of my Transformer. 8 gigs isn't enough for me, and the lack of expandable memory is the same dealbreaker on the Fire as it is on the iPad.



    Kinda curious how so many of you seem threatened by a cheaper alternative to the iPad, that isn't really designed to compete with the iPad. If Amazon is able to pick up business from folks who consider the iPad out of their budgets anyway, what do any of you care?
  • Reply 18 of 101
    cash907cash907 Posts: 893member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by aBeliefSystem View Post


    By the same line of reasoning any smartphone becomes unusable



    Good point. Interesting how the very same size kings and queens that are hating on the Fire's 7 inches were the very same proclaiming that 3.5 inches was more than enough back in August.
  • Reply 19 of 101
    Sales of Kindle fire > review from a "expert" via Daring Fireball. The Kindle Fire has a limited set of use cases. It is reasonable for the pricing and the functionality. No point in comparing it with iPad.
  • Reply 20 of 101
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