Barnes & Noble seems determined to blur the line between tablet PC and traditional e-reader, unveiling a full-color Nook at a New York City event Oct. 26. In addition to the 7-inch color display, the Android-based device includes social-networking features via Facebook and Twitter. But will the new Nook actually give the bookseller an advantage over Amazon.com's Kindle?
The latest Nook-which Barnes & Noble has branded Nook Color-allows users to switch between portrait and landscape modes, view content on a screen laminated to reduce glare, and read everything from magazines to children's books in the full color. Features baked into the previous grayscale edition of the Nook-including the ability to lend e-books to other users and play games, such as Sudoku-have been extended to the new one.
The WiFi-enabled device offers 8GB of storage space-enough for around 6,000 books, apparently-and sports a microSD slot for additional memory. The WiFi connection also enables Web surfing, and users can share selected passages from their e-books via Facebook and Twitter.
Barnes & Noble is planning on a Nov. 19 ship date for the Nook Color, which will retail for $249.
This Nook comes in the nick of time for Barnes & Noble. The company faces continued pressure from Amazon.com's Kindle, as well as tablet PCs such as the Apple iPad. Over the past year, Kindle and Nook have engaged in a simultaneous price-slashing and feature-adding war.
In July, Amazon unveiled a third-generation Kindle with a higher contrast e-ink screen, longer battery life, Wikipedia access, support for password-protected PDFs and a more lightweight body. Barnes & Noble evidently decided that a color screen was the way to leapfrog that competition, albeit at the cost of a higher price, lesser battery life and apparent lack of a 3G connection.
However, a color screen and Android apps also edges the Nook towards the realm of tablet PCs, and vicious competitors such as the Apple iPad and the Samsung Galaxy Tab. Those devices include e-reader applications that make them a rival to the Kindle and Nook.
Questions abound. Will consumers gravitate towards the Nook as the most colorful e-reader on the market? Or will they favor the more "PC-like" experience offered by the iPad and its ilk? Then again, might hardcore readers prefer the high-contrast grayscale and longer battery life of the Kindle and previous-edition Nook?
At least one analyst believes the new Nook will change the e-reader game.
"By expanding its offering to include a tablet reader with broader publishing distribution opportunities, Barnes & Noble may have elevated itself to the head of the class," Allen Weiner, an analyst with Gartner, wrote in an Oct. 26 posting on his corporate blog. "The Nook Color, based on its specs, offers the color and rich flexibility of a tablet blended with the reading experience of the gen-one e-ink readers."
A color Nook, Weiner wrote, could challenge Apple's e-reader strategy with the iPad.
"I would say that Apple's iPad suffers a blow as a digital publishing distributor competing head-to-head with tablet reading device from a major bookseller," he added. "Apple has not exactly endeared itself to publishers with its lack of Flash support (although Nook Color won't support Flash at launch), as well as its policy of not sharing consumer data with publishers and its reported entry price to be part of the iAds program."
Analytics firm In-Stat previously estimated e-reader shipments as rising from 12 million units in 2010 to 35 million in 2014. How much of that market will Nook have the knack to claim.