Forma’s form factor

I’m really fond of the Kobo Forma’s large, rubbery physical buttons and didn’t realize how much I had come to dislike the Kindle Voyage’s haptic feedback.

The first few generations of Kindles had physical buttons, then there was a switch to using the screen to change pages. If the Kindle were a fast or responsive device, that might be fine–touch works fine on Kindle for iPad–but it’s not and it felt like a challenge to get it to register a touch reliably. I bought a Kindle Voyage because of the haptic feedback feature, which seemed to be the closest we were going to get to buttons.

Haptic feedback felt like a big improvement. Over time, though, I began to feel like I had to rest my thumb just so on the edge of the device. For whatever reason, my thumb always drifted toward the “back” region of the touch-sensitive area and I’d end up on the previous page.

Having real buttons back is nice. The Forma largely feels like it is a bit more responsive than any Kindle I’ve used. It also has a setting to only refresh the screen at chapter breaks, which does a lot to make page turns feel snappier while ensuring that the e-ink screen will occasionally get a power wash.

I’ve got a few other appliances and devices that have gone where the Voyage did, with flush, touch-like mechanical switches underneath a uniform surface: My dishwasher, an air purifier, a humidifier. None of them are great. Whatever the switch mechanisms are under the mildly flex plastic touch surfaces, they are dialed in to need a level of force I never quite get right: they register too much force as a double-tap, but won’t acknowledge the kind of grazing tap we’ve been conditioned to deliver with smartphone touch screens.

I think a generation of industrial designers got the memo that physical is out, touch is in, but are misapplying the principle with poor “touch-like” mechanical interfaces.

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