Every Good Product Is Alike, Every Bad Product Is Bad In Its Own Way

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You know the old Tolstoy line, "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way"? I think there should be a new variant for tech products: every good product is alike, every bad product is bad in its own way.

There is a simple rule in separating the bad from good. Good products make you want to use them. Bad products don't. The thing is, though, there are an almost infinitely large number of reasons *not* to use a product. Our surprise should be reserved for when we find ourselves driven to continue our engagement with a thing.

Marco Arment's review of the Kindle Fire is excellent evidence for this idea. He excoriates and details the dozens of little ways that the Amazon tablet doesn't work. Just his detailed review of the interface is quoted extensively below.

By contrast, if you were to describe the basics of iPad navigation, you wouldn't have to mention any of those things because the iPad interface works. The larger lesson: we note the specific ways something doesn't work, but when something does work, we just use it.

  • Almost the entire interface is sluggish, jerky, and unresponsive.
  • Many touch targets throughout the interface are too small, and I miss a lot. It's often hard to distinguish a miss from interface lag.
  • The on-screen Back button often doesn't respond, which is particularly frustrating since it's essential to so much navigation.
  • I keep performing small drags when I intend to tap, especially on the home screen. This makes the most common home-screen action -- launching something -- unnecessarily difficult and unreliable.
  • The load-on-demand images in various lists and stacks in the interface significantly slow down browsing: I scroll to a screen full of empty placeholders, then I have to wait for the images to pop in, then I can look for the item I wanted. (And then I can move on to the next screenful when I don't find it.)
  • Amazon's content-browsing apps don't respond well if lost internet connectivity is regained -- everything just sits there, empty, until you leave and re-enter that screen. This happens a lot when waking the Fire from sleep, when it has no connection for a few seconds before the Wi-Fi reconnects.
  • Once, I woke the Fire from sleep after only a few minutes of non-use and it rebooted for some reason. (I've only had it for two days.)
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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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