Usability guru Jackob Nielson has given Amazon’s Kindle eBook reader the once over. His conclusion: perhaps unsurprisingly, the device is great for linear reading – think books, and in particular novels – but falls down badly when consuming non-linear content, such as electronic versions of magazines or newspapers.
Additionally, Nielson says that although he has previously questioned the viability of eBook reading devices in general, the Kindle’s e-ink screen technology and his own reading speed using Amazon’s device (less than 0.5% difference compared to the exact same paperback) has changed his mind.
On the Kindle’s linear reading strengths, Nielson gives praise to the device’s dedicated page turn controls:
… turning the page is extremely easy and convenient. This one command has two buttons (on either side of the device). Paging backwards is a less common action, but it’s also nicely supported with a separate, smaller button.
The device thus offers good support for the task of linear reading — appropriately so, as Kindle’s design is centered on this one use case. While reading, your only interaction is to repeatedly press the next-page button.
However, “anything else is awkward”, writes Nielson.
In particular he criticizes the Kindles smartphone-esque 5-way controller. “Repeatedly flicking the 5-way to move the cursor around the screen is extremely tedious. It doesn’t feel like direct manipulation at all. The 5-way owns the cursor, not you, and getting the cursor where you want it requires a lot of work.”
Overall, the User Interface, outside of consuming linear content, is poorly thought through. The reason, says Nielson, is that the Kindle’s design is dominated by the book metaphor.
So, the design decisions that make Kindle good for reading novels (and linear non-fiction) make it a bad device for reading non-linear content. Sure, Amazon designers could fix simple UI stupidities, such as the interaction design for a newspaper ToC. But doing so would simply apply a band-aid. To truly optimize the non-linear user experience, they’d have to completely reconceptualize the Kindle design.