Kindle Fire usability tests confirm Steve Jobs' criticism of 7-inch form factor

Kindle Fire usability tests confirm Steve Jobs trepidation over 7-inch form factor

For those still holding out hope for a 7-inch iPad, noted usability guru Jakob Nielsen has run tests on the Amazon Kindle Fire's user interface and come away with the interesting observations about the challenges involved.

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. You haven't seen the fat-finger problem in its full glory until you've watched users struggle to touch things on the Fire. 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.

Nielsen believes tablets at the Kindle Fire's screen size won't be able to get away with showing standard web sites, like the iPad does, but instead need specialized mobile versions, like those often found for the iPhone. Whether or not the ~7-inch form factor becomes popular enough for web designers and developers to invest the time and resources necessary to support "yet another version" remains to be seen.

Interestingly, when [Steve Jobs] (in)famously threw cold water on the idea of a 7-inch iPad in Apple's future, in addition to reducing the scope and scale of potential software, one of the reasons he gave was that the UI would be too small -- that users would have the shave down their fingers to use it. He claimed Apple did a lot of testing before hand and determined the 9.7-inch iPad gave the best trade off between usability and design.

Nielsen's research seems to bear that out. It's possible, maybe even likely Amazon will lick this problem in a future update, but it's something to keep in mind for now if you're trying to decide between an iPad and a Kindle Fire for the holidays. Even at $300 cheaper, it's difficult to put a price tag on frustration.

Hit the link below for the full Kindle Fire usability results.

Source: UseIt.com via Daring Fireball

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Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, Vector, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Kindle Fire usability tests confirm Steve Jobs' criticism of 7-inch form factor

53 Comments

One thing I don't get with Android users: They always complain that the iPhone is too small, yet the iPad is too big? They are only happy with 5"+ phones and 7" tablets.

One thing I don't get with iOS users. They always complain that 7" is too small, yet 5"+ is too big. They are only happy with 3.5" phones and 10" tablets.

Lol wow, fanboy post.... Slow news day? My 7 inch tab is much easier to use compared to the iPad. It has more real world application than a 10 inch tab and I can even fit it in my coat pocket unlike an ipad. I view webpages just fine on it and I have no issue with touching the wrong thing being used to my iphone tge 7 inches seems huge. So stop the hating on 7 inch tabs. Get some real news.

This "10 in monitor" is amazingly thin and very lightweight.
Also, this "10 in monitor" can easily fit in my GF's purse.
As long as the iPad (or any other tablet) meets these two requirements, no one on the planet is going find it cumbersome to travel with or use.
You are just trying to make things up to sound like you actually have a good argument. (which you don't)

It's not my iPad it's hers. And she absolutely loves it and uses it at work and home everyday.
I am getting the iPad 3.
And when I do have an iPad and take it to work, I have a really nice portfolio bag for it to wear over my shoulder.

i personally prefer 10 inch tablet but i would like to see this article quoted when apple comes out with 7 inch or as you guys suggested 7.35/7.85 inch models, then it would be the best thing in the world, right?

At $300 cheaper, its a great price to put on media consumption. I love how many keep comparing this device to an iPad when it isn't. Seeing from the family on Thanksgiving, I'm sure they won't be get frustrated when each see they have a Fire ready for them with $100 gift card to load up on the library.

Maybe the user that was using the device didn't know how to properly use it? I have a BlackBerry PlayBook, which is the 7" form factor, and it is not too small. I much prefer using it to a larger tablet. There is the occasional mis-press, but overall it is lighter and easier to manipulate than larger tablets. Of course, the Fire's UI might have something to do with the user's problems as well, and not the size of the device...

Very funny how someone commented about Android users and you didn't send them this post. The second someone said something about Apple you jumped on it. Android users deserve the same respect.

using a device is about the user experience easy to use, stablility OS, great app with good ecosystem. Why many people compare with Price? How don't get it how those people using their device without any knowledge about using it.

There is NO UI problem?? RIM & Dell prove that! At the end of the day, 7-inch tablets = a waste of material inventory! The highest selling non-iPad tablet sold 208,000 units the entire year! Everyone involved needs to drop the 7-inch tablet dream!

For me, the 7 inch size seems perfect. However, I want one with a higher resolution screen. The UI elements can be whatever size the designers wish. Just because it's not the best experience at the first generation does not keep them from improving as both the software and hardware evolve.
My main desire is to have a better e-book reader - color, higher resolution, responsive UI. All things that e-ink can not do at this time. Throw in a quality web browser along with some good apps and I'll be really happy if.... the price can be lower than what the iPad 2 commands. The millions of buyers have made it clear that the price is relatively fair but it's too high for me and my needs.

Yah, but unlike the Kindle Fire, the iPad user experience was amazing since the day it was released. (and it's only gotten more amazing with the addition of more multi-tasking gestures and capabilities.)
It's what separates companies like Apple and Amazon. One company builds a strong UI foundation and adds features to it as time goes on, and the other company starts with a half-baked idea and spends the rest of the product's life cycle trying to fix all the issues.

Why is it I can always tell Rene wrote the article just from the title? Does he ever report on news other than saying the iPhone/iPad is better than anything android? Its very childish for a professional blog. I'd like to come to this blog to read real news about my iPhone and iPad.

Hah. Nice. I just hovered over the TiPB entry on the mobile nations toolbar at the top, and picked out 2 of the most active articles listed, first one I got was one containing a lot of back-slapping and jubilation over google wallet not being on the Galaxy Nexus, the other one was this. After I read this post I ctrl+shift+t'd to see the author of the other post, and wouldn't you know, based on my little experience on this site, it looks like you're on to something.
I don't know, something about these posts just reads so ugly, as it is the relevance is questionable at best. Sad, just sad.

All I know is if I'm an Android exec I love seeing Apple evangelists devote this much time and energy to bashing my products. It tells me I'm doing something right.

Someone whose screen name is ScoobyDoo is characterizing the work of another as childish? Ruh-roh....

That's funny. Less than five minutes ago I scrolled through the TIPB entries, and the last headline I saw was, "Less Than Openy". Even before my eyes hit the byline, I thought, "Ah, this must be Rene's Android rant of the day." Like that post and this one, it's pretty easy to spot which articles are Rene's just by the constant "us vs. them" theme.

I don't know which I find more amusing: the media and tech bloggers continually trying to compare the Fire to the iPad, or the Apple followers tripping over themselves rushing to defend the iPad and attack the Fire.
Has anyone else noticed that Amazon has never used the word "tablet" in marketing the Fire? Although it is a tablet form factor, it's chief purpose is to be an Amazon media consumption device. It's for reading Kindle books, watching Amazon VOD (which the iPad can't do), and listening to music via the Amazon Cloud Player. The fact that it is Android(tm) branded means you can also run some apps.
But Amazon aren't calling this an iPad killer. Folks who use the iPad (or any good 10" tablet) for work or serious mobile computing wouldn't even consider replacing it with a Fire. But there are a lot of people out there who just want to use Facebook and play Angry Birds, and for them the Fire is a great iPad alternative, especially considering the price.
So although they overlap somewhat, these devices are geared mostly toward two different target markets. Each device has its strengths and weaknesses and appeals to different groups of consumers. Why is that so difficult for people to accept?

The only alternately-sized tablets I've seen that interest me are the Galaxy Tab 7.7/8.9. 7" is just too small, and the 7.7 might be, too. There's just something about the iPad's size that feels close enough to right to be OK.
However, that being said, there's times where I just want something a smidge smaller. Something that I could hold in landscape and still type with my thumbs reasonably.

Funny, I have a Fire, and when I come to a link that is close to another, I just enlarge the page fir a moment to tap the link. Problem solved.
The Fire is nothing like the iPad AT ALL, so why bother ti compare? I will buy an iPad someday, but right now, I am DELIGHTED with the performance of my Fire.

I have an iPad 2 (and iPhone 4), and I just purchased a 7" Galaxy Tab 3G (on a Woot! sale). While I havent received it yet, (so i dont REALLY know how usable it is), I am really looking forward to the smaller size. Why do I need a 2nd smaller tablet? There are many situations in which it is awkward to pull out a 9.7" tablet.
Primarily, I am referring to meetings and for work related tasks. With the iPad, i stopped carrying it at work. For simple stuff such as scheduling on the calendar, looking up contacts, taking notes in meetings, checking out the occasional video ahem or website, and mapping locations - All of these things I could do on my iPad, but it is not very inconspicuous. I might as well pull my work laptop out. And while I could do that on my iPhone, its a bit too small for typing in much data. Plus I have my personal stuff on the iPhone and dont really want to mix it with work.
I have come to the conclusion that the iPad is a great Netbook replacement, ie. the device i use when I am laying in bed or on the couch and wanna surf the net or play a game. It is also the device I use when i need a larger screen and am away from my desk, such as for editing documents. However, if I need to do that stuff and AM near my computer, I still prefer to use a PC/iMac over the iPad.
The Galaxy Tab, I am looking more to as a personal assistant. It will (hopefully) serve as a notepad, planner, contact list, GPS, e-reader, and occasional internet browser. Its small enough to fit in a pocket and inexpensive enough that i wont worry as much about taking it out in public.
I don't think that 7" tabs should replace 9.7"-10" tabs, but there is plenty of room for both styles of devices to be useful.

hmm interesting. If its small i guess that could work (if my iPhone was for work and it wasnt awkward to use in a meeting). Point being - I like the idea of a 7" tab. It seems like a good size. More like a personal assistant, less like a computer.

Isn't Siri more of a personal assistant than a 7inch tablet? hehe
Although you do have to talk to it and in public it might be bit odd. However there is a "Raise to activate" feature for Siri in the settings that will initiate the Siri app when you hold the phone to your face. So it looks more like you are talking on the phone instead of talking to Siri. And if anyone asks you could just be like "Oh I am talking to this Personal Assistant I hired to take care of my daily tasks. Her name is Wendy. She's great" haha Then people will think you are really important and have alot of money, haha

lol!!! Once I get a siri device, I'll give it a shot! Lets hope I can win that $600 Apple Gift Card or it will be quite some time before I can get a 4S! ;)

It seems to me a key point to be noted is that this "research" by Nielsen consisted of feedback from a grand total of FOUR people. Isn't that more like getting four people in a room and asking them what they think? A group review, really.

If you want to read books, get an e-ink reader. If you want entertainment on your tablet, Amazon Fire will be too small. So what's Fire good for ? a $200 piece of rock.

Just remember, there is a difference between "web usability" on a 7 inch device and the actual usability of the OS on this 7 inch device.
In the case of web usability and websites with small buttons, almost all of the fault lies on the web developer who made the website and not the device itself.
A really GOOD website with a smart web dev team that is conscience of the mobile web has great web solutions for their mobile users.
It's the whole concept of "Responsive Web Design". All websites should be designed for every screen size on the planet regardless of the device you are using.
It's actually incredibly easy to implement with CSS styles but you would be surprised how many websites and companies just don't give a flying fuck about mobile users.

All I can say is it's a matter of personal choice. Some people want a 9'7/10 inch screen and others want a 7/8 screen. The more options the better. This way everyone can find something that works for them.

so according to you 7 inch form factor isnt bad, its just software issue that UI isnt properly modified for that form factor? so steve jobs was against modifying UI or against going to 7 inch model at all?

after using a 5" archos tablet for years, and an iphone and other small tech, this article is just poppycock. I've used the archos successfully when its attached to the winshield in a car, so I don't see how the larger fire is a problem. And the 3.5 inch iphone must be a terrible frustration to use because its so small.

Ooh, you like that? Wait till you see what I can do with a little ctr+shift+p, it'll blow your mind. Don't worry, wasn't planning on being a regular here, not for any reason other than it's more or less irrelevant for me.
I'll let you jerk each other off in peace.

The whole discussion is summed up by "the best trade off between usability and design" from the article. That clearly shows it's subjective, dependent on what your design and usability goals are. For someone with different goals than Apple had, for example a company focused on mobility, the answer comes out different, and the 7" tablets are "the best tradeoff between usability and design" in those cases. This isn't rocket science folks... it's not a science at all, in fact. It's engineering, and the best answer depends on what you're trying to accomplish.

That's ridiculous.
My iPhone is half or a third of that size and people click on it just fine.
It's not like these phones aren't selling...

I bought the new Kindle Fire over a month ago but have yet to see the 100$ gift certificate I was told about. Anyone know anything I don't know???

Agreed! I've never understood why the games don't get here nearly as swift as Netflix. Same size, same concept.. maybe they're just greedy with the money for shipping? In which case I would readily jump ship with you, once a GOOD version of GameFly gets started. Or you were right and they employ monkeys. Big, slow, lazy monkeys. Either way it sucks, but the video store games are worse and the constant buying-returning with places like GameSwap ends up costing you time and the selection is wont to change.