Designing for mobile: The Amazon Kindle and user experience

When I visited Amazon.com on the morning of Nov. 14, 2010 I saw something which caught my eye: an advertisement for the Amazon Kindle showing how consistent and simple it is to buy a book and use it regardless of your electronic device or software preferences. Amazon has invested significant time and effort to make reading electronic texts, news, and periodicals an intuitive and friendly experience. Might this be an exemplary standard that designers, developers, and content creators should consider when planning for delivery of mobile content and services?

An advertisement for the Amazon Kindle displayed when visiting amazon.com in Nov. 2010.

The Amazon Kindle has undergone a gradual evolution since its initial release as a hardware device in November 2oo7 – the second generation devices arrived in February 2009 and included a new text-to-speech feature, and the current generation/model in August 2010 with improved contrast, tech specs, and revised screen size (Wikipedia, 2010).

Today, consumers can use Kindle on a PC or Mac computer, on an iPad tablet, or on any of the three most popular smartphone platforms (i.e., iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry). Advanced functionality has regularly been added to the Android and other platforms– including the ability to add highlighting, notes, and use voice-based search (Purdy, 2010). In fact, content read on one device can be synced to other devices along with notes and highlights — so you could read a chapter on your smartphone while traveling, make notes, and then continue work/research at your home or office computer. Your collection and reading progress is automatically backed up to the cloud — so you don’t have to worry about losing anything.

How have the Kindle device and related services been adopted? In 2009, Kindle-related book sales accounted for ten percent of Amazon’s sales (Godin, 2009). In 2010, for every 100 hardcovers sold, 180 Kindle books were sold and sales of Kindle hardware devices tripled over the previous year (Ostro, 2010). Apple iPad and Amazon Kindle each held a 48% share among students that brought an e- reader / tablet to school (Elmer-Dewitt, 2010). Additional studies found that 27% of Kindle owners have a graduate or PhD level education, and 44% earn more than $80k/year (Elmer-Dewitt, 2010). The platform has been used to market new books in short-term give aways exclusively for Kindle (Bernhoff, 2010). Some consider Amazon’s attention to detail in interface design and user experience to have played a role in how the Kindle still seems to “be a preferred e-reader, with Kindle outselling iBooks 60 to 1” (Inchauste, 2010). Creating great software experiences appears to be essential for gaining overall market appeal. The focus here for designers and developers should be that the content and experience matter significantly — not just factors relating to the device, platform, or context.

In some cases, adoption and use of Kindle has proven problematic. The device has not met the standards desired for accessibility (Wanger, 2010). Arizona State University settled a lawsuit regarding the use of the Kindle DX in academic related work due to complaints regarding accessibility made by the National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind (Cheng, 2010). The ability to increase font-size for low vision users and the quality and availability of text-to-speech functionality across all available book titles have been of concern for accessibility advocates and disabled consumers. Many of these concerns could potentially be addressed through improvements to developer support for content providers, revisions to hardware interfaces, and patches to software.

In addition to accessibility concerns, some questioned if Kindle software on other device platforms would hurt sales of Kindle devices (Raphael, 2010). In contrast, Om Malik posited that “Amazon should be thinking about Kindle as a platform that leverages other people’s hardware.” (Malik, 2010). There appears to be a fundamental shift from hardware-centric services to that of user experience as it relates to software and interface design.

There is now an abundance of advanced hardware options and location agnostic Internet access. Amazon made a brilliant move by creating separate functions within the Kindle Team for hardware (the Kindle Device), software development (the Kindle Reader), platform development (tools and support for application developers), and content acquisition managers. Amazon’s teams continue to provide iterative advances in their hardware and software offerings and, in my opinion, have set the right focus on creating and pursuing opportunity in areas of user experience and platform/context/location agnostic content distribution.

References

Wikipedia. (2010). Amazon Kindle. Retrieved on November 14, 2010 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kindle.

Purdy, K. (2010). Kindle for Android Adds Highlighting, Notes, and Voice Search. Retrieved September 25, 2010 from http://lifehacker.com/5645904/kindle-for-android-adds-highlighting-notes-and-search.

Godin, S. (2009). Reinventing the Kindle (part II). Retrieved November 14, 2010, from http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2009/02/reinventing-the-kindle-part-ii.html.

Ostro, A. (2010). Amazon: Kindle Books Now Outselling Hardcovers. Retrieved November 14, 2010 from http://mashable.com/2010/07/19/amazon-kindle-sales/.

Elmer-DeWitt, P. (2010). iPad owners: younger and more male. Kindle’s: richer and better educated. Retrieved October 6, 2010, from http://tech.fortune.cnn.com/2010/09/28/ipad-owners-younger-and-more-male-kindles-richer-and-better-educated.

Elmer-DeWitt, P. (2010). The Apple-branded campus. Retrieved September 21, 2010 from http://tech.fortune.cnn.com/2010/09/13/the-apple-branded-campus/.

Bernhoff, J. (2010). Strategic generosity: Who, how, and why to give out free stuff. Retrieved September 8, 2010 from http://forrester.typepad.com/groundswell/2010/09/strategic-generosity-who-how-and-why-to-give-out-free-stuff.html.

Inchauste, F. (2010). Avoiding the Uncanny Valley of Interface Design. Retrieved September 5, 2010 from http://www.getfinch.com/finch/entry/avoiding_the_uncanny_valley_of_interface_design/.

Wanger, L. (2010). Kindle Accessibility Review: How Far Has Amazon Opened the Door to the Blind? Retrieved November 14, 2010 from http://blindaccessjournal.com/2010/08/kindle-accessibility-review-how-far-has-amazon-opened-the-door-to-the-blind/.

Cheng, J. (2010). Lawsuit over Kindle navigation by visually impaired settled. Retrieved November 14, 2010 from http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2010/01/lawsuit-over-kindle-navigation-by-visually-impaired-settled.ars.

Raphael, JR. (2010). Will Amazon’s Kindle Android App Hurt Kindle Sales? Retrieved November 14, 2010 from http://www.pcworld.com/article/196603/will_amazons_kindle_android_app_hurt_kindle_sales.html.

Malik, O. (2010). Why Amazon’s Kindle Will Eventually Win the e-Book Wars. Retrieved November 14, 2010 from http://gigaom.com/2010/06/21/why-amazons-kindle-will-eventually-win-the-e-book-wars/.

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