The Orange View (on hiatus) Because Apple is great but it isn't perfect


Kindle Fire critic Nielsen hated the iPad in 2010

"Usability" expert Jakob Nielsen is getting a lot of attention for his extremely critical review of Amazon's new Kindle Fire tablet. Nielsen, not surprisingly, is all about the beauty and usefulness of software interfaces. Some have taken his criticism of the Fire as a prediction of doom for the product -- he's pretty open about that in the NY Times today.

The prediction seems off-base for a couple of reasons, including the Fire's ability to do much of what it promises and its low price which sets expectations appropriately lower. But Nielsen's track record on tablet reviews also bears scrutiny. Here are excerpts from Jakob's take on the initial iPad back in 2010:

iPad apps are inconsistent and have low feature discoverability, with frequent user errors due to accidental gestures. An overly strong print metaphor and weird interaction styles cause further usability problems.


The first crop of iPad apps revived memories of Web designs from 1993, when Mosaic first introduced the image map that made it possible for any part of any picture to become a UI element. As a result, graphic designers went wild: anything they could draw could be a UI, whether it made sense or not.It's the same with iPad apps: anything you can show and touch can be a UI on this device. There are no standards and no expectations.


iPad UIs suffer under a triple threat that causes significant user confusion:

  • Low discoverability: The UI is mostly hidden within the etched-glass aesthetic without perceived affordances.
  • Low memorability: Gestures are inherently ephemeral and difficult to learn when they're not employed consistently across apps; wider reliance on generic commands would help.
  • Accidental activation: This occurs when users touch things by mistake or make a gesture that unexpectedly initiates a feature.

When you combine these three usability problems, the resulting user experience is frequently one of not knowing what happened or how to replicate a certain action to achieve the same result again. Worse yet, people don't know how to revert to the previous state because there's no consistent undo feature to provide an escape hatch like the Web's Back button., May 10, 2010

I have no objection to Nielsen's critique of either tablets' usability. But I don't think he's exactly the go-to guy for accurate calls on the future success or failure of tech gadgets.

Posted by Aaron Pressman

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  1. Nielson’s predictions of doom may be the wishful thinking of an idealist. In a “just world”, the Fire (in its present form) would fail for all the reasons he mentions.

    I imagine that, as someone who knows how much better things could be, Nielson’s heart breaks whenever crappy interface is accepted as the norm.

    We should know from history never to underestimate to capacity for people to adapt to and accept the sub-obtimal UI of high tech devices. It’s as if we were trained to blame ourselves (rather the designers) when we have trouble learning and using technology.

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