Barnes & Noble's Nook e-reader shipped slightly more units in March than Amazon.com's Kindle, according to a new report by Digitimes Research, even as the two retailers escalate their battle for the increasingly mainstream e-book market.
According to Mingchi Kuo, an analyst with Digitimes Research, the Nook "accounted for 53 percent of e-book readers shipped to U.S. vendors last month." That figure came from unnamed upstream suppliers.
Kuo added that Barnes & Noble's ability to market the Nook through its bricks-and-mortar stores, along with the comparative newness of the device, were keys to that competitive edge. Neither Barnes & Noble nor Amazon have been inclined to break out exact sales figures for their respective e-readers, although Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos suggested in a December interview with online magazine Slate that Kindle book sales were equivalent to 48 percent of his company's physical book sales.
Whether or not Kuo is correct, competition between Barnes & Noble and Amazon has escalated steadily in recent months. Best Buy recently announced that it would become a retail channel for the Nook, following Amazon's own announcement that it would start selling the Kindle through an expanding number of Target stores starting April 25.
Under the terms of the Best Buy agreement, the Nook's e-reader software will come pre-loaded on a number of PCs and smartphones sold through the retailer. Both Barnes & Noble and Amazon have focused on porting e-reader applications onto a number of devices, including ostensible rival iPad, in a bid to increase the potential audience for their proprietary e-books.
Barnes & Noble announced a software update for its Nook e-reader, including a Web browser and Android-based games, on April 23. Another feature, "Read In Store," allows Nook users to browse the retailer's e-books for free at any Barnes & Noble bookstore, with the entirety of each book accessible for an hour.
"We've also made additional reading and device performance enhancements including improved page turn speed, faster access to previously opened e-books, enhanced color 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."
Those updates to software speed and navigation could be an attempt to address early criticisms of the Nook, which centered on perceived slowness and unpolished features.
Amazon has prepared its own improvements to the Kindle, including the release of an SDK (software development kit) that third-party developers could use to construct games or other applications. The online retailer also recently acquired a startup that specializes in touch-screen technology, suggesting that future versions of the Kindle could feature a multitouch aspect. The Nook features an iPhone-like color screen for navigation and downloading, in addition to its e-ink reading screen; and Apple's iPad, which features an e-books application, is an entirely touch-screen interface.