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Kindle UX a case of post-purchase cognitive dissonance?

October 21, 2010

With all the talk of online information and e-books, I spent an interesting half hour with a friend yesterday who had bought one of Amazon’s Kindle devices – and our joint opinion was that some areas of its performance were disappointing.

I remember the team at Amazon showing up a few years back to introduce the Kindle Mk1 to the board of the publishing company I worked with. They (Amazon) were impressed with it (well wouldn’t anyone who’d created something new?) but I have to say I thought it a disappointing melange of bland design and dubious aesthetic.

This is not because I am some sort of dyed-in-the-wool old-fashioned print geek, but because the Mk1 had taken away all the beauty of owning as well as reading a book. They had sterilised the experience of reading and – being American – the guys showing it to us couldn’t get away from the idea of a “global platform” being what customers wanted. But there was more – the Kindle didn’t appear to do anything other than store loads of books in a slimline package of dubious aesthetics.

Since the dawn of electronic media, publishers have become obsessed with the idea of a “global platform”. But my experience with this approach is that customers don’t want “global”, they want “local”. And why not? Cue the Kindle Mk2, the Nimrod MRA4 of the e-book world – technically brilliant after years in development but still with glitches being ironed out (and now, sadly – in the Nimrod’s case – bizarrely cancelled at the death).

  • Yes, it has superb technology but it delivers in monochrome, years after black and white TV disappeared and years after even the Daily Telegraph moved to colour photography.
  • Yes, you can increase the font sizes and change from landscape to portrait easily but now, with the iphone and ipad leading the way in UX ergonomics, the inability of the machine to do these functions itself without a Microsoft-style industrial functionality is disappointing.
  • Yes, it no longer looks like a wedge-shaped lump of white plastic but it now looks like a disappointing old-fashioned pay-as-you go model, as if a bigger, better, brighter version is available somewhere else.
  • Yes, you can change the fonts (a highly unimpressive range of fonts by the way) but any illustrations are not scalable and consequently the experience is a bit duff.
  • Yes, you get Amazon’s legendary customer service and delivery but the experience of the finished product – the text – dulls their sheen.

Sure, the Kindle Mk2 is a significant advance and sets impressive standards for literature portability, manageability and readability. You can go on holiday without carrying loads of guides in your ruck sack. It stays charged for an impressive time. You can buy books and download them easily. As a technical piece of kit, it is impressive. But as so many designers have learned in the end, no one cares about specification, they care about delivery. And product delivery engenders loyalty.

Brand emotion is created by customer experience, user experience – efficient, easy UX. The UX which Amazon delivers as part of their excellent customer service is sadly not really delivered in terms of the the Kindle, which is branded with their name as the Amazon Kindle.

Which brings me to an interesting report from the New York Times which says that students are still turning to text books rather than e-books. For years, publishers have stressed over the move from print to digital and, indeed, this has been backed up by sales of e-books in the US. There’s no doubt that the provision of e-books is seriously denting sales of text books but what comes out of this NYT report highlights, perhaps, the deficiencies of what’s currently on offer: the UX of a book is more enjoyable than the UX of e-readers (at least those currently available).

Of course, over time, electronic delivery will move forward, UX will improve and brand loyalty will be engendered. It’s such a shame that the Kindle Mk2 is such a curate’s egg: good in parts. As my friend was saying to me, “putting something like a book in an electronic format creates different expectations. Suddenly, an e-reader is not just an electronic way of reading books, it’s more than that – readers expect electronic devices to offer impressive functionality which will impress and delight“.

Sadly, while brilliant in many ways, the new Amazon Kindle is a little disappointing. It provides post-purchase cognitive dissonance in abundance: the sudden realisation that something you have bought is just not quite as good as you thought it might be. A level of discomfort and uncertainty.

Over to you, Apple!


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