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The Kindle App is Terrible December 31, 2012

Posted by Peter Varhol in Technology and Culture.
Tags: , ,

I broke down and bought a Kindle ebook today. The book was “Why Plans Fail: Cognitive Bias and Decision-Making.” This book was highly recommended by Adam Yuret, and looks like a great supplement to my presentation Moneyball and the Science of Building Great Testing Teams.”

But the book is only available in the Kindle format. I understand why people do that. If you are publishing a short story, or a short book, and are self-publishing, you are likely to choose one format for simplicity purposes, and the Kindle format makes sense for many.

I don’t own a Kindle. For a variety of reasons, not the least of which being that the Kindle format was proprietary until relatively recently, I am invested in ePub books on the Barnes and Noble Nook.

So I downloaded and installed the Kindle app for Windows 7, and purchased the book.

And the app sucks. I know it’s a free application, and Amazon would very much prefer to have me actually purchase a Kindle, but the app doesn’t at all make me inclined to do so. Pretty much the opposite, in fact.

My big beef is scrolling. Basically, you can’t. There is no scroll bar. You can arrow down, or you can use the wheel on the mouse if you have one. Either way, it scrolls a complete page. I prefer scrolling more or less continuously, a few lines at a time, so that I don’t have to stop and scroll a page, and I can refer a few lines above without scrolling back. The Kindle app is anti-scroll. You go to the next page, and if you want to look at the line above, you scroll back. But you lose the line you were reading. That’s simply stupid.

I realize that I’ve invested a grand total of $3.99, and that with that level of commitment I don’t have a lot of right to complain. But this is a real usability problem, and that’s the kiss of death for online reading.

The book is basically unreadable the way that I prefer to read, and it’s entirely the fault of the app. Amazon, either do better, or admit that you don’t want me to buy your books without also buying a Kindle.



1. Edwin Setzpfand - January 1, 2013

These and other usability issues are encountered very often and for no clear reason .. BTW, I don’t understand why an app that is free should be judged differently from one that is not free: It is offered at the market for a price (here: $ 0) and maybe has limited functionality, but simple usability requirements should be met, otherwise it has little future ..

2. My Homepage - January 2, 2013

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3. Jan - January 2, 2013

“My big beef is scrolling. Basically, you can’t.” -> Yes, and the same can be said of a physical book… 🙂 On the one hand, one can see the reasons why Amazon made this choice. On the other hand, this often leads to inconvenience, e.g. when you want to highlight something across a page boundary… The way to do such a continuous highlight is to zoom out first (i.e., decrease the text size, so it’s possible to see a little more text which was originally “below the fold”) and this is distracting. I find the phone and tablet versions of Kindle quite tolerable (in spite of their own usability issues) and actually prefer pagination to scrolling on these devices.

Peter Varhol - January 2, 2013

Thanks for the comments from both of you. Jan, the analogy isn’t completely correct, but I get your point. I simply find it more convenient to scan back and forward on a device that scrolls, and on a physical book.

As I was thinking about this, I wonder if Amazon’s goal is to prompt me to buy a Kindle, or to buy more books from them. I’m not particularly encouraged to do either as a result of my experience with the app, but I would think that it would make the app as easy to use as possible, in order to sell more books. The Kindle is a one-time purchase (unless I upgrade, but that’s over time), but I could buy dozens of books a year if the app worked as I would like it to.

Jan - January 2, 2013

“I wonder if Amazon’s goal is to prompt me to buy a Kindle, or to buy more books from them.” -> Hard to say. How do you like the reading experience on a tablet? This works great for me and I have already read dozens of books using Kindle for Android (on several tablets and a cell phone). For now, I’m not in a hurry to buy the Kindle device: the flexibility of a tablet (which can run all kinds of apps) is a winner for me. The number of gadgets to carry around is already high enough…

Peter Varhol - January 2, 2013

I use an older Nook (mostly ePub, some PDF, html, and text), and I like it. I don’t have a tablet yet; I’m waiting for the market to mature a little bit first. But you’re right about carrying gadgets. I fly a bit, and my backpack can get pretty heavy.

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