Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The UI on Amazon’s Kindle Fire is an embarrassing abject failure

I don’t get it.

Amazon’s mission is to be the world’s most customer-focused company, or something like that.

Did they even try to test out the Kindle Fire UI on any of their customers before inflicting it on us?

I’m really, really trying to like this device (our lab bought a couple to test out).  I’m a committed ebook fan and Kindle owner: I already own three Kindle hardware devices, not counting the Kindle Reader apps I have on my Macbook Air, iPad, and iPhone.  So I am predisposed to want to like this device.

If I download (buy) a book from the Kindle store, it shows up under Books.  If I sideload or download a PDF book, it shows up under Docs.  If I sideload or download a true ebook (.mobi file) notpurchased on Kindle store (e.g., purchased through Pragmatic Programmers, SitePoint, or any other of a number of technical publishers that distribute their ebooks directly off their site), it shows up in Docs.

When I go to Apps, my choices are “device” or “cloud”.  OK, I want to search for a new type of app, so I tap Cloud, and then Search.  No results.  Oh, I see, I have to go to the “store” to search for new apps.  That’s different from “cloud”.  In fact, the Search button seems to do something different and inconsistent in every context in which it’s available.

I have not found a decent free app for Google Maps, Google Calendar, Google News, Google Reader, or Gmail.  Weird given that Google is the company behind Android, the Fire’s OS.  (I know it’s an “Amazon adaptation” of Android, but it’s almost like they went out of their way to make it even moreclunky and unusable on the Fire than on other Android tablets.)  Yes, I can use the Web versions of those apps, but they don’t work particularly well on the Fire’s smaller screen.

The popup keyboard is unusable.  It’s too hard to describe why; try using it and you’ll see.  Auto-correction doesn’t work.  Different softkeys pop up at different times, so the softkey that was a left-parenthesis a second ago is now some random other thing, because you mistyped a word.  The key that means “shift” sometimes turns into the key that means “make the keyboard immediately disappear with no obvious way to bring it back.”  I have an iPhone and use the autocorrect all the time, and it’s graceful enough to give up and not correct your word if you “mistype” it twice in a row.  Fire’s autocorrect will correct your “wrong” word the same way again, and again, and again,and again,and again,and again,and again,and again,and again,and again,and again,and again,and again,and again,and again,and again,and again,and again,and again,and again,and again,and again, until you just want to punch the device’s GorillaGlass screen.

The reading experience isn’t good.  I talked about this already in an earlier post.

The one and only thing this device has going for it—and the only reason I still try to use it at all: when reading in bed, its backlight means I don’t have to turn on a reading lamp.  This is important for my spouse, who doesn’t read in bed.  If it were up to me, I’d use my black & white Kindle 3G or Kindle DX exclusively.

I never thought I’d say this, but someone has come up with a mobile device experience that is worse than any version of Windows Mobile I’ve used, and I’ve used Windows Mobile since back when they were competing against the original PalmOS.

Apparently the Kindle Fire UI was designed by the same team that designed the unusable “Manage Your Kindle” page on Amazon.  In an era where Google and others have shown how tasteful use of JavaScript can make for a responsive and compelling UI, Amazon has figured out a way to make JavaScript so obtrusive that it makes the UI worse than if only HTML and Web 1.0 technniques were involved.  Don’t take my word for it; try it yourself.  I have about 140 items in my Kindle library, and “managing” them on Amazon’s site is just a joke.  It’s unusable.  There are bugs that cause random popup div’s with raw JSON to appear; the page is slow, and you can’t click on anything until it finishes loading because everything is re-rendering out from under you; no matter how many titles you own, you can never view more than 10 at a time, cannot filter the view, and cannot select multiple titles to perform a batch action (say, batch delete); you cannot manage “collections” and have them sync to your Kindle devices, as you can do with playlists in iTunes; I could go on.  If this UI was a class project at Berkeley it would get a C.

Thank heavens for Calibre.  It’s not perfect, but it’s by far the best overall ebook management app out there now.  And it’s free.  I couldn’t help myself, I sent a few tens of dollars as a donation to the author.  You should too, if only to get him on Amazon’s radar.  Amazon: buy this person, throw away all of your horrendous ebook “management” pages, and replace it with Calibre somehow.  Heck, rebrand and redistribute it and make the author rich.  He deserves it.

I know it’s possible to buy 2 Kindle Fires for the price of one iPad, but it’s also possible to buy two cans of dog food for the price of one sandwich—I’ll still take the sandwich.  Holy crap, does this device suck.  Too bad, because it would be good for customers if the iPad had some serious competition.  This device could have been that, but isn’t.

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