Kindle Fire and why 7-inch tablets suck

Cramming a traditional webpage onto a 7-inch screen doesn't work.

Amazon's Kindle Fire Android tablet "offers a disappointingly poor user experience," claims the Nielsen Norman Group. The main culprit - the 7-inch screen.

Let me offer you a selection of highlights:

  • The most striking observation from testing the Fire is that everything is much too small on the screen, leading to frequent tap errors and accidental activation.
  • One poor guy spent several minutes trying to log in to Facebook, but was repeatedly foiled by accidentally touching the wrong field or button — this on a page with only 2 text fields and 1 button.
  • Using [website] designs intended for a full screen on a 7-inch tablet is like squeezing a size-10 person into a size-7 suit.
  • Kindle users should change their browser preference settings to mobile view.
  • The magazine reading experience could be good but actually is miserable.
  • Screen updates are too slow.
  • Kindle Fire also suffers from plain old bad UI design in many areas.

Nielsen Norman Group's conclusion:

For 7-inch tablets to succeed, service and content providers must design specifically for these devices. Repurposed designs from print, mobile phones, 10-inch tablets, or desktop PCs will fail, because they offer a terrible user experience. A 7-inch tablet is a sufficiently different form factor that it must be treated as a new platform. Furthermore, these mid-sized tablets are so weak that suboptimal designs — that is, repurposed content — won't work. Optimize for 7-inch or die.

Are the participants in the test group new to touch screens? No, they're not. The each had between 1.5 and 2.5 years' experience of using touchscreen devices with half having used Android phones and the other half having used the iPhone. Exactly the sort of people you'd expect to be interested in a tablet like the Kindle Fire.

In other words, cramming a traditional webpage onto a 7-inch screen doesn't work. Equally, cramming a mobile website equally doesn't work. 7-inch is a different animal, and if it's to succeed content providers are going to have to tweak that content (be it a website or a magazine or an app) to make it work on a 7-inch tablet. The problem is made worse by the fact that the Kindle Fire UI sucks, but that's something Amazon can fix with a software update. A software update can't give it a bigger screen.

None of this is a surprise to me.

Will content providers tweak content to suit the Kindle Fire? I think that depends entirely on how well the Kindle Fire does. Until there are millions of them out there (either Kindle Fire devices or 7-inch tablets in general), I don't see an economic incentive for anyone to be targeting this specific niche.

Kinda makes you wonder why Apple put a 9.7-inch screen on the iPad, and why Apple hasn't released the long-rumored 7-inch iPad. A tablet with a 7-inch screen is a tablet with a small screen, and a tablet with a small screen is a different animal to a tablet with a big screen.


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