Kindle Fire Under Fire: Really Jakob?

December 12, 2011

KIndle Fire Under Fire

Kindle Fire Under Fire or Biased Attack?

Alas, another one of our heroes has fallen in our estimation.

Coming off of two weeks of user experience interviews in which we tested a client’s software on touch screen devices, I read a recent article in The New York Times about the Kindle Fire with keen interest. In his Personal Tech post, the author, David Streitfeld, builds his case that the Kindle Fire is doomed based on an analysis of Amazon user reviews posted on the retailer’s website, and a study conducted by usability guru Jakob Nielsen. Nielsen, a highly regarded expert on UX (and considered by many to be the founding father of usability), tested the Fire and concludes…

“I feel the Fire is going to be a failure. I can’t recommend buying it.”

Strong stuff. I was imagining a rigorous test of the device among several current and new users, perhaps a take-home evaluation so users could try it out and see what it could do (as we did in our client’s unrelated product test). Although Nielsen doesn’t specify the time users spent with the device (you can read his article here: Kindle Fire Usability Findings), he does specify the sample size. Guess how many? 100, 20, 10?

Try n=4.

I know. I had the same reaction. Can you call a complex, deep-featured device like the Kindle Fire a “failure” after only 4 in-person interviews in a UX lab? I agree with Nielsen that “qualitative studies generate deeper insights,” but with 4 people? And to be that definitive in your conclusions you would think those four people lived with the device for at least two weeks to see just how much of a failure it was for them. Yet it is clear that this was a lab test performed to “collect video clips.” Nielsen goes on to say in his own article …

“Our studies of Kindle Fire weren’t intended to advise consumers on whether to buy a Fire device. Our goal was to discover design guidelines for companies that are building websites, apps, or content that their customers might access on a Fire.”

If this is true, why the definitive “failure” quote that made its way into an article read by millions who might be considering buying the Kindle Fire? I am especially peeved by this, after having just conducted several interviews with users testing a product that had a much narrower feature/functionality footprint. Nielsen should be taken to task for making such broad conclusions based on so little data.

I was also disappointed in The New York Times for taking short cuts when making such broad claims. Building most of your article around online user comments, which tend to trend negative, a lab study among 4 users and a few off-the-cuff remarks from one “expert” is just sloppy journalism, especially when you get to pick and choose the comments that help build your case.

Full disclosure: I just bought the Kindle Fire last week and although there are serious problems with its user experience, I am finding it quite enjoyable, especially once I discovered how to open the device and sideload some additional Android apps. I now have the Nook and Kindle e-reader running on it. In order to get non App-store apps on the iPad 2 you’d have to jail break it. Amazon makes opening up the Fire easy with a single menu toggle.

Whether you agree with Nielsen’s assessment or not, the Times article should be a wake-up call to any of my colleagues who feel a desire to give comments to the press based on such light “qualitative” data. The paper’s standards obviously aren’t quite up to the ones we strive for in our own studies, I’m afraid. And, the piece caught one of our most esteemed researchers looking rather flat footed. The last quote in the NYT article is from Nielsen again:

“If I were given to conspiracy theories, I’d say that Amazon deliberately designed a poor Web browsing user experience to keep Fire users from shopping on competing sites.”

Hmm. Not only is this questionable since Amazon allows you to “open” the device up to competing apps and competing browsers, but given Nielsen’s own admission that “Apple is one of the companies that sent the most attendees” to his conferences, you might conclude the same re: his review of the Kindle Fire.

UPDATE: 12/13/11

After some harsh responses from critics Jakob Nielsen has posted a rebuttal.  His insights into the user experience are sound but his argument re: the small sample is still unconvincing. Check it out yourself: Rebuttal to Critics

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The language of emotion

June 8, 2010

While traveling  to present at this year’s Boston UPA mini conference via ferry I came across a wonderful editorial by David Brooks in today’s The New York Times.  Here is a curiosity: a Republican bemoaning the state of “liberal arts” and humanities studies in US colleges.  Evidently, in the last generation there has been a precipitous drop in student enrollment in the arts, while technical and business majors are growing.  This trend is expected to continue as the possibly years-long economic recession grinds on.

Brooks makes the point that continued study in these less-than-technical arts programs is essential for the creation of breakthrough technologies.  According to Brooks, besides improving people’s ability to read and write, the study of the humanities …

… will give you a familiarity with the language of emotion. In an information economy, many people have the ability to produce a technical innovation: a new MP3 player. Very few people have the ability to create a great brand: the iPod. Branding involves the location and arousal of affection, and you can’t do it unless you are conversant in the language of romance.

Brooks could not be more on the money.  Creating great technologies and great interfaces requires a combination of technical skill and creativity – creativity that is informed by a deeper understanding of the human condition.  This means an understanding of your customer that goes beyond a simple “test” of what’s in front of them as they interact with your technology; it requires an understanding of what’s going on in their heads — and possibly their hearts — as they do it.

This is what we practitioners mean by testing the user experience and what we at DIG strive for in every project we do for our clients.  And, it’s something that I’ll be talking about tomorrow during my presentation at the UPA event.  Companies that create usable products and interfaces will continue to make money.  But the real winners will be those that understand how to deliver experiences that move the soul (not just the needle) and provide real meaning for their customers.

For those of you that can’t make it to Boston on June 9th, here is a link to the slides: Fast, Cheap and In Control: Using an Online Diary/Focus Group Methodology to Gauge Meaningful Experiences


Capturing the spirit of Web 2.0

June 8, 2009

The new world order?

As I head off to this year’s national UPA (Usability Professionals Association) conference in Portland, I got to thinking about all of the hype around Web 2.0 and how it is changing EVERYTHING.

Image from tangyslice.com

Image from tangyslice.com

As the above tag cloud illustrates, Web 2.0 can be defined in a number of ways and can be pretty confusing to the uninitiated. However, one thing is for sure: if you are a marketer and you haven’t embraced the idea of technologies that support customer collaboration, sharing, and control using so-called “social media” then you are in the dark ages.  Right?

Sure, you say, that’s fine for those cool new music sites and iPhone apps but what if I am selling shipping services, heart valves, or cupcakes, what then? I can set up a company or brand Facebook page, allow customers to digg a page on my website, or send them Tweets about new stuff we’re doing. But is that really taking advantage of all that Web 2.0 has to offer? And, what if my customers are reluctant to participate in these new social media?

Choosing a Web 2.0 strategy

One of the pitfalls of trying to keep up with this new world order is to be too reactive.  Companies want to stay competitive and may be attracted to some of these new tools or services and then try to fit them into a vague strategy that demands Web 2.0 type of interaction with customers. But which tools?  And what do customers really want?

Now, which ones should I pick?

Now, which ones should I pick?

The problem with this “follow the wave” approach is that you may be spending money on stuff that nobody cares about or that just isn’t a good fit for your company.

Whether you are already fully invested in Web 2.0 or just getting started, here are some suggestions for meeting the challenges of the Web 2.0 world:

1) First define your brand: Recognize that your customers still have the same needs they had before – i.e., they want to be listened to and treated well. Choose any new services or tools based on this simple premise and keep coming back to it. Ask yourself: does this cool new (tool, service, etc.) support great customer experiences and my vision for my brand?  If not, then maybe it’s not right for you.

2) Give and take: Provide a feedback loop that will bring you good information about how your customers are feeling about you and that makes customers feel as though you care about them. Don’t give them the tools for communication/collaboration and just sit back and watch. Stay in touch.

3) Build the spirit and sensibility of Web 2.0 into the online experience: Although your customers still have the same basic needs, that doesn’t mean their expectations haven’t changed.  Web 2.0 has raised the bar re: customer expectations of the quality of the online experience.

Use “polite interfaces” and/or “adaptive interfaces” that speak to your users in real life language and give your website and your brand some personality. Provide a level of personalization that creates real value. Even if you don’t offer popular Web 2.0 tools, you can create pleasurable and meaningful experiences for your online users in other ways that don’t require a large investment (I’ll go into more detail about this in a future post).

4) Learn from your mistakes: Don’t be content with the status quo. There is going to be something new right around the corner that your customers might want. If participation rates slump for a particular tool, move on. Be willing to adjust as technology and customer desires change.

5) Do research: William Goldman’s famous quote about the entertainment industry is relevant here:  “nobody knows anything.”  Don’t assume that your competitors have this thing all figured out.  The only real way of knowing  if you’re making the right decisions is to do research.

Once you embrace the spirit of Web 2.0 there are a number of ways of collecting and analyzing information that can provide insight and are cost effective.


Note to Apple: iPhone copy and paste is not a “feature” it is a business

September 26, 2008

There is no question that the iPhone has revolutionized the smart phone market.  With the recent release of the 3G, Apple has managed to create one of the most pleasurable experiences for users of any electronic device while being responsive to issues from users re: the first generation iPhone (at least re: GPS).  However, I’m still astounded that Apple has yet to offer one of the most important features that BlackBerry users have taken for granted for years: copy – or cut – and paste when editing email or other documents on the handheld.

iPhone copy and paste

iPhone copy and paste

Even more astounding is that Greg Joswiak, head of product marketing for Apple, believes that copy and paste functionality is not a priority for the iPhone (!).  Not only are they losing customers by delaying this, Apple is putting developers on hold who could be developing a workable office suite for the iPhone.
As a long time BlackBerry user that has switched over to iPhone, I am one of many who miss this most basic function (If you’ve ever used your smart phone to type a 35 character long URL you know what I mean).  Until Apple gets its act together on copy and paste, we’re going to have to settle for workarounds, poor (and time consuming) imitations, and unapproved  “proof of concepts” or open source apps created by the developer community. 
For those willing to use a Web-based app to copy and paste …
Preston Monroe’s iCopy is the closest you’re going to get.  It’s a good stop-gap solution but as Monroe admits, there are some drawbacks including the fact that it doesn’t work with every page of text (sorry BBerry users), you have to reload the page to paste, and the text you paste is added to a URL and sent over the internet – providing an insecure environment for your personal information.  Here is a demo  …
As for “proof of concepts,” here are a couple that are worth mentioning …
From loneysandwich, here’s a mockup of what it might look like to Copy and Paste on the iPhone, using the magnifying loupe and a second-finger tap.   Nice job – but we expect that many users will have problems navigating effectively with the second finger – working the magnifying loupe is difficult enough (I’d love to see a UI test with Sumo wrestlers using this feature) …
MagicPad from Proximi is a rich-text editor that is now available in the App Store. MagicPad allows users to create text documents in which they can change fonts, text sizes, colors, and even add bold, italic, underline, and strike-through effects to their text.  And unlike the earlier proof of concept mentioned above, the user only needs to use a single finger to highlight text to copy, cut and paste. Unfortunately, MagicPad doesn’t solve many of the issues I have: you can only copy and paste items created within MagicPad – not between existing Apple applications on the iPhone.  However, for the price of a Mocha Latte ($3.99 at the App Store) it’s worth checking out.  Here’s a brief demo from the folks at Proximi …
While the developer community works to create workarounds and other apps, Apple is losing business every day from potential BlackBerry users who are getting locked in to 2 year contracts with their Pearls, Curves and Bolds.  RIM is also looking to release the new Flip 8220 BlackBerry in the U.S. The new flip phone will provide some extra “cover” for those frustrated by those exposed keys, and create yet another reason not to switch to the iPhone.
Apple made a big mistake in years past by focusing all of their Mac sales efforts on the education market and not listening to corporate and small business customers.  It took them years to recover.  Let’s hope they get wise and come up with an elegant solution soon for Copy and Paste.
Also check out:
Zac’s White’s OpenClip project – you can find a video demo and Zac’s updates re: iPhone copy and paste within iPhone’s SDK framework here:
There is hope (and some clues re: Apple’s firmware update) but no timeframe set:
A UI design suggestion based on the 15-year old Newton interface:

You gotta hand it to Apple: gesture-based “soft” interfaces are coming to a PC near you

March 27, 2008

Gesture-based interfaces are looking like the next new thing.  One of the key features that iPhone aficianados love to show their friends is the multi-touch feature that allows them pinch their fingers or expand them to scroll and
manipulate images on the screen.   And, companies like Sony Ericsson, Samsung, LG, and Motorola are coming out with a number of  new “iClones” that offer similar software-based interfaces.

Anyone that caught some of CNN’s recent coverage of the primaries (“The best political team on television!”) couldn’t help noticing Wolf Blitzer and other commentators showing off their gesture-based interface (called Perceptive Pixel) to manipulate the state maps in order to further confuse viewers re: the evening’s voting outcome.  Wolf, we know Tom Cruise (in Minority Report mode), and you are no Tom Cruise. 

 Meanwhile, Microsoft is focusing its efforts on their Surface technology which is to be available in hotels and casinos but isn’t promising any tabletop (or PC) gesture-based interfaces for consumers until 2011. 

However, with the introduction of the new MacBook Air, Apple has introduced the first multi-touch applications for the plain old PC (using the touch pad rather than the actual screen).  And, last summer Apple filed a patent to expand their multi-touch interface into a host of other uses including copy, cut, paste and other common editing operations.  Get ready to start seeing more of these gesture-based interfaces introduced into Apple’s product line.

It will be interesting to see how these new soft interfaces will change the way we all conduct every-day PC-related tasks once they go beyond the hipster iPhone crowd and into the mainstream.  It’s already clear that software-driven interfaces (like the iPhone) will soon be replacing the clunky hardware of the present.

And, as these interfaces become more widespread there may be a host of new user experience issues to consider, especially for older users or those handicapped with arthritis or other muscle ailments that affect dexterity.  Will people be divided into those who can “pinch” and glide their way through an interface and those how are stuck with that old mouse and keyboard on their desk/laptop? 

Sources/Fun and Games:

Why get a Macbook Air to start using multi-touch on your PC?  Try it remotely on your Windows or Linux PC – for free (works with iPhone and iPod Touch):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mWnbFZ-N-gU&eurl=http://hackedgadgets.com/page/2/

See CNN’s “Magic Wall” (and watch Jeffrey Toobin try to impress the ladies!):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ybkidUnbjcE&feature=related

Microsoft Surface – “the coffee table that will change the world” !!!: but when can I use it on my PC?
http://www.microsoft.com/surface/index.html

Design guru Bill Buxton explains it all: a multi-touch history
http://www.billbuxton.com/multitouchOverview.html

Jason Harris at Gigaom gives you the 411 on new soft mobile interfaces, including Google’s Android:  http://gigaom.com/2008/02/29/why-2008-is-the-year-touch-will-revolutionize-the-mobile-market/


iPhone as media platform: chicken or egg?

March 19, 2008

The positive buzz continues for Apple as a new study by m:metrics shows that iPhone users are significantly more likely to use every type of media on their phones when compared to other “smart phone” users.  This includes watching mobile TV/video, accessing social networking sites (e.g., Facebook), and performing a search or viewing news/other Web content.  And, iPhone users are more than 3 times as likely to use their phone to listen to music when compared to other smart phone users.

While this should generally be no surprise to anyone on the planet that has read about, heard about, seen, or used Apple’s “must have” appliance, it does raise some interesting questions that aren’t really answered by the press release (competitors take note).

The author of the press release casually passes over the contribution of “the attributes of the device itself” and emphasizes AT&T’s unlimited data plan as a key contributer to the increased use of media content …

“While the demographics of iPhone users are very similar to all smartphone owners, the iPhone is outpacing other smartphones in driving mobile content consumption by a significant margin,” said Donovan. “In addition to the attributes of the device itself, another important factor to consider is the fact that all iPhones on AT&T are attached to an unlimited data plan. Our data shows that once the fear of surprise data charges is eliminated, mobile content consumption increases dramatically, regardless of device.”

While it makes sense that the unlimited data plan could contribute to increased use (who passes up the all you can eat buffet?), the recent New York Times article nor the press release really mention much about the interface or user experience other than the fact that widgets for Google Maps and YouTube seem to drive usage of those apps. 

It would have been great to know more about the “why’s,” for example:
1) How much of iPhone’s media usage can be attributed to the user-interface itself? Not just the content widgets but the unique aspects of iPhone’s touch screen, screen size, etc.?
2) Conversely, is the lower incidence of usage by other smart phone users related to problems/issues with their phones’ interface?
3) How much of this usage is driven by self described “early adopters,” i.e., those who are predisposed to using rich media in the first place?
4) Is the iPhone driving usage or the other way around: what percentage of users are “first timers” – i.e., their iPhone usage is the first time they’ve used some of these media applications on a smart phone? 
5) How much is attributable to users accessing content via WiFi vs. AT&T’s network (many users have complained about the slowness of AT&T’s network)?

6) And, importantly, do these numbers represent claimed usage or as m:metrics promises in its About section, “actual mobile content consumption?” (According to The New York Times the results are from a survey of more than 10,000 adults.  Did the researchers sit over the shoulders of all 10,000 people to make sure they were using the applications claimed?)  How much of claimed usage can be attributable to overstated usage?  Look, if I shelled out $500 for a phone and someone asked me if I was using all the cool stuff that came with it I might be embarrased to admit that besides the music, I haven’t really gotten around to using all that other cool stuff.  

Claimed usage or not, these are impressive numbers and represent a cold slap to Apple’s competitors.  Now if they can just open up the phone to other wireless providers …

iPhone videos:

You can always listen to “Blender” (the Collective Soul album) but will the iPhone blend?:
 http://youtube.com/watch?v=qg1ckCkm8YI

Fun with iPhone’s SDK (just released in Feb):
http://youtube.com/watch?v=u5xA8-XvjNk

Can you use it as a hot plate too?
http://youtube.com/watch?v=jihVOLrZ4UA


A mobile app to help speed your trip

March 18, 2008

Kudos to Continental airlines for being the first to test their mobile boarding pass (Houston departures only for now).  But why are they keeping this on the down low?

 

According the New York Times, Continental is the first airline to test electronic boarding passes that replaces the usual paper boarding pass.  Their system creates a unique two-dimensional bar code (versus the more easily hackable one dimensional bar code used for paper) that can be downloaded and then scanned by airport personnel from your mobile device/cellphone.  Athough Forrester Research is claiming only “42% interest in using mobile phones as a boarding pass” (42% of whom?  mobile users who travel? Business travelers?), I think this is going to be in wide use once the airlines work out the standards with the T.S.A. and FAA.

The easy part is just letting users know about it, right?  Hmm.  You’d think that Continental would be making a big deal about this since they are first to market (since December ’07), so let’s go find out more about it.  Here is their home page:

It’s nice to see the BlackBerry icon although there is no specific mention on the home page re: this amazing breakthrough (only mentions of getting “flight updates”).  And, just a nit, the icon is located just below the fold on my browser.  Well, at least it gives me a good visual to start off  …

Now that I’m on the “Wireless Tools” landing page I have to do some real scanning to find the link (see above).  And note: although this new technology is considered a “special offer” by the company, the featured ads here (on right of page) are generic pitches for “low fares” and frequent flier miles.  A real missed opportunity.  Let’s click on that link under “Mobile Boarding Pass” …

 

Made it!  They provide a pretty good overview of how to get set up to start using your mobile device for check in.  And the benefit is right in the title: “truly paperless check in.” But, look at the breadcrumbs at top: why are they burying this page within the “OnePass News and Offers?”  This is real news for everybody – why isn’t Continental featuring this across the site — and especially within their own “Wireless Tools” section?  This new check-in solution represents a real opportunity to communicate to savvy fliers that Continental is a true leader in technology.  When another airline starts their own mobile check in service and does a better job marketing it, they could take away a lot of the mojo from Continental.

To wrap up:
Overall usability score: 7/10
Content score: 8/10
Markeing/branding score: 4/10

Some suggestions for Continental and other airlines once they get this going:
-Prominently feature a BlackBerry-type icon/link on the home page
-When users land on the mobile-related page make sure to feature this new technology, perhaps with a visual showing someone using it at the airport
–Make ad space contextual — i.e., lose those generic ads when you are only talking to mobile users and cross sell something specific to mobile technology
-Don’t bury the link so deep within a proprietary “offers” sequence/area.  Users are likley to pass it over within a section reserved for “specials” and “price off” promises. 

We weary travelers just want to get on that plane and move on with our lives.   Now the airlines can help us do it even faster.