« New FC: Material Issues | Main | Ah, Robots »

Human Interfaces

Warren Ellis:

Clay Shirky’s line about how anything that ships without a mouse is broken — that’s her [his daughter's] generation. (I still think he was just one foot behind the time — I understand he was working from an anecdote, but I can’t help thinking the word he should have used is "touchscreen.")

Yes. This.

KAMPI've had the Amazon Kindle 2 for a few months now (that's it on the left in the picture, next to my ancient Newton MessagePad), and it's been a great device for the far-too-abundant travel I've been doing lately. Much of that travel has been overseas, and since the Kindle isn't available outside of the US (and Canada, I think), I've been running into a lot of people who are curious and want to check it out.

And what's the first thing they try to do?

They try to "turn the page" by flicking a finger across the screen. But the Kindle doesn't have a touch screen. The "e-paper" display it uses is easy to read (at least in good lighting) and extremely low-power, but it is not touch sensitive. Which means that the second thing that people checking out my Kindle do is get a funny confused look -- why doesn't it work? -- before having that moment of realization that this device doesn't have that seemingly obvious functionality. That it's "broken."

What's particularly notable here is that the vast majority of people who have gone through this "Ooh! Oh." experience aren't teens or young adults; they're people across a wide range of ages, including people who are older than I am.

A handheld device's screen should be touch-sensitive. It took us awhile to figure that out, requiring a smart user interface team (at Apple, in this case) to turn the annoying (stylus-based touch screens are usability insults) into the obvious. But now that the kinetic-memetics have taken root, anything that works otherwise is incomplete.

Or, for all intents and purposes, broken.


Damn right. A touch-Kindle would be the best thing ever, even though I've become used to using buttons again.

Just because we're used to something it means things whiteout that function is broken?
Because that just seems lazy to me.

Can't you run the Kindle app *on* the iPhone? Perhaps it was a smarter move than it seemed, letting Apple actually do the user interface work for them.

Buttons, a dying art!

I can see you demonstrating a Kindle 3 (or XO-2) with touch screen, and people making futile hand gestures above it muttering 'wot, no wii?'

... or complaining about the lack of telepathy.

I could care less about being touch sensitive if it jeopardizes the crisp screen. I've seen sonys ereaders which are touch sensitive and they are fuzzier looking.

No Kindle in Canada.

I just hope Amazon doesn't kill Stanza. iPhone+Stanza is a far superior ebook reader to the Kindle for my needs (small, I always have it with me anyway, backlit, actually available here, not tied to Amazon and their regional content locks, etc).

I was looking forward to some improvements in the Stanza desktop app but when Amazon bought them, I got the fear.

Luckily the Stanza iPhone software is great as-is.

How long is it before we're saying "Anything that ships without voice control is broken"? Three years, maybe?

Here's your dark side of Kindle:


Tim O'Reilly had similar thoughts back in December of '07: http://radar.oreilly.com/2007/12/multitouch-raises-the-bar.html

Josh - yep, that's another issue that the regional content locks I mentioned are kind of a subset of. Amazon rules with an iron fist in these regards.

Apple's in a similar situation - the overseas iTMS suck, content-wise, in comparison to the US store (well, the Japanese one does anyway). But the difference is Apple does not reach in and actually delete content from the devices.

With the Kindle, Amazon can do that kind of thing at any time, as they did with Orwell's works as you posted.

...So there are rather sizable buttons to either side of the display, and nobody even thinks to press them?

Fail to look closely at the situation, fail to comprehend what you do see, and fail to try a slightly-different method (which is still blatantly obvious), and the fault is in the product, not in yourself. Delightful.


The existence of the buttons doesn't cancel out the possibility of a touch-sensitive interface (as a parallel, recall that the G1 "Android" phone has both a touch screen and a clickable trackball for selecting on-screen items).

More importantly, one of the principles of experience design is that when the users perceive one interaction mode as more obvious than another, and you don't provide that mode, the fault isn't entirely with the user.

It's kind of interesting though; I never slide to turn pages in Stanza (and in fact don't even know if it is possible). Stanza has tap-regions on either side of the screen to flip pages, similar to the Kindle buttons, but on screen. All very intuitive too, though they do pop up a brief instruction overlay.

Tried Stanza, Jamais? Your thoughts on an actual usability comparison between the iPhone using Stanza and the Kindle would be interesting. I have found it to pretty much eliminate any need or desire for another device, particularly one as large as the Kindle 2; you might have different impressions.

Post a comment

All comments go through moderation, so if it doesn't show up immediately, I'm not available to click the "okiedoke" button. Comments telling me that global warming isn't real, that evolution isn't real, that I really need to follow [insert religion here], that the world is flat, or similar bits of inanity are more likely to be deleted than approved. Yes, it's unfair. Deal. It's my blog, I make the rules, and I really don't have time to hand-hold people unwilling to face reality.


Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Powered By MovableType 4.37