Kobo coda

Last Saturday I gave my mum the Kobo I won at Book Summit 2010. It was an interesting study of both usability and the inaccuracy of stereotypes.

My mum is pretty computer literate. She knows how to build web sites, use Photoshop, and create multimedia presentations. She's an MS-Excel power user, and is comfortable talking about hardware specs on laptops.

So it gave me pause when I was the one who wound up installing the Kobo synch software on her machine.

Explaining how to use the Kobo itself to her was easy, even with my toddler niece sitting on Mum's lap and trying to help push the buttons (the gadget-fascination continues to the next generation). My mum's only comment was, "That's all there is to it?" We decided to move to the next step of loading the synch software on her laptop.

We went to the Kobo web site. We found a very aesthetically pleasing, clearly-written page that extolled the virtues of the software, but noted nothing about where to get the software from.

"Where do you buy books for this thing, anyhow?" Mum said, so we took a break and bought a copy of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Buying the book from Chapters/Kobo was easy, but once it was bought we couldn't figure out how to download the ebook file.

At this point we were both getting confused and worried. Sure, checking the Kobo's on-device manual probably would have helped, but, as my mum pointed out, you can't power on the Kobo while it is attached to a computer, and we didn't really want to undock it until we had no other options to check.

My mum gave me the computer to fiddle with, and I checked the Kobo folders Windows could detect over the USB link. Sure enough, the required software was on the device all along. It wasn't in a very obviously labeled folder (I was hoping for something called INSTALL), but it was there.

The installation app itself was a joy to behold. It started with a device operating system upgrade, then installed the synch software on the laptop. All along the way, the instructions were provided in wonderfully clear text plus easy-to-follow diagrams. Everything worked like a charm. Sure, I've been updating firmware on various devices almost as long as firmware has existed, but I have to say I appreciated this process like no other. The instructions make it easy for any newbie or casual computer user to follow the steps, yet at the same time treat the user with respect. If all technical writing was this good the world would be a far better place.

Best of all, when the synch software itself finally launched, it immediately discovered that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo had already been purchased and promptly added it to my mum's library of Kobo books. I clicked the "synch" button on the software, and the ebook was added to the Kobo device.

My mum's been reading the book on the Kobo ever since, and she loves it (mostly the device, but also the novel). Her only concern so far is how to share the device with my stepfather. He reads mostly nonfiction, and she reads mostly fiction, so probably they won't want to read the same book at the same time, but arranging reading time on the device itself could prove to be difficult.

I think I know what he's getting for Christmas already.

Coda to the coda: For any readers who are bursting to say, "Why didn't you just follow the damn instructions? It says the software is on the device!", here are a couple of points to ponder.

Yes, the Desktop page does state, right near the top, "The Kobo Desktop Application comes preloaded on every Kobo eReader." It doesn't say which folder it's in, though, and it doesn't have any technical how-to information (or a link to the same). That was the sort of text my mum and I were scanning for when we went to that page. People who are reading in a hurry for how to install something are going to skip right past that sentence, which is what we did. If you want to call us idiots and not typical users for doing that, that's cool — it won't be the first time and I'm sure it won't be the last.

Again, once the user finds the software to install, the experience is absolutely superb.