Saturday, August 21, 2010

UX Quickie: A Nook of a Search

I love my Nook. It's a nifty little piece of gadgetry if I do say so myself. But the search function could use a lot of love.

Yesterday, as I neared the end of the current novel I was reading (The Gun Seller, if you must know - quite good) I thought about what I wanted to read next and I realized I had yet to read the infamous Polar Bear book. Quite embarrassing, really. Anyway, I went to go search for the book with my Nook (kinda musical, isn't it).
Come to me, information architecture!
And I got this:
A nice, neat bunch of search results.
Nice. The 3rd result turns out to be exactly what I was looking for. I was pleased because I honestly hadn't expected Barnes & Noble to offer it as an eBook (technical books are usually hard to find in that format). I scrolled down and open it and it says it's available for download over WiFi only. Doesn't say why, but I figure maybe it's a restriction from whichever cell phone company agreed to provide the 3G for the device.
Wi-Fi only. Ain't that a bitch?
Now, it didn't actually matter since I wasn't going read it right then and there, but for some reason I didn't want to pay for it without being able to download it right away. I thought "I better see if I can get a WiFi signal before I buy this so I can download it." I don't even think it was about the money, I think it was because I just wanted to be able to buy and download in one smooth motion. It just didn't feel clean otherwise. (And hey, it's a gotta-have-it-now, instant-gratification type of culture, isn't it?)

Anyway, as a result of that little thought process, I backed out of the screen to go and deal with my WiFi settings. I made sure it was connected and all that, then I came back to the Shop screen. Since I literally backed out (by using the back buttons), walking back along the same history trail, when I came back I had to search again. When I did, I was a little disappointed that it didn't save my search history - it's not exactly the easiest thing to type on - but, no biggie. I just searched again. When I did, I found this:
Uh, what? How does the same query produce a different result? Well, that's simple: it doesn't. I hit the back button to double-check my query.
My Bostonian heritage sometimes sneaks out and bites me on the ass.
See the mistake? I left out the "r" in the word architecture. That explains why I didn't get the same results. But it certainly does not explain the results I did get. The first result there - Neuromancer - doesn't even have the word "information" anywhere in the search result nor in the listing (not to mention my made-up word "achitecture").

Let's catalog the problems here:

  • Lack of smart WiFi configuration - I try not to be heavy-handed with this stuff, but I have to say that this is really dumb, and not just because a for-profit company throwing roadblocks in the way of a customer making a purchase is never a smart strategy. ("But wait," you say. "Maybe they just didn't realize that the WiFi restriction would be a roadblock." If a large, mature company like Barnes & Noble doesn't realize that turning instant gratification into not-so-instant gratification may come as a bit of a downer to some folks, then they just aren't doing their homework.) Sure, they can't control WiFi availability, which is probably the biggest handicap, but they can at least remove that question from the user's mind. The fix is really obvious: let people configure their WiFi settings without leaving the screen. One of the Nook's strengths is the color touchscreen below the main eInk display, giving them ample opportunity to build in a simple WiFi wizard right there. 
  • Lack of auto-correction - This one is just mystifying. Including spelling auto-correction on a device with a touchscreen keyboard is almost routine these days. Even stranger, the Nook uses Android, which has the damn thing built in. That implies that someone actively removed it when they rolled their own version of the open-sourced OS. Damned odd.
  • Lack of search history - Again, mystifying because, again, this is something that is built-in to Android. Was it a lack-of-working-memory issue? On a device that ships with 2GB of snappy flash storage and room for 1500 eBooks, keeping a list of your last, say, 5 searches doesn't seem that hard, does it? Why this is good UX is a harder question to answer. I don't really have the research to back it up (and I'm feeling kinda lazy right now), but it feels right. It's also a pretty common idiom, which usually - usually - happens for a reason.
  • False positives in the search results - I don't work for Barnes & Noble, neither am I privy to their internal discussions, meetings, or memorandums. But having a search query that should yield no results instead yield a list of top-sellers just reeks of marketing. Sure, they might occasionally sell an extra book or two. But, in the meantime, they've ensured that I give their search function a vote of no confidence. And, not to sound like a broken record, but a well-tuned, fault-tolerant search engine is, unsurprisingly, included by default in a OS built by Google.

No comments:

Post a Comment