Kindle 2 gets Neilsen to change his mind about ebooks

Jakob Neilsen, usability guru extraordinaire, examines the usability of Amazon’s Kindle 2 and comes away with mixed impressions. For linear reading — the primary function of the Kindle 2 — Neilsen says it’s the bomb. For other uses, it falls short of the mark.

What was so great to get Neilsen to change his mind about ebooks? “The two factors that convinced me were (a) equal-to-print readability and (b) multi-device integration.” Neilsen found that his reading speed was identical whether using the Kindle 2 or a physical book, which says a lot about the promise of e-ink.

And for the shortcomings?

The usability problem with non-linear content is crucial because it indicates a deeper issue: Kindle’s user experience is dominated by the book metaphor. The idea that you’d want to start on a section’s first page makes sense for a book because most are based on linear exposition. Unfortunately, this is untrue for many other content collections, including newspapers, magazines, and even some non-fiction books such as travel guides, encyclopedias, and cookbooks.

That’s an interesting observation, and worth a little thought. The ways in which we interact with books are different, based on the kind of book it is we’re reading.

Neilsen also touches on the weaknesses of the Kindle 2 iPhone app, as well as the “better-than-reality” benefits of synchronizing reading across multiple devices. Read the whole analysis, it’s a good one.