Kindle Oasis…More Like Kindling a Fire in the Desert, AmIRight?

Khoi Vinh is not down with the new Kindle Oasis:

The Kindle’s surprisingly resilient upward trajectory—the company insists that the Kindle line is still a source of revenue growth, even in the face of smartphone and tablet ubiquity—is a reminder that “good design” is hardly universal. When it comes to digital products, people value things that work well more than they value things that look good. Apparently working really well is good enough for this audience—Kindle users love their Kindles. It doesn’t much matter, I guess, that my stomach goes queasy and my eyes start to bleed every time I try to read anything in a Kindle.

I haven’t owned or used a Kindle since the first generation model, but I do use the iOS app on my iPhone and iPad. My #1 complaint? The Kindle app still paginates books without the ability to continuous scroll (as if every book were a huge, single page a la Kerouac’s On the Road scroll).

Pagination is an artificial construct that doesn’t make sense when reading on touchscreen devices.

Bryan has voiced his problems with the Kindle before on this site, here, here, and here.

Best Intentions

We may now have a new “most unread best seller of all time.”

Data from Amazon Kindles suggests that that honor may go to Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” which reached No. 1 on the best-seller list this year. Jordan Ellenberg, a professor of mathematics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, wrote in The Wall Street Journal that Piketty’s book seems to eclipse its rivals in losing readers: All five of the passages that readers on Kindle have highlighted most are in the first 26 pages of a tome that runs 685 pages.

The rush to purchase Piketty’s book suggested that Americans must have wanted to understand inequality. The apparent rush to put it down suggests that, well, we’re human.

—Nicholas Kristof, An Idiot’s Guide to Inequality

I’m guilty of going a step farther: I acquire tons of e-books with the intention of reading them, but takes years for me to get around to reading them (if ever).

An Update on the Kindle Update

Kindle for iOS, version 4.2 was released the other day. New features include easier access to the table of contents of books, and something called X-Ray Smart Look-Up. It’s a welcome addition, actually. But, has continuous scrolling, one feature that has been missing for years, been added yet?
No, it has not.

Improved Reading Experience? No.

Last week, Amazon updated it’s Kindle app for iOS. For the iPad, the new update is a case study in poor design. From the update blurb in the app store:

Improved reading experience on iPad: Smaller margins and a cleaner look help you focus on the author’s words.

When I first saw this in the blurb, I was immediately suspicious. It’s hard to overstate the importance of healthy margins and whitespace in good design. Generally, it’s also one of the earlier casualties when good design meets project managers and clients who aren’t designers. But I updated the app anyway. Upon opening, I saw what had been a decent treatment of margins had been destroyed by the redesign:

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The image on the left is a screen capture from an iPad without the update installed (I’m a developer, I have more than one iPad. How first world of me.). The image on the right is with the update installed.

The smaller margins do indeed help a user focus on the words. In fact, that’s all a user can focus on. What Amazon has done is create a solid mass of text that has no breathing room. It’s claustrophobic. It’s stressed.

It’s like standing three feet in front of a brick wall and pretending you’re appreciating the architecture of a building.

The words are the most important aspect of a book. That’s intuitive. But, presentation is very important. Having ample margins helps the eye flow over the text and makes it easier to move from one line to the next while reading. Making the margins smaller in the app hinders the ease with which the eye can move over the page, making the book harder to read, not easier. Also, it’s just ugly.

There is also a usability gap that was created with the update. Previously, the app’s toolbar overlays would not interfere with the text on the page. Some people like to read with the toolbar visible. I’m not among them, but I respect that. After the update, keeping the toolbar visible is no longer a workable option:

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Also, the new toolbar design has none of the nuance of the previous version. It’s black, bold, and in a user’s face. Even if it didn’t cover up text, the look and feel of the new toolbar is a downgrade.

The Kindle app in the iPad has been a conundrum ever since I began to use the device, simply because the presentation has always been suspect. The options for reading have been limited in ways I could never understand.

Continue reading “Improved Reading Experience? No.”