Amazon Kindle Administration – Design Fail

I am obviously on a theme or maybe it is simply I have a little bit of time to reflect this week but have you noticed how appalling the Amazon UX is for managing the content in your library or your kindle itself.  What is surprising about it  is simply managing files has been around for a very long time and there are a wide range of open source tools and libraries for software developers wanting something off the shelf to help manage high volumes of files.

So lets look at what is wrong and then lets ask ourselves why its wrong, the answer may be a mixture of things

Whats wrong?

  • No layout view options only a filter by type – simply bonkers, there are solutions out there for panel, list and preview scroll of files, they could show the cover or provide a preview easily.
  • No sort options –  you know basic stuff by date, by A to Z, by size
  • You simply cannot select multiple files and mass delete them or move them to a folder, it takes about five actions to select one and move it.  There is no checkbox next to each item, no select all, no deselect all
  • The control buttons are far on the right a long way from the title and the listing is so narrow its hard to see if you are on the right item
  • If you do want to delete a file you need to make multiple clicks to expose the feature and when you do you are made to wait for an inordinate amount of time before you see a change in your screen, it says successfully deleted but it is still there and then suddenly a clunky screen refresh and its gone, but there is about 8 seconds where you think you may have deleted the wrong thing. Come on Amazon.  It is also a whole screen refresh and then you are back at the top of the page so you need scroll back down to check it is gone!!
  • No easy way of creating organisation in your vast collection of books and files, the organisation you create on your kind is not reflected in the web front end because I guess they did not think of having multiple views based on the devices organisation not just the library

Why is it so wrong?

I can only speculate as the problems seem easy to fix so it probably comes down to one of the following.  Rather surprising given the total control over the environment have, the significant profit that operating Kindle ecosystem provides to them, you would have thought a small amount of reinvestment would pay off through improved user experience and positive feedback.

  • Developer Incompetence – The people running the platform development team for the web management interface within the amazon account and in the kindle itself simply do not get UX or have little or no understanding of what good design is or what is freely available out there as open source libraries to ease development of such features
  • Product Management failure – Assuming the developers do know what they are doing but are being stopped by the product management team then it may be simply that they are being driven by the wrong set of motives or incentives that do not include customer experience. Perhaps they feel they are in control of a near monoply and being tasked with driving every ounce of profit.  It may be they are not encouraged to seek feedback, it certainly is hard to explain your concerns or provide feedback and they certainly do not seem to care or welcome feedback
  • Roadmap plans – Perhaps they don’t plan to offer document storage for non Kindle format documents is on the wane and they want to discourage people from using this feature – one of its best features to be frank, sending documents to your Kindle to have them converted on the fly to Kindle format to be read is a joy.  Perhaps the current crop of Kindles are being end of lifed so we have to buy a new one with a a better user interface but that does not change the back end.

Whatever it is the underlying message  I am getting is Amazon may not care about their customers or their concerns, they are in fact not customers but simply numbers average revenue per month type measures and all they want is for us to spend more, not be happier and more loyal, they make it easy for us to find, order and pay for things but they do nothing to help us understand our lives or make use of the vast history of purchase and behaviour data ourselves.  They are part of the Data Feudalism brigade bent on knowing as much as they can whilst doing the least they can to help us understand or organise our lives beyond turning up at their shop counter and buying things we ease but after sales forget it!!!

I presume Amazon have an acquisition team, a revenue growth team, but I suspect the retention team is small because when people become addicted you do not have to care about how they feel they just keep spending and you can degrade them in the process as much as you like.  So lets think  about Amazon getting a little bit of real corporate social responsibility going, not just donating money to some worthy cause but actually ploughing some back into how they treat their customers post purchase across their life stages and events and help them become a little bit more empowered through better tools to manage and understand their life and behaviours and administer their information more easily.  This means Convenient tools that deliver simple to use administration and analysis functionality and control over how their information is used.

To do both you need to care and you need good design, Amazon please wake up and start delivering the whole service.

Apple was the legend of design but the crown is slipping and Google following suit

I have serious concerns about the scale and size of Apple and their quest for peoples data and control over their information but I have always loved their design, it was always so intuitive and felt in tune (no pun intended) with my life and the way I work but with the release of iOS7  they have let their standards slip and frankly made life a little bit harder for the average person in the street and disappointing if you love design.  Here are some examples of what I mean

  • Adding a new contact – If you wish to add a new contact the default telephone number type is “Radio” come on Apple get a grip will you, “Mobile” maybe these days.  Even the list of options when you call it up to change from radio is actually not in Alphabetical order and it does not look like it is a heuristic algorithm that works out your most common choices and ranks them in that order, in short it is simply poor thinking and they have let themselves down.
  • Selecting which speakers you want to use on Airplay – Well it used to be next to the volume control and now its gone, no amount of playing with the environment would reveal its location, I tried settings, everywhere I could in music and then resorted to using Google search to find an answer and there it was sitting in some new feature that is really hard to find called a sort of control dashboard.

ios7control screen


Now I am sure someone somewhere spent several millions pounds on UX design research focus groups and had the classic 5 a day testing undertaken but how can we end up with some thing that fundamentally delivers the following issues to a user.  Where in the god of design manual does it say this makes sense, any of it.  Lets look at the one by one

  1. Adding unnecessary extra steps to an established approach – To do something that took one touch in context has now moved to taking three steps and only if you actually know where to look. You cannot search for the feature you need try searching for AirPlay on your phone, nothing
  2. Offering simply ludicrous options that reflect no currently reality for any demographic under the sun, give me a break “Radio” we are in the bizarre situation of young people actually discovering radio anew and it is not in the context of storing a contact record
  3. Making the contrast and overall UX harder to understand – We used to rely on Apple providing some leadership focused on human need but now we seem to be part of a flat white design culture where everything is harder to determine the edges of.  I personally loved the feeling of the real world on my phone and the clarity of edges and where to touch things to make them happen.  Now it is less clear, you have to guess, how is that a good user experience.

Just as guys like Aral Balkan are picking the open source community up by the bootstraps and saying get real about design, those that were synonymous with design and frankly have the sort of budgets people would die for are getting worse and worse. Apple are not alone, just look at the latest iteration of Google Apps and the weak thinking going on there

  • Three steps where one would do in the past, gone is the black top nav bar, you now have to click a grid on the right and then select what you want one click to two or three – Mad
  • Google Drive Folders – Now this was one of the great innovations in my view – Simple concept, you can tag any document with what ever you want and build structure from tags.  The glaring flaw in Microsoft world was duplication of documents across different folders because no one used shortcuts.  Google implemented this well, you could add a document to as many folders are as you wanted with a single click.  Now as they try to compete for local storage battle with Dropbox and SkyDrive they make this feature harder to use by insisting you hold down the Ctrl (Cmd) key while you tick which folders you want a document to appear in. If you forget and tick a folder all the others become unticked and you lose all the sharing you had set up.  how did this help people versus help google try and compete with local synchronised storage.  I do not use the local folder option as I do not see the point but if i did I would want Google to do better and sort out how to deal with reconciling their innovative approach in the cloud to work locally not remove a valued feature a perpetuate increased volume in storage

At the heart of it all I think is a basic contempt for their customers and a disregard for their needs in favour of achieving their corporate goals or simply losing control of the fundamental ethos of their business.  And please do not get me started on the fundamental issue of their Data Feudalism, they want our data, they want our behaviour and they want to analyse the hell out of us.  Google give you loads of stuff for free and your data and your behaviour is the price you pay.  Apple have managed to get us to pay and still get the data and behaviour, how amazing is that.  If you want some festive viewing then look not further than terms and conditions may apply

And if that is not enough fun check out spoof of Apples terms, you have been warned