Amazon's Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble's Nook Tablet now seem locked in open battle.
For each company, the stakes are very different. Amazon needed to expand upon its already-successful Kindle line, which until this point had centered on a series of gray-scale e-readers, in a way that allowed it to leverage its already-considerable presence in music and video. The result, the 7-inch Kindle Fire, places it in direct competition with other tablets on the market, including Apple's iPad.
Barnes & Noble's Nook Color, released a year ago, offered some key advantages over those original gray-scale Kindles. The release of the Kindle Fire, however, blunted that edge; the bookseller is now relying on its new Nook Tablet to establish parity, at least in customers' eyes, with Amazon's offerings. The Nook Tablet is priced around $50 higher than the Kindle Fire, although Barnes & Noble executives have argued their device possesses advantages in screen quality and memory capacity.
Amazon began shipping the Kindle Fire to customers Nov. 14. Barnes & Noble followed suit with the Nook Tablet Nov. 16.
The Kindle Fire features tight integration with Amazon's existing video, music and e-book services, along with its branded Appstore for Android. The 7-inch device also leverages a purpose-built "Amazon Silk" browser that relies on the retailer's cloud architecture to speed Web page rendering. It requires WiFi to access streaming content.
The Nook Tablet, also 7 inches, doesn't offer its own streaming video content, instead relying on partnerships with content companies such as Netflix and Pandora. Barnes & Noble also upgraded its gray-scale Nook Simple Touch with more advanced hardware and a lower price point, placing that end of its line on a similar collision-course with Amazon's recently upgraded gray-scale Kindle devices.
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. That being said, the Nook Color managed to carve out some attention and mindshare over the past year. Trust that the two companies, through marketing and other venues, will fight tooth and nail for holiday-shopping dollars, and not only against each other, but also the other color tablets on the market.