As was bound to happen eventually, Barnes & Noble has joined Amazon in offering a browser-based reading solution for their Nook customers. Since last August, the Kindle Cloud Reader has been offering the same capabilities to users of the competing platform. The current promotion set to launch Nook for Web, as the new application has been dubbed, offers users six free best sellers for giving it a try. Both the promo and the features make this worth taking a look at.
To try it out for yourself, simply head over to the Nook for Web site. Currently supported browsers include Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. In the preview, you can choose from any of the six selections available in this promotion. You get the first portion of the book immediately with no need to establish a Barnes & Noble account. This allows you to check out the features of the web app and see for yourself if it meets a need. Should you like what you see, these books are available for download through a link at the end of their sample portion.
In terms of features, Nook for Web is definitely competitive with the Kindle Cloud Reader. You can choose from eight font sizes, eight font styles, and a set of different page layouts. The default layout will take into account the width of your browser window and decide whether or not you need two columns for an optimal reading experience. If you don’t like the choice it makes, you can also choose to go with the publisher’s default layout preference or restrict things to a single page no matter the width of the window. At this time you can’t force a two column view.
Pull-down menus let you access the table of contents on the fly, as well as use the Nook platform’s social networking features and access information about the title you have open. The whole package fits well in Barnes & Noble’s established eBook platform and you can see where they have made efforts to keep the experience consistent for existing users. Obviously any books you already own for your Nook will be available to you as soon as you log in.
In some ways B&N has done a great job of meeting the needs of their community here. The features are sound and compatibility is extensive. They have even made Nook for Web work in Internet Explorer, which the Kindle Cloud Reader still does not do. On the other hand, they are missing compatibility with non-desktop browsers and I think that is going to hurt adoption.
The motivation behind the Kindle Cloud Reader was Amazon’s need to get around Apple’s restrictive terms and conditions for in-app sales. As such, iPad and iPhone owners were the priority in its development. Launching without letting those users take part in the new service immediately costs Barnes & Noble the chance to pull in some potential converts from the Kindle Platform. No matter how many people use Internet Explorer, and that isn’t a small number, the percentage of people who read on their mobile device is far higher.
It doesn’t hurt to take advantage of this promo (available through 7/26) even if you’re otherwise a Kindle customer. A free book is a free book. To gain access to the complete text of each title, you will need to create an account. Other than that, there’s no hoop to jump through. Having tried both, I definitely prefer the Kindle Cloud Reader. This is a good first step in what could eventually be a really impressive web app, though.
Naturally, there is a new Kindle Fire on the way. We are also expecting there to be a new E Ink Kindle eReader released alongside it. The Kindle Fire 2, or whatever Amazon decides to label their new device, has aroused a lot of interest over the past few weeks and the release of a Kindle that matches or exceeds the capabilities of the Nook Simple Touch w/ GlowLight will be a big thing for the company. Now, citing reliable sources rather than simply the less than reliable DigiTimes reports, CNET has come up with a July 31st launch event to introduce both of these products to potential customers.
Rumors have indicated that the Kindle Fire 2 will be improved in a number of ways. It will have a higher resolution 1280 x 800 screen while maintaining the same 7” size, according to most of the rumors today. This latest report indicates that it will also have a camera and physical volume control buttons. Both of these features will be welcome additions for many Kindle Fire users. One can only assume that with the addition of a camera Amazon will also have seen fit to include a mic to make their tablet into a viable communication tool.
The new Kindle eReader will also have minor improvements across the board. The most important of these will obviously be the ability to light up the screen. We saw several months ago that Amazon had bought a patent that would allow them to add a refraction layer for front-lighting their eReaders, but Barnes & Noble beat them to the punch. Given how well B&N has done in making a great lit eReader, we have to hope that Amazon has used the intervening time to improve more than just the lighting. Expect to at least see physical page turn buttons return to the Kindle Touch version of the next generation.
Amazon is expected to be selling these new devices for the same price as current models. The new Kindle Fire 2 will be going for $199 while the basic model of the new Kindle eReader will be just $79. While it is too early to say for sure, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to find out that Amazon was including lighting in all their eReaders at no extra charge, thereby undercutting Barnes & Noble’s prices yet again. The Kindle Fire that we know today will continue to be available in its present form for the indefinite future, but it is believed that the price will drop to just $149 as the new version hits shelves.
None of this tells us anything about a new larger Kindle Fire model. While reports still indicate that such a tablet is on the way, the rumor mills are surprisingly quiet about the details. Presumably it will be more powerful and have features comparable to other large tablets, but things like price and release date are completely unknown and barely speculated on. We’ll try to bring you more on this when the information becomes available.
Barnes & Noble has finally begun to spin off their Nook brand into its own subsidiary company and Microsoft has jumped at the opportunity to be a major part of that effort. According to an announcement released jointly this Monday, the software giant will be investing $300 Million into the Nook business thereby acquiring 17.6% equity stake. This could be bad news for Amazon’s Kindle line, which is already facing some of its toughest competition to date in the realm of eReading thanks to the new Nook Simple Touch w/ GlowLight.
Making things even more pleasant for B&N, this arrangement will also involve the settlement of Microsoft’s ongoing patent litigation the bookseller over certain aspects of the Nook’s design. Microsoft will now be picking up royalties for all Nook products, but in the end this may result in significant savings compared to the cost of legal defense. Whether or not that is the case, and admittedly I’m not a lawyer so it is purely speculative, this partnership will open up some major new opportunities for advancing the Nook.
In the immediate future we can expect a Nook app for Windows 8. This will be an important development for both companies as Microsoft is betting big on the potential for tablets using their new OS while Barnes & Noble will need to be ready for the next major push in operating systems. The nature of the Metro UI that Windows 8 (and its ARM compatible offshoot Windows RT) uses will actually create an even better reading experience than existing Windows reading apps if done right.
More long-term, Microsoft has already alluded to an interest in using Windows 8 to gain a foothold in the eReader market. While this was mostly an offhanded remark at a recent event, and could therefore have been meant as a subtle emphasis on how adaptable their new operating system is, buying into as big a player in eReading as the Barnes & Noble Nook line is a fair indication that something more serious is going on.
In the face of this, Amazon has to be wondering what to do next with the Kindle line. While the Kindle Fire is coming out on top of every other Android tablet on the market today, their Android fork might not quite compare to a properly configured Windows 8 installation powering the next Nook Tablet. Nothing stops Amazon from following suit and licensing the new OS themselves, of course, but this would likely lose them the ability to completely control the user experience enjoyed under the existing system. Microsoft will certainly allow locked-down version of their software to circulate, but fragmenting the Metro UI is not going to happen.
This might end up being the first step in a major Android vs Windows 8 fight. The Kindle Fire holds the majority of non-iPad tablet users, but if a new Nook offered superior hardware and an operating system that shines when compared to Android without increasing the price significantly then the tables could turn. Amazon still has their content distribution and the tight integration that gives them the edge, but the next Kindle Fire might need to be especially impressive to keep consumer interest going.
While the Kindle name is practically synonymous with eReading for many people, it has been confined largely to the US for a rather long time now and as such Amazon may have lost a chance to build the same momentum in other markets. Much of what made them so successful was being the first company on the scene ready to get eBooks out there when customer interest began to stir. The situation will be a bit different moving forward.
When it comes to international market coverage in eReading, Kobo is the name to reference. They haven’t had the same impact in the US that Amazon has managed with the Kindle, but the Kobo Touch eReader has been available in areas where a Kindle was hard to come by for quite a while now. They have recently partnered up with WHSmith in the UK in an effort to gain more coverage. The Kobo Vox, essentially their attempt to match the Kindle Fire or Nook Tablet, is just £149.99 (by comparison, the Kindle Fire is not even available). That’s not to mention the fact that Kobo devices are already available in 190 countries with expansion still ongoing, or the newly revamped self-publishing platform that they are having some success with.
Sony is also making something of a comeback. While they were possibly the first company to launch a major eReader line with the Sony PRS series, they have failed to stay relevant in recent years. Their new Reader Store has finally opened (months behind schedule) in the UK and they have a fairly substantial presence in select other markets where the Kindle is just beginning to move in.
Even Barnes & Noble is going to be something of a threat, potentially, in specific international markets. Well, one specific international market if they’re lucky. The much-reported partnership that the company has with Waterstones has produced very few results so far. The partnership is still likely to happen, but they are taking their time about it. This is most likely a matter of developing relationships for content to fill UK eBook stores with and could be held up at least partially due to the chance of the Agency Model being abolished in book publishing by ongoing lawsuits. This would naturally have widespread implications.
None of this is to say that the Kindle won’t be able to make it outside the US. If anything, the international launch of the Kindle Touch and Kindle Touch 3G enjoyed such popularity that even Amazon was shocked. Since the creation of a real, local Kindle Store in any given market is likely to be a major undertaking, however, anybody who has already got their store and device out there for customers is at a distinct advantage. Amazon certainly has enough weight to throw at the problems they encounter, and they will do so without much hesitation as the recent small publisher negotiations prove, but it may be a long process at best with all the other big names already at work.
While we recently learned that Amazon was planning something new with a front-lit version of the Kindle, Barnes & Noble has gone a step further and launched a lit Nook complete with release date. There’s no reason to think this is anything but a reaction to the leaked info regarding Amazon’s plans, but the fact that they already had a response prepared like this indicates a great deal of foresight. What was already quite possibly the best eReading hardware on the market will be the first to get upgraded for the next generation.
Those familiar with the Nook Simple Touch will also have a good impression of the Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight. They are the same product, as the name might imply. GlowLight, Barnes & Noble’s solution to the problem of reading in poor lighting, has just been added into the existing model with minimal fuss. It doesn’t even get in the way of what have traditionally been the strengths of the un-lit eReader.
The new Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight will still have the same E Ink screen that we’re used to. It will work as well as ever in direct sunlight and any other situation where reading from a paper book would be plausible. The difference now is that holding down the ‘n’ button on the Nook will turn on a set of LEDs along the sides of the display. This provides sufficient light for any situation while avoiding a drastic increase in battery drain.
This upgrade will add an additional $40 to the price tag of the Nook. It is likely more than worth the investment, though. You are getting all of the advantages of E Ink with the conveniences a standard LCD would provide, but supplied in such a way as to be fairly easy on the eyes even when the adjustable lighting is in use. That’s the sort of convenience you really can’t pass up in an eReader.
The Kindle product line is still my preference and the eReader line that I would recommend to anybody I knew personally. That is not so much a matter of hardware superiority at this point, though. If anything, it is a matter of hardware adequacy and highly superior back-end support to shore up the physical product by comparison. There is nothing wrong with the Kindle Touch, per se, but it also doesn’t come with any such compellingly interesting new features.
We know that Amazon will be releasing something similar to GlowLight. Chances are even good that now that B&N has set a May release date for the new Nook, a shiny new Kindle will appear by June. If circumstances surrounding the settlements in the DOJ price fixing investigation didn’t seem likely to offer Kindle owners some truly amazing advantages in the near future, though, this would be the time when Amazon needed to sweat a little over the competition’s superior offering.
There has been some question about the importance of pricing in the Kindle Fire’s dominance over the seemingly superior Nook Tablet. On paper the Barnes & Noble tablet is definitely the slightly better device with more storage, expandable memory, twice the RAM, and otherwise similar hardware, which means it makes sense to pick out the one aspect of the comparison (in this case the price) that goes against it when determining why the Nook Tablet hasn’t done better. Barnes & Noble obviously thought so, and has decided to start offering a version of the Nook Tablet at $200 that sacrifices nothing but its superior onboard storage. Surely they are hoping this will be enough to at least start to draw even with the Kindle Fire.
The big question we have to ask now is whether or not this is a reasonable expectation from such a small change. Have people really been choosing the Kindle Fire just to get 20% off the competition’s price? This is definitely a possibility for some buyers, but overall there are other factors that we have to consider. What you buy when you get one of these tablets is more than just the physical device at this point; it’s an entire content ecosystem.
Many, myself included, are of the opinion that the real strength of the Kindle Fire stems from its deep integration with Amazon’s systems. It is undoubtedly a mixed blessing thanks to the associated lack of access to the main Google App Marketplace among other things, but this integration does allow for some impressive features. The on-device storage is practically irrelevant when a decent WiFi network is in range, for example, thanks to the streaming media options Amazon has made available. There is also more than enough space at any given time for several dozen apps, a couple hundred eBooks, and assorted music and video files. Will you be carrying around entire seasons of your favorite television show? Probably not. You can expect to have several hours worth of viewing on hand for when wireless connectivity is unavailable, though.
Barnes & Noble simply isn’t offering the same amount of service, which is why it makes sense for them to be trying to make up the difference with somewhat superior hardware at the same price as the Kindle Fire. The new Nook Tablet is, if anything, an even better option than the 16GB model for those looking into the possibility of rooting their new tablet, but if you’re keeping the stock firmware then it is a decision that should be carefully considered. Nothing has changed or improved here, when it comes right down to it, besides dropping the price.
If you are a fan of the Nook, or dislike the idea of Amazon’s having a hold on your tablet, this is a great deal. If you really want a color LCD device for reading on, the Nook Tablet is also still your best option. If these situations don’t apply to you, however, the $200 Kindle Fire vs $200 Nook Tablet competition is still pretty heavily weighted in favor of Amazon.
In what is just the latest point of conflict between Amazon and Barnes & Noble over their relative positions in book sales, B&N has announced that they are unwilling to stock any Amazon published works in their stores. It is clearly an informed decision that responds to multiple pressures coming from Amazon.com and online retailers in general, but it also raises the question of whether the Brick & Mortar chain can make such a bold move without drawing customer attention to the value of owning a Kindle.
The stated reason behind this decision is that Amazon has been increasingly successful in arranging exclusivity agreements with major publishers and authors that have prevented the competition from being able to provide the best possible service to their Nook customers. A fair point, and not one that many people would disagree with. Amazon is definitely fond of throwing their weight around. At the same time, however, it is a general admission that the Nook is unable to manage to compete on equal terms against the Kindle as things stand right now and possibly not the best way to reassure customers and investors of the long term viability of the product line.
This also relates to the extremely controversial practice of “showrooming” that has made headlines regularly ever since Amazon released their price check app for iOS and Android smartphones. Since Amazon’s structure allows them to save a great deal of money on things like local stores, they can offer lower prices on a wide variety of things. This is especially the case with paper books, where it is extremely unusual to fail to catch a deal compared to any local retailer. A company that relies on their overt physical presence as much as Barnes & Noble does will obviously be negatively affected by such instant access to price comparisons since it deters impulse buying and turns their stores into profitless showcases for another company. By refusing to carry the physical copies of Amazon’s new publications, they clearly hope to demonstrate to those lured into exclusivity agreements that the Brick & Mortar is still vital to success.
Again, I can’t help but feel that this is a big gamble. If Amazon were not already well ahead in book sales then this would not be a problem in the first place. The Kindle has, thanks to their huge investments and the very exclusivity arrangements that B&N is unhappy with, built up the most substantial library and user base in the eReading world. It will take something drastic to knock them back down to a manageable level, but the idea that Barnes & Noble showrooms can have that kind of influence is questionable.
This feels like something that will end up turning major authors into Kindle exclusives whether they intended to be or not, further devaluing the selection at Barnes & Noble. While they have also declared that these books would still be available through web services, it will take a lot of customer loyalty for that to be a viable purchasing option compared to Amazon.com.
The past few months have been interesting for both Amazon and Barnes & Noble. While the former has been enjoying record success in both their eReading efforts and the new Kindle Fire tablet sales however, B&N seems to be having some trouble keeping up with things related to their Nook line. There has even been talk of them spinning off the whole Nook endeavor into its own company due to the high expense of keeping pace in a competitive market. Despite all of this though, and regardless of how it plays out in the larger scheme of things, a lot has been happening that should keep the Nook line a definite consideration for consumers.
Probably the most important factor would be what’s new with the Nook Tablet. While it was always somewhat superior to the Kindle Fire on paper, the experience of using it has generally failed to impress by comparison and certain restrictions on how the end user could manage their data caused a great deal of upset. Recently this has all changed with the announcement of a simple method for rooting the tablet and gaining much greater control over it as a result. All you need now is a MicroSD Card and some freely available software from the guys over at XDA. While for most people’s general uses this still will not necessarily make the Nook Tablet superior to its Kindle competition, it does open up the possibility of finally making the use of the better hardware for those who want to get maximum performance for their money.
The eReader side of things has hardly been left to sit around unnoticed either, of course. There are currently two major bits of information going around specific to this. First, word is out that Barnes & Noble will shortly be announcing the release of their eReaders outside the US for the first time. Most likely this will be in a partnership with UK bookseller Waterstones, if the rumors are to be believed. Some might remember the same company expressing interest in creating its own eReader to compete with the Kindle some months back, so this partnership would be completely in character.
There is also word of a new generation of the Nook already getting set to hit the shelves. It would be difficult to imagine what significant improvements they could have planned over the Nook Simple Touch already given how well it stacks up against the competition (I would argue that if you ignore the differences in integrated stores it is noticeably superior to any of the latest Kindles), but could be an effort to either reduce prices or spring something entirely new on the market. Either way, for the most part these rumors are tied up in claims regarding the Waterstones partnership and should both come to fruition they will likely appear on a similar timeline.
Possibly not the best time in the world to be the company that runs the Nook line, given how heavily Amazon is investing in making the Kindle Fire and Kindle eReaders successful. They’ve done a great job of stepping up to the plate and providing good products despite this, however, and offering superior hardware for the money is always going to serve to draw the attention.
While the Nook line is clearly among the most popular eReaders ever to hit stores, arguably second only to the Kindle, it seems that the expense of keeping current has proven too much for Barnes & Noble. They recently announced that there is an interest in breaking off the Nook and its associated business from the company as a whole. There is no real word yet as to what the future of the eReading line will be, as things are still being explored at the moment, but B&N is blaming recent greater than expected losses on their investments in the Nook (especially the Nook Simple Touch which has completely failed to meet sales expectations) and as such seems to have good reason to be dropping it. The big question for users will probably have to be whether this is actually a positive even for Amazon. There are good reasons to be skeptical and hope that somebody comes along willing to pick up the expenses.
Nobody would really mind always being able to know which eReader is the best to buy, of course. If all that is really left for users in the US is the Kindle, it makes things easier at the store. The lack of competition that such an arrangement relies upon, though, is problematic. Look at how things stand now simply from a hardware standpoint. The Nook Simple Touch, while tied to what I personally would consider the less compelling platform, is definitely the superior device. The Kindle Touch is nice and has a few advantages of its own that make it a close race, but the lack of physical page turn buttons and the light color of the case both work against it. You wouldn’t think something as simple as the color would have such a huge effect on perceptions, but look at all of the complaints that have come up about contrast for the new Kindles despite having essentially identical screens when measured carefully. That said, neither would have gotten to where they are today so fast if there hadn’t been the steady trumping of each model from either company as it appeared.
Demand, fortunately, has never been higher. This means that there is likely to be some other interested party willing to pick up the Nook line should Barnes & Noble give up. In a way this would be a particularly positive change since it would introduce the possibility of finally seeing an international release of the currently US-only product. Booksellers tend to welcome any advantage that will help them keep afloat despite competition from Amazon, so finding sales partners wouldn’t be particularly difficult given the proper incentives and marketting.
Ideally I would love to see Google or Kobo pick up where B&N leaves off. Not many other companies besides Apple have both the media and hardware expertise necessary to keep up with the Kindle and just selling what has been developed so far without developing new products would be the end of the line. This assumes that the eReading line is done as far as B&N is concerned, but things increasingly point that way. We’ll see where things go over the course of the next couple quarters, but time will tell.
It’s undeniable that the release of the Kindle Fire, and along with it the competing Nook Tablet, has shaken up the Tablet PC market. Since launch Amazon has already firmly taken second place next to the Apple iPad, selling as many as 5 million units in the 4th quarter of 2011 alone. Barnes & Noble is also doing pretty well, having moved more than a million of their own tablet in the same time period. The way things are going with these two, there has even been some speculation that there is no room for dedicated hardware manufacturers with this kind of competition.
Both Amazon and Barnes & Noble are selling their tablets at near, or possibly even below, the cost of production. The goal is to get people hooked into the platform and make ongoing profits based on media sales. Effectively, the hardware has become secondary now that it can be treated as a conduit for consumption rather than an end in and of itself. Amazon is doing a better job on this side of things than Barnes & Noble so far.
The Nook Tablet has the technically superior hardware, with double the RAM and double the storage space among other things, but doesn’t make very good use of it. The storage is restricted and the interface doesn’t seem to run significantly smoother than the Kindle Fire‘s. There is an SD slot to expand the available memory of the device, but to get a sufficiently large one to make a difference you can expect to add a significant percentage onto the already comparatively more expensive price. None of this means that it is a bad tablet, it’s actually quite excellent and highly recommended, but it is worth noting that B&N has a way to go before they are really making the best use out of their device’s potential.
The Kindle Fire, on the other hand, lacks some of the power of the Nook. What it does have is a deeper integration with Amazon.com’s storefront and content. Unlike B&N, Amazon has their own source of video and music for customers to take advantage of, as well as a robust cloud storage service that makes up for a lot of the seeming shortcomings of the hardware. The lower price certainly doesn’t hurt sales numbers either, especially given the inevitable comparison of both products to each other and the iPad.
We can expect sales for both tablets to be improving even more through the next year. The Kindle line, and the Kindle Fire in particular, is one of Amazon’s biggest marketing priorities, while the Nook line is pretty much the only thing B&N has going for it right now in terms of profitability. What remains to be seen is what effect the next iteration of the Kindle tablet line brings. A larger tablet could cement Amazon’s place on top of tablets for the foreseeable future, second only to Apple, but it could also severely damage the company’s reputation if something goes wrong and open the door to a big push by Barnes & Noble.
Either way we have good products to work with, but both Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet are built for content consumption and that means active ongoing support. The more popular each one becomes, the more incentive the associated company has to expand the platform, and the more valuable the tablet in question becomes for owners. It will be interesting to see the back and forth as the competition heats up in months to come.
Since the launch of the very first Kindle eReader, the persistent and constantly repeated complaint has been that it lacks color. Everything else that began problematically, from screen refresh time to clunky controls, has been addressed in later iterations of the Kindle line. Sadly, you just can’t do much yet in terms of color without sacrificing the E Ink screen. Barnes & Noble managed to effectively market their Nook Color for over a year on nothing more than the ability to overcome this limitation (regardless of the resultant shortcomings of their device) and it was inevitable that it be a big issue in terms of Kindle Fire reviewing, no matter how much Amazon might prefer to focus on other things.
How big a deal could this possibly be, though? Upon closer inspection, more than I thought. The obvious example that most people jump to for their color reading needs is the magazine. Let’s simply disregard that one for the time being, though. It involves a slightly different pricing model since only the newest issue of a given publication is likely to be in demand, shortening the life of each installment to a month or so in many cases. I would love to comment but, without a better understanding of how the advertising model generally makes the transition to the sort of device that has the potential to simply block out images with a few tweaks, I simply don’t feel qualified at the moment.
We can definitely consider general book sales, though. Assume that the majority of book sales are fiction. Particularly Romance novels, I’m told. Not too much need for color illustration in those, for the most part. That does not mean that non-fiction is a negligible area, however. Self Help and History are two of the most impressive genres of the past few years in terms of sales. Both of them, in their own way can benefit from the inclusion of color.
While this is definitely important, though, it’s difficult to believe that it will really be a major factor moving into the next round of Kindle vs Nook competition. Barnes & Noble’s book focus is completely understandable. It only makes sense to do what you know best and they simply don’t have the structure in place to handle much else. Amazon has already moved past that, adding competing capabilities and book selections almost in passing, and brought the emphasis around to video.
The Kindle Fire might not be a match for the iPad when it comes to hardware, but Amazon is building up their whole digital presence to the point of rivaling Apple’s more established one. The book emphasis only made sense as long as the limitations of the device being sold restricted use to that media. The future will be an overall digital experience. Sure magazines and color reading will be a part of it, but on their own the effect just doesn’t seem likely to be big enough to matter. There are rumors of a Nook Tablet video store on the horizon, as well as a push to increase the app content for that line of devices. That’s likely to make a far bigger difference.
Despite the relative technical differences between the new Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet and the Amazon Kindle Fire, I think that it is fair to say that Amazon’s product offers more right out of the box. For the layman user, somebody with no stake in a particular platform and no desire to have to jump through hoops to pull the greatest possible performance out of their electronics, the available content and overall experience of the Fire is immediately superior.
Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that you are not that user. Even more, let’s assume that you are considering buying one of the new $200 Tablet PCs being released by these eReading giants with the sole intention of rooting it and making it into an all purpose generic Android Tablet. It doesn’t take huge amounts of work under most circumstances. Andrei already posted instructions to this Blog on how to root the Kindle Fire and there is a great deal of headway being made on the Nook Tablet. Custom Android ROMs are sure to follow in the near future. In the end, chances are good that the only prerequisite will be a willingness to spend the time and effort to go through a list of instructions.
Under these circumstances, the most important factor is the hardware. Here, the Nook Tablet is the way to go. It has twice the RAM of the Kindle Fire, as well as twice the internal storage space. The expandable memory slot is a big incentive as well, of course. Other than those bits, the processors, screens, size, and weight are all either exactly equivalent or so close that it won’t factor in much. Probably the only other relevant difference is the fact that the Nook has some external volume controls that come in handy from time to time. Before making any real decisions on this matter, however, I recommend taking both devices for a test drive.
While the Nook Tablet‘s initial setup has some major flaws, from locking up the majority of the storage space to simply lacking a halfway decent app store, it is still pretty smooth and comes equipped to take on most third-party video purchases. You also get the added advantage of easily accessible support at every Barnes & Noble location nationwide.
The Kindle Fire, on the other hand, offers deep Amazon integration. At a glance this is troublesome and a blatant attempt to lock customers in, but they have gone out of their way to keep the platform pretty open. Competitor apps are in their Appstore (itself less well populated than the Google Marketplace but far better policed) and it isn’t hard to install things acquired elsewhere. Even the Nook reader app has no trouble. The interface is smooth, looks good, and performs better than most people would expect. Really the only complaint here is the lack of video format compatibility, which is why it was worth mentioning for the Nook.
Either way you’re getting a good device, but keep in mind what is being bought. These are not really intended to be all purpose tablets the way the iPad is and to treat them as such will likely disappoint. If you do decide to break away from the cultivated experiences provided then the minimal hardware might be more apparent than it otherwise would be. Personally, I had intended to ditch the Amazon firmware on the Kindle Fire after testing it out just enough to write about it knowledgeably. It was good enough to change my mind and might do the same for you.
The competition in the 7″ Tablet market was obviously thrown into disarray by the arrival of the Amazon Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet devices. Even if you completely set aside the service being offered in conjunction by either company, any moderately powerful Android Tablet in the $200-250 range is attractive. Just look at how well the Nook Color did, even locked down with ridiculously few apps and a marketing campaign focused on reading. What’s also rather clear, however, is that with the Kindle Fire getting the majority of the attention pre-launch, B&N needed to make an impression on potential customers. They may have overdone it a bit.
The most obvious disappointment for Nook Tablet early adopters was the storage space. One of the biggest draws in this case was the fact that they included twice the Kindle Fire’s storage space. This is especially important given the huge emphasis on video viewing that’s been happening lately. The Nook certainly offers more natively supported formats, so 12GB of available space to side load your library onto is great on paper. As we’ve learned since then though, that’s not going to be happening. Barnes & Noble decided that Nook Tablet owners would probably be needing to have around 11GB of that space blocked to outside content. That’s less than 10% of what was promised, which means that the only people likely to ever get the most out of their new Nooks in this regard are the ones who root them.
Also related to the video viewing qualifications of the device is the quality problem. Probably to set themselves apart from the Kindle Fire yet again, B&N advertised the new Nook as “The best in HD entertainment”, among a number of other similar claims. Now, obviously this could not be the case. Anybody who gave it a decent amount of thought already knew that, given the resolution of the screen if nothing else. This sort of language has since been dropped from the Nook Tablet product page.
The official response was that what they “really” meant for customers to understand was that they pull a higher quality video feed from Netflix than the competition and the message just got lost in translation somewhere. Where the Kindle Fire pulls the standard definition stream and fits it to the tablet, the Nook Tablet grabs the HD and downgrades it. This does, admittedly, result in a better picture for those with the network reliability to support it and would have made sense to advertise. Instead, they opted for what seems to have been deliberate misinformation.
It’s taken a bit of time, but corrections are being made to the advertising. I think it’s important to make note of these early efforts to drum up preorders, though. While the Nook Tablet is definitely a good product for the money, there’s something a bit off about this approach to selling it. There is a big difference between fixing launch bugs and having to significantly modify your product descriptions to avoid deceiving customers.
In the eyes of many, the Kindle Fire didn’t have much of a chance of competing with Apple’s technically superior iPad tablet. That remains to be seen in the longer term, of course, but for now it’s all just speculation. Regardless, this shifts the focus of people watching for active competition to the Kindle vs Nook battle. They have been ongoing rivals in the eReader world, of course, and now they both offer budget priced tablets that will do a lot more than help you read.
On paper the Nook Tablet is quite possibly the better device. It has the same processing power, more RAM, and most importantly twice the local storage of the Kindle Fire. This last alone was enough to get many people to declare it a clear winner before either device hit shelves. Now that we can use them both side by side, the situation has drastically changed.
The Nook Tablet, despite having 16GB of storage space (~12GB available to users), severely restricts what users are able to do with that space. To such a degree that the idea of purchasing the device as a video player without the intention of rooting it is fairly laughable. Users will find that Barnes & Noble has chosen to allow a mere 1GB of storage for the loading of outside content. While the remainder can be filled by anything B&N sells, the fact of the matter is that right now they don’t offer nearly enough content to justify the choice.
There is not, for example, a video store for the Nook Tablet. Neither is there an MP3 service. You can, of course, access services like Netflix or Pandora for all your media consumption needs, but should you desire to watch or listen to things that you yourself own already then chances are good there is a problem. Basically the only thing available in any quantity besides apps, and the scarcity of Nook apps is another complaint to address at another time, is reading material. It simply does not justify this.
While I think that anybody would agree that the Kindle Fire‘s 8GB on-board storage is one of its weak points, Amazon at least manages to expand your options. Sure you might have trouble loading everything that you want onto the device at once, but you can always stream it or store in their provided cloud storage until it is needed. This is in addition to also offering equally functional access to Netflix, Pandora, and basically everything else that the Nook Tablet is using to make up for its lack of media store integration.
What probably should have been a clear win for B&N has turned their device into a joke for many prospective buyers. We can hope that as time goes on this will be changed via a software update of some sort since the Nook Tablet is honestly a decent piece of hardware for just $250. It is ridiculous that to get any decent amount of storage space a new user should feel compelled to purchase a memory card when the drive is just sitting there more than half empty.
It’s no real secret that Barnes & Noble has quickly come to depend on their Nook eReader line, which by extension means it isn’t really too surprising that they might overreact when that is threatened. A recent spat with DC Comics over a limited term of Kindle Fire eComic distribution exclusivity for a segment of the publisher’s current titles has resulted in just such an overreaction, though, and their failure to see the mistake may well provide difficulties going forward.
The underlying complaint on the part of Barnes & Noble is that DC has had the audacity to offer eReader exclusivity on 100 or so titles to Amazon as a temporary means for Amazon to promote the Kindle Fire. While there is no information yet, to the best of my knowledge, as to how long this deal will remain in place, both DC and Amazon have acknowledged that it is not intended to necessarily be a long term arrangement.
As a result, Barnes & Noble has pulled all DC titles from their stores. This includes every physical copy of the Amazon digital exclusives from DC Comics. No notice was given to customers initially, simply a blanket email to all stores requiring them to remove the books. To pull the gist of the eventual published statement from the Brick & Mortar book giant: “Regardless of the publisher, we will not stock physical books in our stores if we are not offered the available digital format.[...]To sell and promote the physical book in our store showrooms, and not have the eBook available for sale would undermine our promise to Barnes & Noble customers to make available any book, anywhere, anytime.”
On the surface, one has to applaud the effort. Maybe this was an instance of Amazon throwing their weight around that required a significant response from a major retailer to help publishers see that such behavior is unacceptable. That sentiment lasts right up until the realization that at this time Barnes & Noble does not in any way offer electronic comic publications.
The chain has decided that they are so dedicated to the principal on this issue that they are willing to turn away customers at the door rather than allow Amazon’s Kindle Fire access to something the Nook Color has not even tried to exploit after a year on the market. Now not only with B&N customers not be able to download their comics, they can’t get physical copies except through the B&N website. Stores have even been instructed to turn away special orders. No copy will be allowed to enter the store, no matter how much you want to give your money to Barnes & Noble.
In the end, I see this hurting nobody but B&N, their customers, and the creators of the works in question. Nobody wins but Amazon and customers have one more reason to avoid dealing with anybody else. While this could have been quickly remedied with a quiet apology for initial overreaction, there is no excuse for letting it continue and treating customers this poorly, especially at a time when they are faced with a superior competing product.
With the Kindle Fire making such an impression on the Tablet PC marketplace, Barnes & Noble has been placed in a tough spot. They are quickly coming to rely on their Nook product line and such a thorough triumph over their popular Nook Color would certainly be a tough blow to take. They had to either put out something big or be left behind. Fortunately, they’ve managed to come up with an answer.
The new Nook Tablet (that’s it’s name, not a generic designation) amounts to basically a point by point comparison to the Kindle Fire and may go a fair way toward explaining some of the popular bookseller’s more unexpected moves lately. Here’s what we know so far:
||7″ VividView IPS LCD Multi- Touch
1024 x 600, 169 PPI
||1GB Dual-Core TI OMAP4 Processor
||16GB Internal (~12GB Available)
Expandable Storage Slot via microSD Up To 32GB
Free Cloud Storage via Nook Cloud
||Stereo Speakers w/ Mic
||8.1″ x 5.0″ x 0.48″
||Up To 11.5 Hours Reading
Up To 9 Hours Video Playback
3 Hour Charge Time
||Netflix, Hulu Plus, Pandora, and More
||11 / 18 / 2011
Sounds a lot like the Kindle Fire, even if it looks identical to the existing Nook Color. It might be 25% more expensive, but for that money you get a device that’s lighter, faster, and holds more. Sounds great, right? The differences are not extreme. You save about half an ounce in terms of weight, 6GB of usable internal storage space, and a bit more RAM. Even the advertised battery life is just slightly better, offering perhaps 90 minutes more video playback time under ideal circumstances.
What Amazon has been pushing, however, is the media. Barnes & Noble has not been able to offer comparable content so far for their Nook Color’s App Store, so it was important that they be able to bring something to the table here. Bundling with Hulu and Netflix will go a long way toward making up for the lack of an integrated video store, of course. That was the whole point of pushing them, despite the fact that they will also be available for the Kindle. The bookstore is obviously pretty good already, and they’ve been at the color eBooks game a bit longer than Amazon so hopefully they have a good grasp on things there. Even music is covered thanks to Pandora and other similar services.
Perhaps the most surprising thing is the idea of Nook Cloud Storage. We don’t have many details on that yet, but it accomplishes another aspect of the Amazon comparison in a vague fashion. Chances are good that this will not be available for anything besides content purchased through B&N, but that is just speculation so far.
Barnes & Noble is claiming to have a screen superior to that on the Kindle Fire. It is honestly hard to assess right now since they’re somewhat invested in the comparison. It might be advisable to reserve judgement on that point until a side by side comparison can be arranged.
They are also making a big deal out of their new Nook Comics line. This could explain a great deal of why they got so dramatically and publicly upset over DC Comics forming an exclusive deal of any sort with Amazon in preparation for the Kindle Fire launch. B&N is now boasting the largest collection of digital Marvel comics brought together so far for a single device. It’s an accomplishment, though there is no notice of exclusivity and therefore no reason to believe this will be a major factor moving forward.
Probably drawing on the same sort of technology that allows for those comics, though, is a new Nook Book category called PagePerfect. Going off of what information is currently around, this is less an imitation of the new Kindle Format 8 and more a proprietary PDF imitation. Static formatting, zooming, scrolling, etc. The only obvious difference is that Adobe isn’t involved.
Which To Buy
Now that we have a couple of competing budget media tablets to choose from, which is worth the money? It depends on your needs. The Nook Color, and by extension the new Nook Tablet since it is just a more powerful version of the same, is primarily an eReader. Barnes & Noble has done a fairly good job of shoring up their shortcomings by bringing in excellent integration with other content providers, there is no substitute for direct support and every reason to believe that those same providers will be serving up media to Kindle Fire customers as well.
The price is a bit off-putting, now that we’re talking about tablets cheap enough for $50 to make a big difference, but you do admittedly get more power for the price. While claims about the screen quality remain unproven, the extra RAM will make a difference and additional on-board storage will be a big deal for some.
As usual, which device you go for will depend on your needs as a consumer. At this point it seems that Amazon is offering a clearly superior library of media to choose from, especially if you take all types of media together. They’ve also done a great job, by most preliminary accounts, of customizing and streamlining their Android Fork to make the Kindle Fire both look unique and perform more impressively than its specs might indicate.
On the other hand, Barnes & Noble is offering what is arguably the better dollar to power ratio. This will be most important for people wanting to root the device and just exploit its most basic hardware capabilities. That might be a smaller percentage of the intended user base, but it is worth addressing. The Nook Tablet also comes closer to offering a stock Android experience, for those who are concerned about potential privacy concerns related to Amazon’s Silk browser and other cloud based services. They are also more focused on building up the color eReader market, and you can count on Barnes & Noble to maintain the eBook as their primary concern for the indefinite future.
The choice will be up to you and the distinctions are honestly fairly slight right now. What is most important is that the Kindle Fire might have some valid competition after all. Competition always leads to improvement. Just look at how far the Nook Tablet is beyond the Nook Color.
The Nook Color was not the first color eReader by any stretch of the imagination, for all it beat out the Kindles to that point. Even if you exclude all of the PDAs, Blackberrys, and smartphone types of devices in general that gave the Microsoft LIT format a space to thrive in, there were others that came before. Credit where credit is due, however, B&N created the first reading tablet that was worth owning. Its value might just not come as much from the pure quality of reading experience as it could need to to remain competitive as an eReader.
Analysts have regularly indicated that the appeal of the Nook Color, for the average consumer, is in its ability to access magazines and casual games along the lines of the ever popular Angry Birds series. The portability, full color display, and Android based operating system make it great for short periods of interaction and immersion, even if the screen is less than ideal for extended reading. Now, with the release of the Kindle Fire, there is reason for Barnes & Noble to be concerned over their device’s future.
What it comes down to is a practically point by point feature trumping on Amazon’s part, plus a superior media distribution base to draw on in the areas where a tablet is most useful. The points of comparison stand out a little bit when you consider the Nook Color’s superiorities over the Kindle 3 (Kindle Keyboard).
||6″ Monochrome E INK
||7″ Color LCD
||7″ Color LCD
||Keyboard & Directional Controls
||7.5″ x 4.8″ x 0.34″
||8.1″ x 5.0″ x .48″
||7.5″ x 4.7″ x 0.45″
||8GB Internal, Expandable Memory Slot
||8GB Internal, Amazon Cloud Storage
||Basic HTML Experimental
||Full Browser w/ Flash Support
||Silk Browser w/ Flash Support
||$99 – $139
That comparison is based on what features Barnes & Noble has chosen thus far to highlight on the device specs section of the Nook Color sales page, in an effort to present things fairly. I’m ignoring the majority of software concerns, especially in terms of file type compatibility, since apps are theoretically able to make up for most any deficiency. These would still, however, favor the new Kindle. While the Nook Color is the only one of these with an expandable memory slot, which would seem incredibly useful to many users, this has proven a mixed blessing for the company since it provides people with a simple and effective way to bypass the Nook’s proprietary Android build.
Basically it appears that with the Kindle Fire Amazon has looked at what the competition was doing and improved on it. No surprise, that’s what competing products are supposed to do. They’ve essentially got a slightly smaller, slightly lighter 7″ tablet that they’re not hooked on the idea of presenting as an eReader. Overall the technology behind the Kindle Fire is newer and more powerful in every way that matters and still comes in at a lower price for the end user. The only real question now is what B&N does with this information.
We can take as a given that Barnes & Noble is not in a position to provide the same sort of robust media library that Amazon is bringing to customers. Even if they were to start pulling in video streaming deals and other things along those lines to fill in the gaps, the time factor would be a problem. What they can do is work to get Netflix, Hulu, or any number of other streaming services on-board as partners. With Amazon poised to make a move into that market in a larger way than they have so far, it shouldn’t be too difficult. It would mean giving up on potential media sales revenue, but it also eliminates the need to build up the infrastructure to support that media. We know that rooted Nook Colors are able to access services like Netflix already, so it would only make sense to cash in on it given how easily root-able these devices have proven to be.
There is also the rumor of a new Nook Color that will bring hardware upgrades. Now, this is pretty flimsy in spite of having seen posts declaring it would be released “any day now” since early September, but it could make a big difference to their presence in the device market. While a price drop in the current Nook Color is a given, having a newer more powerful model available would work well whether it was a more expensive option or as an outright replacement. In the former scenario it would highlight the fact of the low price point while providing options. In the latter, there is room to hope that in some way the Kindle Fire will be inferior. If the hardware option is going to make a difference, however, it needs to happen soon. Once people start getting their hands on the Kindle Fire, barring major issues with them, the momentum is likely to increase leading into the holiday season.
What we do know is that the Nook line as a whole is pretty much the only part of Barnes & Noble that is growing right now. They need to keep things going. As a result, you can be sure that something is on the horizon to keep the situation competitive. Tablet PCs just tend to be the most useful when it comes to things that aren’t reading, so it might take a bit of a shift for B&N to really make their presence known now that there are comparably priced options available. Whether or not they manage remains to be seen, but hopes are high. While the Nook Color has not been my favorite device personally, it did provide us with one of the first reasonably priced yet fully functional tablets almost by mistake (rooting is essential in a way that many are hoping will not be the case with the Kindle Fire). It would be a shame to seem them fall aside now.
Beginning just days before the press conference that revealed the Kindle Fire to the world, rumors started popping up that Barnes & Noble was nervously prepping their next tablet for a hurried launch to avoid getting shut out of the market. Naturally they haven’t confirmed these rumors to any degree so far, but the latest reports indicate the potential for both a cheaper Nook Color hardware update and a larger, more powerful incarnation of the same at around $350.
For the past couple months, it’s been pretty great to be Barnes & Noble. They’ve been selling one of the most functional affordable tablets on the market, almost by accident. They’ve had what was honestly the best eReader in the US market in terms of performance and readability. On top of this, Amazon spent months seeming to ignore the world of eReading hardware aside from vague hints. It couldn’t last forever, but they got to make a big splash with no significant recently released competition.
At first glance Amazon has now got a huge advantage again, especially in terms of the Kindle Fire. While the Nook Color brought a lot of function for comparatively little money, its main value has generally been in how easily rooted it is. Barnes & Noble has added an internal app store that has gotten quite a bit better over time, but they have nothing quite as robust as the Amazon Android App Store nor do they have the ability to offer the same kind of end to end experience that the Kindle Fire is anticipated to provide. Simply put, the emphasis on the Nook Color as specifically a color eReader might have backfired.
Since B&N is experiencing a great deal of its current success (what there is of it) from the Nook line, they cannot afford to not respond. Fortunately, from the sound of things, there were plans in place. The Nook Simple Touch eReader shouldn’t have any real problems just now. It might be slightly more expensive than the cheapest of the Kindle Touch models coming up, but the technology is comparable and for now we have to assume that the experience will be generally similar. What they’re worried about is the Tablet competition.
A new, larger, more powerful Nook Color, assuming rumors hold some basis in reality, will be either announced or released before the end of October at around $350. This, along with a hardware update to the existing Nook Color, would theoretically have a chance of bringing them back to the front of consumer perception again in time for the 2011 holiday season.
Admittedly we’re talking about theoretical hardware at the moment, so as with most of the Kindle Tablet speculation it has to be taken with a grain of salt. Still, if they can bring hardware and content availability anywhere near to in line with what Amazon is offering with the Kindle Fire it would be great. Just the announcement of a $200 tablet from Amazon has already changed hardware prices in the market significantly. Real, effective competition among budget tablet providers can only be a good thing.
Everybody knows that Amazon doesn’t release the sales numbers for their Kindle eReader. That being said, some analysts have estimated that the popular eReader will sell over 17 million units this year alone and that the platform as a whole now accounts for as much as 10% of Amazon’s overall revenue. That doesn’t mean that the Kindle is unassailable, of course, but it is definitely difficult. The Barnes & Noble Nook has proved both parts of that. Now, in an effort to revive flagging sales numbers, British bookseller Waterstone’s is going to try to replicate the B&N success story.
James Daunt, the Waterstone’s managing director, said in a recent BBC 4 radio interview that he was inspired by the Nook’s success in the US market. So far, Barnes & Noble has not decided to expand their eReader presence beyond the US in spite of the exceptionally favorable reviews of their most recent generation of devices, which leaves a gap in the market for somebody else to exploit. Lately, given the consistent downward trend of most of Barnes & Noble’s non-Nook numbers, this seems like a great model for an otherwise declining company to make a comeback with.
Right now, Waterstone’s does not have a hardware partner or much in the way of solid details in terms of their intended offering. Daunt has claimed that the company is “well down the planning line” on the way to an early 2012 launch are somewhat encouraging, but there is a lot to get done for such an ambitious move. This is a fairly late stage to be entering into eReading on short notice, given the high quality of the current generation of eReaders. Even the Kindle is sometimes only considered second-best by comparison these days. That’s a lot to measure up to for any newcomer.
Since the closing of Borders Books and Books Etc, Waterstones seems to be the only major brick and mortar book seller in the UK market. At a glance this seems to be something of a last-ditch effort. The Waterstone’s internet storefront, which has been selling eBooks for some time now, has failed to compete successfully against the Kindle’s UK store. A hardware tie-in would guarantee some returning business, but only if customers can be persuaded to adopt the new platform in the long term.
One of the biggest considerations for people seeking to build their own eBook library is whether or not their purchases will eventually be rendered useless by the end of a format or the closing of their chosen retailer. Whereas Amazon seems to be around for pretty much the foreseeable future, Waterstone’s will have to make a big impression to avoid losing customers to the fear of obsolescence. Add into that the overwhelming probability that there will be a new and improved Kindle released even before the Waterstone’s eReader comes to market and it will be a much tougher sale to make.
As always, competition is the most important driving factor for product improvement and customers should welcome a new serious contender to the eReader marketplace, but so far there isn’t enough detail to get your hopes up for.
Earlier today, a TechCrunch reporter claims to have had a chance to play around with an actual working Kindle Tablet in a closely supervised situation. Much of the information he came out with isn’t exactly what we were hoping to hear when the real details started to turn up, but everything does fit the current situation pretty well and there are no glaring discrepancies. As with all unofficial reports it should probably be taken with a grain of salt, but for the time being it is probably safe to say this is our best picture of Amazon’s upcoming entry into the Tablet PC market.
Here’s what we have to work with:
- 7″ Back-lit touchscreen of some description with no hybrid options(2 finger capacitive multi-touch)
- Highly customized Android OS, possibly forked as early as Android 2.2
- No physical controls aside from the power button
- Possible single-core processor
- As little as 6GB internal storage
- WiFi Only at launch
- Expandable memory slot
- No camera
- Bundled Amazon Prime Membership
- $250 Price Tag
- Late November 2011 Release Date
Clearly the high expectations of Kindle fans will not be met in their entirety.
There is a sense that Amazon is rushing this to market, even after all this time. If a guess were required, I would say that it almost seems as if they were hoping to carry the day by using the next best thing in display technology to get the jump on everybody only to have that tech fail to manifest in time to be useful. That aside, they’re still bringing plenty to the table to make a splash.
The Nook Color has managed to carve out a space for itself by being something of a budget iPad, for all its stated eReading emphasis. Amazon can bring the same sort of value to the table, perhaps with a more impressive array of applications and support structure, and not even have to bother with the eReader facade. We have to assume at this point that they won’t make the mistake of marketing this as a Kindle eReader, whether or not it’s capable of displaying books, given the whole anti-iPad LCD commercial campaign.
The focus on cloud storage and streaming will negate the obvious problem of minimal storage space to some extent, though Amazon seems to be gambling a lot on the ubiquity of wireless networks. If the reporting article is to be believed, then the Android OS fork should be customized and optimized well beyond simply skinning Froyo and throwing out the standard Google App Marketplace, which means that it’s too early to judge anything based on that at this time. Nobody really expected Amazon to include a completely open copy of Android anyway, right?
Just because this isn’t the ideal situation that would blow the iPad out of the water without any significant contest doesn’t mean it isn’t a great step. Tablets put out by anybody but Apple have tended to fare poorly so far, as evidenced by the HP TouchPad debacle recently, but Amazon has the marketing, support, and name recognition to make it happen. I still don’t think this will end up being a direct contest with just the Nook Color for most people, unless something gets reviewed particularly poorly at release.
With the knowledge that a new Kindle is on the horizon there are reasons that it might seem to be worth holding back on your new Nook purchase to see what is coming, but is it worth the wait? At present there are a lot of great products on the market and as tempting as it is to wait for the next big thing, there comes a point when holding off gets silly. With that in mind, is it worth the risk, however slight, of picking up what may soon be an inferior product?
The biggest thing to decide right off the bat is what you are looking for in your eReader. Right now, the Nook Simple Touch and Kindle 3 (no matter which type you choose) offer very similar experiences. The best E INK screens available, page refresh far faster than you could reliably turn pages in a paper book, light and comfortable to hold, literally months of battery life, and a direct connection into each’s respective amazingly comprehensive eBook store. Aside from a couple very small particulars, neither one is physically superior to the other.
If you have to choose right now, based on nothing but the hardware, then you’re essentially on even ground with these two. The Nook Simple Touch is newer, slightly faster, has a touchscreen display, and is a couple inches shorter. The Kindle has the option of 3G coverage, a physical keyboard, and external contacts that can power a book light should you be inclined to use such an accessory. None of these factor in much when it comes right down to reading a book under normal circumstances.
There is always the fact that the new Kindle is coming out soon and will certainly have upgrades that make it stand out, but what real point of superiority is going to put it over the top right now? Short of having a non-backlit color screen to make color eBooks a better choice, there isn’t much room to grow. The Kindle 3 is perfect for reading on, in that once you get started you can forget how you’re reading and just concentrate on the book. The new Nook does the same thing just as well. Chances are, the new Kindle will accomplish it again. As much as I’m looking forward to picking up the new model, and would recommend avoiding any Kindle purchases until it comes out since it is only a couple months away at this point, it does not factor into a Kindle vs Nook decision.
The most important thing in deciding is going to be who you want to do business with. As I pointed out recently, it is definitely possible to jump from one platform to another if you have the patience to deal with file conversion. Nobody really wants to bother with that, though. Since pricing and selection are pretty similar no matter where you buy your eBooks right now, there isn’t a compelling reason to go back and forth between them. It is likely that wherever you amass your first collection of eBooks is where you’re going to stay. If Barnes & Noble is the eReader provider for you, don’t let speculation about new Kindles scare you off. There might be some room for the Kindle to advance right now, but to think that it will be enough in the near future to completely knock competition out of the ballpark is a bit far fetched.
After months of speculation and a fair amount of information pieced together from parts orders, supposed inside information, and extrapolation from Amazon’s more recent choices as they expand their reach, we have to assume that we have at least a pretty fair outline of what the upcoming Kindle Tablet is going to look like. I would never simply trust a rumor, but enough of the little things add up and agree with each other lately that sudden conflicting information has to be viewed with some skepticism. This is why, when perusing the latest set of stories, blogs, and whatnot, I was rather surprised to see a sudden turnaround in the speculation that points the proposed device at the same market as the Nook Color. Apparently some people don’t think Amazon is quite ready for the larger game?
Tracing things back, the speculation along these lines seems to stem from a Business Insider article that simply cites “a source close to the company” as saying that it will basically be a color eReader with some apps on it. They build this on top of earlier reports of underpowered processors and the anticipated lack of cameras and leave it at that. For a couple reasons, I believe the evidence fails to support the argument.
Mostly, we know that in the time since the Kindle Tablet rumors started going out Amazon has built up its app store, cloud storage, cloud based music system, and video streaming library. Every one of these would integrate impressively will a full tablet offering and do next to nothing for a dedicated eReader, even if it were color. There are uses for each of these things as pieces to the Amazon.com experience, but they don’t seem like they could have a huge impact in any area taken as individual enterprises. A unifying experience is necessary to explain the overall plan.
Leaving aside the arguments about hardware speculation, since those bits of information don’t give us information on what what display technology the Kindle Tablet line will take advantage of and therefore leave too much to the imagination so far in my opinion, I could see this simply as a misinterpretation of the situation by all parties. We have indicati0ns that there will be at least two Kindle Tablet offerings this year, including a 7″ and a 10-11″. The fact that the smaller, lower powered version of these does not compete well with the specs of the iPad may well make it smarter to market as an eReading Tablet rather than a fully powered Tablet PC.
I think the general idea is going to be a staggered release, in the end. The fact that the first, smaller Kindle Tablet will be released alongside the new Kindles may make it a transition point between Amazon’s eReaders and Tablets. Easily advertised as the next step in eReading and focused overtly on tying that experience in, but without any of the initial restrictions that crippled the Nook Color as a Tablet on release. To say that Amazon is not focused on the iPad competition still seems naive, since we can expect something much more powerful and functional in the next 6 months.
A recent report from the International Data Corporation has provided an analysis of the Tablet PC and eReader markets for the first quarter of 2011. Nooks, Kindles, iPads, and their respective markets in general are doing quite well, with eReader growth at 105% over the past year and tablets not doing too bad either. Although demand did not grow quite as much as expected, for a variety of reasons, things are improving.
Right now the Barnes & Noble Nook product line is on top in terms of worldwide sales for the first time, beating out the Kindle a bit. IDC attributes this in part to the introduction of the popular Nook Color, for which this was the first full quarter of sales. While many have leaped at the chance to interpret this as an indication that the Nook Color is single-handedly outselling the Kindle, no indication of such is made in the article. Instead, it seems likely that the Barnes & Noble Nook line’s incorporation of both a dedicated eReader and a budget Tablet PC has proven a smart move, especially with their managing to classify their tablet as a primarily reading focused device. This does not necessarily mean that the Kindle is doing poorly in any way, but it does indicate fairly well that the expansion of the Kindle line to incorporate a variety of Tablets will come at a great time for Amazon. The eReader market is expected to continue to expand, and IDC has increased their number of expected unit sales for the year. Current forecasts call for 16.2 eReaders shipped worldwide in 2011.
On the tablet front, the iPad and newly released iPad 2 are continuing to dominate the market. Though sales fell short of expectations in the post-holiday season, due to both current economic conditions and certain supply chain issues, there was still noticeable expansion and the rest of the year is looking strong. Worst off have been the iPad’s competitors who choose to concentrate on distribution through telecommunication venues. Due perhaps to customer reluctance to get locked into a monthly fee with their purchases, the demand in these areas is growing comparatively slowly.
Amazon’s anticipated third quarter tablet release is definitely looking like it has a chance at making a major impact on the Tablet PC space. Due to firmly established distribution channels and an existing support structure, the device or devices can expect to be better received than most. Should Amazon meet their expected sales numbers, as estimated from reports of supply orders made in anticipation of the upcoming release, they could jump to a 5% share of the Tablet market within months of release.
Given the success of the Nook line in the eReader market in a period when they were offering a fairly outdated eReader and an underpowered Tablet, it can be assumed that the combination of the current generation Kindle and the upcoming high-powered Kindle Tablet will provide Amazon with just the versatility needed to get firmly in place as a hardware provider in the months ahead.
Still walking around with a first generation Kindle, Nook, or Sony Reader? Barnes & Noble is currently offering incentives to upgrade from any other eReader when you switch to the new Nook Simple Touch eReader. While supplies last, those who choose to take advantage will get themselves a memory card with 30 books on it. Supposedly, it’s a value of over $300. Admittedly when looked at closely it’s an offer of questionable value for the most part, but if you have an older device on your hands and intend to switch anyway then it might be worth the trouble.
All you have to do is bring your old eReader with you to any Barnes & Noble store when you go to buy your new Nook. This isn’t a trade-in program, so they don’t expect you to hand over your old device. Just show up with a Kindle, Sony Reader, Kobo, or whatever you have on hand, and your new Nook will come with a preloaded 2gb SD card.
It is definitely a smart move on behalf of B&N. Trade-in and upgrade programs are always a useful means to promote your new product, especially when that new product genuinely brings something useful to the table like the new Nook does. The only issue I can really see with it is that of how little value the books will provide for most customers. If it were a matter of getting 30 books of your choice, this would unquestionably be worth the trade for a PRS-500 or first generation Kindle even if it did mean handing over the old model, but instead B&N will be choosing your books for you. A collection featuring cookbooks, crossword puzzle compilations, classics, and kids books will probably have something for everybody, but it is hard to imagine any particular person wanting all of it at once. If I were to guess, I would be expecting perhaps 4-5 really enjoyable eBooks for any specific customer.
Normally, the shortcomings associated with this offer would be enough for me to find ways to subtly deride the good people over at B&N for such a paltry offering. The fact is, however, that at the moment there are no competing opportunities on the market, as far as I am aware. It won’t be a huge incentive for most people who are fairly new to eReaders, since you already have to own one to take advantage anyway. It also certainly won’t be enough to pull in many customers who have a latest generation Kindle, since grabbing any books you want out of the offering selection would likely be cheaper than grabbing a second eReader that isn’t compatible with your existing purchases. For people who are unsatisfied with last generation devices, or those with no substantial DRM-protected eBook library, it might be enough to push the decision on an upgrade to Nook over Kindle. The good folks at Barnes & Noble are almost certainly aware of the narrow margin by which they hold the lead right now, so any nudge in the right direction is going to help capitalize on the success.
So, as many of us have observed, the new Nook Simple Touch Reader was recently rated even higher than the long dominant Kindle by Consumer Reports. This is a big deal for B&N since it makes their eReader really stand out as a superior reading device again after a while of being noticeably behind, but it also works out great for the readers since close competition generally means better products and more software updates. What surprised me a bit was the fact that the new Nook seems to be set up with a few unused features in place and ready to go when they next need to bump up the competition. It’s great to see planning for the future like this.
First, we have the unannounced web browsing capabilities. They never advertised it and nobody really expected it, but the Nook has an incredibly basic browser built right in. The problems it has right now make it clear why it wasn’t advertised. It just does not seem ready for significant use. The interface is clunky and the experience is just generally sub-par even compared to other E Ink devices like the Kindle. There are two ways to interpret this. Either B&N rushed out an unfinished product and didn’t bother to disable that part of the firmware, which is possible for all I know, or what people have managed to access is actually the underlying structure of a more functional browser yet to come. I personally don’t think that the release of the new Nook was meant to have a browser at all. It seems like something Barnes & Noble was holding in reserve for the next time they needed something to trump a Kindle update in some way.
Speaking of things held in reserve, we have also learned that the Nook has unannounced and unused Bluetooth capabilities. I don’t know what to really say about this one. At first, it seemed particularly cool. I mean, actual unused hardware capabilities probably meant to be pulled out for something impressive when the situation calls for it. Maybe that’s even really the case. The problem is that I can’t think of many situations where Bluetooth would come in handy in a reading device. Any ideas? Still, it seems like a good idea in theory, I think.
While it is definitely true that the Nook got to the top for the moment simply by imitating the Kindle and dropping the deadweight of its earlier incarnation’s extras, I would say that there is potential for expansion here if customers decide they want more. For now we have a great reading device that simply falls away and lets you read. Everything the Kindle has been pulling off for a long time now. I love mine. I still wouldn’t be surprised to see, at some point, an opening up of the system in a manner similar to what happened with the Nook Color so that apps can be thrown on. I know that some of the same people who found the Nook’s Bluetooth also managed to do things like get the Kindle for Android app running on it, so the potential is there for more than we have so far.