Barnes & Noble's Nook e-reader is now available in two versions, with the bookseller issuing a cheaper WiFi-only device to complement its original 3G-equipped one. The rollout comes as Barnes & Noble finds itself competing not only with Amazon.com's popular Kindle e-reader, but also the Apple iPad, which features an e-reader application.
Barnes & Noble also lowered the price of the original Nook from $259 to $199. The WiFi-only Nook, which will retail for $149 when it begins shipping this week, is 7 ounces lighter than its older sibling, with a white back panel instead of the 3G-enabled version's gray. Owners of either version can receive a free connection at all AT&T hot spots.
Not to be outdone, Amazon.com announced June 21 that it will slash the price of the Kindle from $259 to $189, undercutting the original Nook's price.
Barnes & Noble's hardware announcement comes almost exactly two months after the bookseller announced a major software update for its e-reader, which included a Web browser and Android-based games. Another new feature, "Read in Store," allows Nook readers to browse the retailer's ebooks for free at any Barnes & Noble bookstore, at least for an hour.
"We've also made additional reading and device performance enhancements including improved page turn speed, faster access to previously opened ebooks, enhanced touch-screen navigation and more," Paul Hochman, manager of Content and Social Media at BarnesandNoble.com, wrote in an April 23 posting on the Nook and BN eReader blog. "The new features and additional enhancements are available with the updated Nook software now available via manual download at www.nook.com/update."
Early criticisms of the Nook, when it was released in time for the holiday 2009 shopping season, centered on its perceived slowness and unpolished interface.
The Nook's improvements parallel those of the Kindle, which Amazon has positioned as a spectacular success despite refusing to reveal sales numbers. Recent Kindle upgrades include the release of an SDK (software development kit) for third-party developers to use in creating games or other applications. Its latest software update, dubbed Version 2.5, includes Collections, a feature that organizes books or documents into specific categories; Popular Highlights, which displays passages in a particular book that the Kindle community finds most interesting; and the ability to share ebook passages via Facebook and Twitter.
Although e-readers were dismissed by some analysts as a niche item, both the Nook and Kindle proved to be bestsellers during the 2009 holiday season. During this January's Consumer Electronics Show, a number of smaller firms debuted e-reader devices, although many of those have failed to materialize in the marketplace in any meaningful way. All those manufacturers, however, face a rising threat from the Apple iPad, which has sold more than 2 million units since its April debut and offers an e-reader application with a color screen.
Barnes & Noble is evidently hoping that lower-cost Nooks will help it gain an advantage in the increasingly crowded field.