Kindle Fire Offers 'Disappointingly Poor' Experience; 'Miserable' Magazines

Will the projected 3.9 million Kindle Fire buyers this quarter end up disappointed with their new tablets? User-experience guru Jakob Nielsen’s new usability report finds the Fire’s 7-inch screen troublesome, the magazine-reading experience poor and the device as a whole slow and heavy.

Nielsen’s full report is here. It doesn’t take into account the technical problems many Kindle Fire users have experienced, notably the inability to connect to WiFi. Some of Nielsen’s findings:

»  Fat-Finger Problem “Everything is much too small on the screen, leading to frequent tap errors and accidental activation.” Mobile sites work well on the Fire’s 7-inch screen, but full sites don’t, even though they work fine on the iPad’s 10-inch screen. “Using designs intended for a full screen on a 7-inch tablet is like squeezing a size-10 person into a size-7 suit. Not going to look good. But that’s what the Fire is trying to do,” Nielsen writes. He recommends that Kindle Fire users set the device to mobile view.

» Bad For Reading The Kindle Fire is heavy and “unpleasant to hold for extended periods of time,” Nielsen writes. “Unless you have forearm muscles like Popeye, you can’t comfortably sit and read an engaging novel all evening.” Of course, people who primarily want a device for reading straight text were never best off buying the Kindle Fire, and it hasn’t been heavily marketed as an e-reader.

The area where Kindle Fire could shine–full-color interactive magazine reading–is where it’s a particular failure, Nielsen says. A couple of his complaints:

–Many magazines don’t have a no “homepage” where users can return after finishing an article.
–Headlines on magazine covers aren’t clickable, even though we’ve known that users want this since our first iPad studies in early 2010. (Honorable exception: in our study, Vanity Fair did allow users to tap a headline on the cover to go directly to the corresponding story.)
–“Page View” is unreadable and “Text View” has the worst layout I’ve seen in years. Illustrations are either too big or too small and are usually located far from the place they’re discussed in the copy.

»  The Future Of 7-Inch Tablets Seven-inch tablets like the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet “have either a glorious future or will fail miserably,” Nielsen concludes:

For 7-inch tablets to succeed, service and content providers must design specifically for these devices. Repurposed designs from print, mobile phones, 10-inch tablets, or desktop PCs will fail, because they offer a terrible user experience. A 7-inch tablet is a sufficiently different form factor that it must 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.

Nielsen says developers need a prospect of high sales to create content specifically for the Kindle Fire and other 7-inch tablets. If the platform “becomes a raving success and quickly sells in large numbers (say, 50 million copies by end of 2013),” we’ll have the “economic foundation” to create that specific content. We’re already seeing publishers like the Wall Street Journal and Weather Channel create apps specifically for the Fire. Nielsen does not mention the broader problem our mobile editor Tom Krazit has raised, which is that Kindle Fire runs its own version of Android, so Fire-specific development may fragment the Android marketplace.

If the Kindle Fire’s sales aren’t as high as projected, “the platform will either die or be reduced to serving poor people who can’t afford a full-sized tablet,” Nielsen concludes. “A small audience won’t offer much incentive for providers to publish 7-inch-optimized content and services. The resulting unpleasant user experience will drive any remaining affluent users to buy bigger tablets.”