Home The Kindle Fire: Yet Another Device For Web Developers to Worry About

The Kindle Fire: Yet Another Device For Web Developers to Worry About

When it comes to viewing websites and apps on the Kindle Fire, is the experience more like that of a bigger tablet such as the iPad or a smaller smartphone? Amazon’s new 10-inch tablet appears to occupy an awkward space about halfway in between, which poses new challenges to designers and developers.

While conducting tests on the Kindle Fire, website usability expert Jakob Nielsen said the 7-inch form factor was too small to comfortably browse desktop-sized sites and that in most cases, a mobile-optimized site was preferable from a user experience standpoint. Even so, those mobile-friendly sites were designed for screens much smaller than that of the Kindle Fire, so they may not take full advantage of the 7-inch screen’s real estate.

Nielsen recommends that publishers and developers design sites specifically for this emerging form factor, rather than repurpose layouts from the desktop, mobile or even print products, in the case of magazines. That is, of course, assuming that the Kindle Fire (or 7-inch tablets as a whole) are snatched up by enough consumers to warrant the effort.

“Pragmatically, it won’t pay for magazine publishers, websites, application programmers, and other providers to design and build a separate version of their offerings for 7-inch tablets unless these devices have many millions of users.” Nielsen says. “Unless there’s a substantial payoff, the expense of maintaining multiple versions will be too big.”

The report is generally very critical of the user experience offered by the the Kindle Fire. In addition to lackluster Web browsing (due both to site designs and the clunkiness of the device’s Silk browser), Nielsen also lampoons the tablet for having “plain old bad UI design.” For example, he points out that on-screen buttons along the bottom of the main reading app are smaller than the user’s fingers, which can result in buttons being pressed accidentally. Nielsen also takes issue with the device’s weight and lack of physical buttons.

“It helps cement the fact that there is little we can count on as far as the browser environment,” Web designer and CSS expert Chris Coyier said about the arrival of Silk. “Screen sizes vary. Bandwidth varies. Typical users and their mindsets/physical environments vary. Accessibility needs vary. Our job as front end developers is more complicated than it has been in the past, but also more exciting.”

As Nielsen’s report points out, it’s clear that Amazon knows how to design effectively for the tablet form factor, as evidenced by their own shopping apps. Thus, they should be expected to have produced a more palatable user experience throughout, and should consider automatically delivering the mobile-optimized version of a website when available, since those smaller sites are more usable than full desktop sites on the device.

It’s worth noting that this study was only comprised of four individuals, in addition to Nielsen himself. It wasn’t a huge sample, but usability studies can often draw valid conclusions from a small group.

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