If Amazon has a weakness, a kryptoniteable Achilles’ heel soft spot chink in the armor, it’s design. The Kindle software excepted, it kind of sucks! Case in point: Amazon Video and Prime Instant Video streaming.
If you’ve not heard of it, Prime Instant Video is basically Amazon’s Netflix, and it’s free, if you have a Prime account. For a long time, the selection was like a really mean joke, except that everybody died at the end. (It was real sad, in other words.) But it’s been getting better. And now Amazon’s just added a bunch of movies from Paramount Pictures, like Mission: Impossible III, bringing the collection up to 17,000 titles. In fact, given how much Hollywood hates Netflix lately, and how the record labels turned to Amazon in the past and equipped it with content to fight a well-entrenched competitor (iTunes), I wouldn’t be surprised if one day its collection does totally pass Netflix’s.
But, um, have you ever tried to use Amazon’s streaming video service? A video service has two design goals, from the user’s perspective: Help me find something I want to watch (exploration + discovery) and get the hell out of the way. Wading through Amazon’s service is like trying to eat your way to China through the center of the earth, if all of the dirt on the way down was laced with radioactive fallout. It uses the exact same interface you use for shopping for laundry detergent — it’s not fantastic for that, and it’s completely miserable and joy-killing when you want to want to watch a movie. It feels like work, not leisurely browsing through a video store looking for something to watch. It’s noisy and text-y and ugly and god I hate it.
Netflix does this right, on the other hand: The newer design is clean, has the right space in all the right places and feels like something you can flip through for 20 minutes, even if you wind up not finding anything you like. Amazon makes me feel like if I don’t buy something in five minutes, management wants me to leave. I could say more, but I’ll just let some screenshots do the talking.
So, Amazon! Your video collection is getting there. Now you need to completely overhaul the experience, so it feels less like a post-apocalyptic Walmart DVD section at 3am and more like a video service I actually want to spend time with. The guys who designed the Kindle software for the iPad probably have a few ideas.