Two years ago at the Fluxible conference in Kitchener, I attended a talk by James Wu, lead tablet designer at Kobo, called "Rethinking the Tablet UX". I was really taken with the talk. I even wrote a blog post about it, here. It made me think that usability at Kobo was pretty darned advanced.
Yesterday I bought my first ereader, a Kobo Aura HD. In many ways it's a great device, and I'm not blaming James Wu, but OH MY GOD THE USABILITY SUCKS. It boggles my mind. The device is not unusable, and I'm sure I'll get used to it, but there are so many little things that are egregious bad practices. The incompetence is breath-taking. Take, for instance:
You can't read your Kobo while it is recharging over USB. Before unplugging the cord between your computer and Kobo, you have to click an Eject icon in the desktop app. This is a terrible constraint from a usability standpoint. In fact, after being reminded approximately eight million times, I forgot to click it.
During setup I repeatedly landed on pages with only one button: Eject, even though my device was still charging and still being configured.
On the device, there's a warning saying "Please eject your eReader before unplugging your USB cable", but it doesn't say how to eject it. You can't do it from the device. You have to open the desktop app and click Eject.
The repeated warning about ejecting made me think I'd damage my ereader if I pulled the plug without ejecting, but eventually I found, on a web page, that the reason for ejecting is that otherwise you might lose data. But there is no help whatsoever on what data you'll lose. Your last download? All downloads in the session? Does it matter if all you did was recharge, or if you use WiFi? Is there an auto-save? Can I recover by resyncing? For the love of god, give us a hand, Kobo!
Only some of the icons in the Kobo desktop app have tooltips. For others, you just have to hope you won't do something unintended... then click and try to figure out what it did.
The Kobo desktop app has no help button or link to help.
The official user guide (which I found through a google search) is in PDF format only. The table of contents aren't hyperlinks. The pages have no page numbers. The headings aren't registered as headings so you can't open a bookmarks pane on the left. There is no index. When you copy text out of the guide, spaces between words become either tabs or carriage returns. (I found the user guide so unnavigable that I tried to create my own subset of topics I needed, but the formatting issues prevented me.) The content is very sparse and mostly describes the UI.
The getting started guide is printed in eight languages simultaneously, and contains exactly 54 words in English. It's useless.
To get started, I downloaded a few free ebooks from the Kobo site, but when I tried to open them I got an error that they were Adobe Digital Editions and required special software. The user guide mentions Adobe Digital Editions and provides a link to Adobe but the link is broken and there is no information about how to set it up on my Kobo. Eventually I found an article on the Kobo site that explained what to do. I'm still looking for information on how to install Acrobat Reader on my Kobo. Why is installing this software not [an optional] part of configuring the device???
When you buy an iPad (I have heard), they start setup in the store and the whole thing is ready to go by the time you get home. When you buy a Kobo, it comes with a dead battery, completely unconfigured, with a difficult and poorly documented setup process. I know there's a limit to the amount that can be done without a dedicated retail outlet (although I bought mine at Chapters), but Kobo is too far at the other end of the spectrum.
I could go on and on. Really. This product has an awful out-of-box experience. The documentation is a nightmare. When I look up Kobo on LinkedIn, I see a ton of people with UX in their titles, and lots of descriptions of user research. What in god's name are they doing?