Barnes & Noble will release an e-reader in late 2009 to compete with Amazon.com's Kindle devices, according to reports, which also suggest that B&N's offering will run a variant of the Google Android operating system.
According to the Wall Street Journal, quoting "people briefed on the matter," the Barnes & Noble device will include a 6-inch multitouch screen with an iPhone-style virtual keyboard. Sources have told Gizmodo that the e-reader will use the Google Android operating system, which could leverage wireless connectivity and applications.
The rumors come just as Amazon.com prepares the Kindle for a large-scale push onto the international scene. On Oct. 7, the online retailer announced that it will slash prices for the original Kindle. A version of the device that can wirelessly download material in the United States and 100 other countries will sell for $279, while a version capable of downloading only in the United States will retail through Amazon.com's online storefront for $259.
The new international Kindle's wireless will be hosted by AT&T, an announcement that will likely irritate Amazon.com's previous wireless provider, Sprint. Previous versions of the Kindle, including the 9.7-inch-screen Kindle DX, will continue to use Sprint, which according to Dow Jones Newswires will continue to have "strategic discussions on an ongoing basis" with the online retailer.
Amazon.com's international customers will have access to 200,000 English-language books, as well as downloads from over 85 U.S. and international magazines and newspapers, including The New York Times, The Daily Telegraph (U.K.) and The Washington Post.
The Kindle's wireless range includes the continental United States, Japan, Europe, and much of Russia, China and South America. However, Bibliophiles in Mongolia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Cuba, and most of Africa and Canada will not have the ability to wirelessly download the e-book version of Dan Brown's latest massacre of the English language.
Amazon.com's extension into international territory was seen as a positive move by some analysts.
"A good proportion of early Kindle adopters have been business travelers, who were frustrated by the inability to download new books outside the country," Larry Fisher, an analyst with NextGen Research, ABI Research's emerging technologies arm, wrote in an e-mail to eWEEK. "It also opens up the rest of the world as potential markets for Amazon and the Kindle, at a time when competing e-book readers have been trying to make the transition from other countries to the U.S. market."
The Kindle originally occupied the lion's share of media attention on e-readers, particularly after Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos launched the Kindle 2 and then the Kindle DX with high-profile events in New York City. That attention at least partially contributed to the uptick in the Kindle's sales, which according to Bezos have brought in 35 percent of his company's recent book-related revenue.
Other e-readers have been trying to muscle in on that potentially lucrative territory, including Sony, which marketed two devices in August with price points of $199 and $299. Still other companies have attempted to target specific customer subsets, including Plastic Logic, which plans on releasing an e-reader in 2010 with a larger screen than the Kindle DX and a wireless broadband connection via AT&T. With the ability to download and display Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and PDF documents, that device will be aimed at the business market. In what may turn out in retrospect to be a bit of competitive irony, Barnes & Noble will reportedly manage the Plastic Logic Reader's e-bookstore.
In addition to Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com also faces potential competition from Apple and its much-rumored tablet PC, which may offer digital books or other media through the iTunes store upon its reported release in early 2010. Analysts have previously predicted that such a multitouch device will sell for $700 to $900.