NEW YORK CITY - Barnes & Noble has responded to Amazon's recent revamping of its Kindle line in perhaps the only possible way: announcing an upgraded line of Nook e-readers and tablets that will go toe-to-toe with the online retailer's devices this holiday season.
At the center of Barnes & Noble's reloaded efforts is the Nook Tablet, a 7-inch touch-screen loaded with Android Gingerbread, and designed to not only display e-texts, but also play video. It is evidently meant as a direct competitor to the Kindle Fire, a full-color tablet with easy access to Amazon's online storefront, and will go on sale late next week at a $249 price tag.
Just as the Kindle Fire's hardware looks nearly identical to Research In Motion's PlayBook, having been built by the same manufacturer, Barnes & Noble's Nook Tablet also bears a strong resemblance to a pre-existing device: the Nook Color, the bookseller's first attempt at a full-color tablet.
Rather than offer streaming content to the tablet via its own online store, as Amazon does with the Kindle Fire, Barnes & Noble has chosen to emphasize its partnerships with other content companies, and how the Nook Tablet features applications from the likes of Netflix and Pandora. In a Nov. 7 event here, the bookseller's executives also made head-on comparisons between their device and the Kindle Fire, claiming the Nook Tablet's 16GB storage and IPS-laminated screen make it superior to Amazon's offering.
Unlike Amazon, which offers scores of Android applications via a branded marketplace, Barnes & Noble has chosen to deny Nook Tablet users from full access to the Android Marketplace.
The Nook Tablet also includes a 1GHz dual-core processor and 1GB of RAM. It weighs under a pound and fits comfortably in the hand. Barnes & Noble claims the tablet will offer nine hours' worth of video playback on a single battery charge, or 11.5 hours of e-reading.
Neither Barnes & Noble nor Amazon releases sales numbers for their respective e-readers, although it's generally assumed that the Kindle maintains a healthy market-share lead over the Nook. Last year's Nook Color was seen as a strong competitor to the gray-scale Kindle. The Kindle Fire, which retails for $199 and will ship later this month, negated that advantage; it's also cheaper than the Nook Tablet.
Barnes & Noble also used its Nov. 7 event to announce updates to its gray-scale Nook Simple Touch and the Nook Color, including more powerful software and lower price points. No matter how long those upgrades may have been in the pipeline, the timing of the release draws instant and automatic comparisons to Amazon's own recent updating of its gray-scale Kindle line.
In other words, the two companies seem more poised than ever for a head-on collision.