UI Problems with Amazon's Kindle?

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A TechCrunch article reports that a recent study conducted by University of Washington has found that Amazon Kindle has some major "UI problems" particularly in the case of students being able to use it for their school reading. These "UI problems" include the need for a "skimmable" abstract of content and a better note-taking ability. But wait, wasn't Kindle created for leisure reading? Yep, a quote from the original study emphasizes that it was:

"Most e-readers were designed for leisure reading, think romance novels on the beach,"' said co-author Charlotte Lee, a UW assistant professor of Human Centered Design and Engineering. "We found that reading is just a small part of what students are doing. And when we realize how dynamic and complicated a process this is, it kind of redefines what it means to design an e-reader."

Can we really call these findings "UI problems" when we know that Kindle was designed for leisure reading and not for students taking notes? Not so sure we can. Judging from the study there might be a new use case for Kindle in which the target market is students. This new use case might require some new features added.

The question now becomes should Amazon go after this target market? Is this a good business decision? Could it be too early for Kindle to add more features? It would be interesting to see if Amazon ends up using their press release process to evaluate the answer for this question.

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It has 6 comments.

Adam Hopkinson (ZURB) says

The Kindle does one thing very well. Making changes to fit secondary audiences would risk one of the key selling points - that anyone, regardless of technical ability, can pick up a Kindle and use it as intended.

Jordan (ZURB) says

It is indeed difficult to skim the text, another UI problem is that it is really easy to turn the page when you don't want to, as your fingers can mistakenly hit the buttons while holding the device.

They just recently added actual page numbers so now you can use it for academic work. Before page numbers were implemented it was impossible to use the kindle for writing papers and such, as none of my professors would accept "locations" as a reference. The page numbers suggest that they are pushing towards an all in one e-reader, for both leisure and work.

Seeing as the device is extremely limited in an ever converging world of functionality, they need to cover every scenario of long-form reading they can.

Rick Lowes (ZURB) says

I agree these are not "UI problems". These are deliberate design decisions Amazon made to achieve excellence in what they call a "purpose built device". Making this work for students would likely require hardware as well as software changes - if you think about something like highlighting parts of a document or book on a repeated basis, You would not want to do this using the 4way pad - you'd probably want a touch interface or stylus for this.

Some of the other design decisions that may have been made for the purpose it was intended may be making things worse for other users it was not specifically designed for - this is actually ok and in many cases good design practice. Example above from @Jordan about the pages being too easy to change may actually be a great feature of the device for other people wanting effortless page turns.

This article would be better off saying that the Kindle has a less than optimal design for students. When Amazon says it is "purpose built" they actually mean it was designed for a specific purpose, and studying isn't that purpose.

Dmitry (ZURB) says

@Rick Right on - Kindle wasn't designed for students. What it looks like they're doing now is that they are looking at another target market and use case for Kindle. It's fine to do that, but the question becomes is it too early to worry about more use cases and start adding features?

Dmitry (ZURB) says

@Adam - Totally agree. However most products have trouble staying simple. More use cases arise (like this one), at some point the company makes a decision to start adding features. The trick is to find the best time to do so.

Ethan Hackett (ZURB) says

This is a great article reminding us to focus on the details of the questions being asked and their relevancy to the results.

It isn't designed for students it's designed for reading. But keeping it simple as @Dmitry said is vital to a products success. Students have laptops for school work why not find a better way to merge the two. Like a note' button that sends the selected paragraph to your laptops text editor of choice and automatically starts building your bibliography for you. If I could just tap a not but and ad a line of text and have it already in my computer that would have saved me lots of time. Not to mention it could play into social integration like facebook, twitter etc for quoting lines from what your reading.

Simple is best.