I love my Kindle.
I can read it one-armed while cuddling a dozing child. I can catch up on classic out-of-print Science Fiction, without cramming the house with dusty books or spending a fortune.
I can even legally download the complete works of Edgar Rice Burroughs free from Project Gutenberg without spending a fortune on collectible paperbacks with rather too raunchy covers.
So, no, I’m not one of those people who laments the loss of the feel of the book, the smell of the paper. Give me content. Now!
Alas, when I say I love my Kindle, I really mean I love my ebooks.
Good reviews on cnet aside, the Kindle is very unlovable indeed.
Sure, we’re all used to the “Mac-rosoft” logic of menus and clickable links. We don’t need an Interface Metaphor anymore.
However, when a device is a replacement for Something Real, you’d think the designers would have thought through some use cases for the original.
I doubt the Amazon designers did this. To be honest, I seriously doubt they read books for pleasure.
How the Kindle matches up against use cases for a paperback book
Think about it. The two main use cases for a paperback have to be:
- Linear reading: I read one page, then I read the next. Sometimes I back-up a page to check I read it right. Mostly, I just trundle through the text.
- Flicking: Some books have maps, glossaries, dramatis personae and end notes. Others place their illustrations in one clump. I need to flick to them and then back to the text.
Linear reading – yes, well done, the Amazon designers managed to remember a forward and back button. (Woot!)
Flicking…? With the exception of the way it handles end notes, the Kindle is a flicking fail.
Why the Kindle is a flicking fail
Flicking is all about back-and- forward action - glance at Glossary, then back to the description of the battle.
How does this go with a Kindle?
I’m reading Six Months Without Sundays. What on earth is TRiM? OK. Let’s check the Glossary…
- Click the Menu Button…
The menu opens.
(I have lots of options, including tinkering with the WiFi. However, I think I want Go to.. , which is handily highlighted.)
- Select Go To and hit the OK button.
A panel appears offering me 6 standard destinations.
(Hmm. “Table of Contents”, “Beginning”, “Page”, “Cover”, “End”, “Location”… But I want the Glossary. Is it in Locations… Oh, that just returns me to my place for no apparent reason! OK, I give in…)
- Select Table of Contents.
The ebook’s Table of Contents opens.
(Finally! Now I just have to arrow down to the glossary.)
- Select Glossary and hit the OK button.
A panel opens.
(Do I want to “cancel”, “create note”, “full definition”, or “follow link”…?)
- Find the required information.
(Oh, “TRiM” means “Trauma Risk Management”. Cool.)
- To return to your place, hit the Back button several times.
(Great. Oh, hang on, what’s a “Gimpy”…?)
It takes four (4!) menu steps and many more clicks to get to the glossary. Once you’re back in the text, you have to do it all over again.
This is rubbish! What were they thinking?
Yes, I could bookmark it, but: using a bookmark requires two navigation steps, and even more clicks; and consulting a glossary is a very routine expectation – I should not have to set it up myself.
Ways Kindle could be better for flicking
Assume we can’t add extra buttons, or get the Kindle to treat the Glossary like a dictionary and have the definitions appear tool tips… what could we do to make it better at flicking?
Let’s mess with the buttons. Here they are:
Table of Contents button replaces Menu button
Going to the table of contents is a routine action! It shouldn’t be a roller-coaster adventure through a menu tree.
So let’s turn the Menu button to a Table of Contents button. The table of contents screen can have an item on that leading to the other options.
Forward and Back arrows skip bookmarks, not chapters
At the moment the Forward and Back arrows work like the skip buttons on an MP3 player. However, instead of skipping tracks, they skip chapters.
How often do readers navigate by chapters? Remember, the Kindle remembers your place; you don’t need to pick it up and go, “Hmmm. I was halfway through chapter seven…”
The arrows would be better used to skip between bookmarks.
It’s not rocket science!
Looking back up at my review, I am starting to wonder whether the Amazon designers thought they were designing an MP3 player, or that they wanted to make the Kindle like one. Or perhaps they saw the shape of the data – the chapter structure – and organized their UI around that. One way or another they missed an opportunity to produce something that really enhanced the reading experience.
It’s a pity because it’s not rocket science. They just needed to sit down with people who actually read books and look at how they use them.
(If you want some help in revising your UI, drop me an email.)