What’s News: Kindling

UX interviews Whitney Quesenbery about using the Kindle, Amazon.com’s wireless reading device. Whitney started using the Kindle near the end of 2007.

WQ:

My first impressions were virtual. I was surprised at how many blogs and online experience pundits seemed to hate it. I was even more surprised that they hated it so much before they had even seen it. Then I found a blog post by someone who actually had a Kindle. That was just the sort of transparent experience I was looking for, and I was sold. When it arrived, I expected it to be…well…ugly. So many of the negative reviews focused on its industrial design, usually comparing it to the iPhone. My first surprise was that it feels better in your hand than it looked in the pictures. It’s not cutting edge design, but there are some nice touches: the back of the device has a surface that makes it easy to hold onto, and the screen is very easy on my eyes. I don’t miss having a backlight at all, and I love that the Kindle runs for an impressive number of days between charges, since it doesn’t need power except to redraw the page. I started by downloading samples of several books on usability and accessibility. But the first book I bought was My Son’s Story by Nadine Gordimer. I started reading it at a friend’s house, and bought it on the ride to the airport so I could finish it.

UX:

What are your favorite features of the Kindle?

WQ:

How useful it is for reading technical books, especially the ability to mark sections of the text. I end up with a file with all of my notes, and all of the text I’ve highlighted (which I can copy to my computer via the USB port). I absolutely love being able to buy books anywhere.

UX:

Can you zoom in on pictures and graphics in a book?

WQ:

Nope. It’s a real gap.

UX:

What are your least favorite features?

WQ:

I wish that the Kindle had text-to-speech, so I could listen to the book, but still keep track of my place if I wanted to shift to visual reading. This would also make the Kindle accessible—providing audio books for people with visual disabilities at mainstream prices.

UX:

As a usability professional, what would you change about the UI design of the Kindle?

WQ:

I still press the “Next Page” button by accident. It takes up most of the right side of the Kindle. But mostly I want more books in our field available in Kindle format.

UX:

What other controls does the Kindle have? In particular what other controls are there for navigation?

WQ:

There are lots of ways to navigate. You can use the linear page buttons, but you can also jump to a bookmark or a specific“page number,” and search. Some books also include links so footnotes are active, and tables of contents have links to chapters. I’ve learned to bookmark as I go, because I seem to show the Kindle to people (including perfect strangers sitting next to me on the train), and that way. I don’t have to worry about losing my place.

UX:

How easy is it to find a piece of text that you read earlier?

WQ:

That’s a breeze. You can bookmark any page. You can add a note. You can search. And the Kindle keeps track of your last place in all of the books on the device. One of the nice UI touches is a little progress bar that shows you where you are in the book.

UX:

What happens when you drop it?

WQ:

Amazon anticipated that one. There is a video on their website of it bouncing out of someone’s hand. I keep mine in the case that came with it.

UX:

What happens when it gets wet?

WQ:

I haven’t tested that one yet!

Quesenbery, W. (2008). What’s News: Kindling. User Experience Magazine, 7(3).
Retrieved from http://www.uxpamagazine.org/kindling/

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