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November 2011
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Barnes & Noble Targets Kindle Fire With New Nook Tablet

With the Kindle Fire making such an impression on the Tablet PC marketplace, Barnes & Noble has been placed in a tough spot.  They are quickly coming to rely on their Nook product line and such a thorough triumph over their popular Nook Color would certainly be a tough blow to take.  They had to either put out something big or be left behind.  Fortunately, they’ve managed to come up with an answer.

The new Nook Tablet (that’s it’s name, not a generic designation) amounts to basically a point by point comparison to the Kindle Fire and may go a fair way toward explaining some of the popular bookseller’s more unexpected moves lately.  Here’s what we know so far:

Specs:

Display: 7″ VividView IPS LCD Multi- Touch
1024 x 600, 169 PPI
Processor: 1GB Dual-Core TI OMAP4 Processor
Memory: 1GB
Storage: 16GB Internal (~12GB Available)
Expandable Storage Slot via microSD Up To 32GB
Free Cloud Storage via Nook Cloud
Audio: Stereo Speakers w/ Mic
Dimensions: 8.1″ x 5.0″ x 0.48″
Weight: 14.1 ounces
Battery Life: Up To 11.5 Hours Reading
Up To 9 Hours Video Playback
3 Hour Charge Time
Bundled Apps: Netflix, Hulu Plus, Pandora, and More
Price: $249
Release Date: 11 / 18 / 2011

Selling Points

Sounds a lot like the Kindle Fire, even if it looks identical to the existing Nook Color.  It might be 25% more expensive, but for that money you get a device that’s lighter, faster, and holds more.  Sounds great, right?  The differences are not extreme.  You save about half an ounce in terms of weight, 6GB of usable internal storage space, and a bit more RAM.  Even the advertised battery life is just slightly better, offering perhaps 90 minutes more video playback time under ideal circumstances.

What Amazon has been pushing, however, is the media.  Barnes & Noble has not been able to offer comparable content so far for their Nook Color’s App Store, so it was important that they be able to bring something to the table here.  Bundling with Hulu and Netflix will go a long way toward making up for the lack of an integrated video store, of course.  That was the whole point of pushing them, despite the fact that they will also be available for the Kindle.  The bookstore is obviously pretty good already, and they’ve been at the color eBooks game a bit longer than Amazon so hopefully they have a good grasp on things there.  Even music is covered thanks to Pandora and other similar services.

Perhaps the most surprising thing is the idea of Nook Cloud Storage.  We don’t have many details on that yet, but it accomplishes another aspect of the Amazon comparison in a vague fashion.  Chances are good that this will not be available for anything besides content purchased through B&N, but that is just speculation so far.

Barnes & Noble is claiming to have a screen superior to that on the Kindle Fire.  It is honestly hard to assess right now since they’re somewhat invested in the comparison.  It might be advisable to reserve judgement on that point until a side by side comparison can be arranged.

They are also making a big deal out of their new Nook Comics line.  This could explain a great deal of why they got so dramatically and publicly upset over DC Comics forming an exclusive deal of any sort with Amazon in preparation for the Kindle Fire launch.  B&N is now boasting the largest collection of digital Marvel comics brought together so far for a single device.  It’s an accomplishment, though there is no notice of exclusivity and therefore no reason to believe this will be a major factor moving forward.

Probably drawing on the same sort of technology that allows for those comics, though, is a new Nook Book category called PagePerfect.  Going off of what information is currently around, this is less an imitation of the new Kindle Format 8 and more a proprietary PDF imitation.  Static formatting, zooming, scrolling, etc.  The only obvious difference is that Adobe isn’t involved.

 Which To Buy

Now that we have a couple of competing budget media tablets to choose from, which is worth the money?  It depends on your needs.  The Nook Color, and by extension the new Nook Tablet since it is just a more powerful version of the same, is primarily an eReader.  Barnes & Noble has done a fairly good job of shoring up their shortcomings by bringing in excellent integration with other content providers, there is no substitute for direct support and every reason to believe that those same providers will be serving up media to Kindle Fire customers as well.

The price is a bit off-putting, now that we’re talking about tablets cheap enough for $50 to make a big difference, but you do admittedly get more power for the price.  While claims about the screen quality remain unproven, the extra RAM will make a difference and additional on-board storage will be a big deal for some.

As usual, which device you go for will depend on your needs as a consumer.  At this point it seems that Amazon is offering a clearly superior library of media to choose from, especially if you take all types of media together. They’ve also done a great job, by most preliminary accounts, of customizing and streamlining their Android Fork to make the Kindle Fire both look unique and perform more impressively than its specs might indicate.

On the other hand, Barnes & Noble is offering what is arguably the better dollar to power ratio.  This will be most important for people wanting to root the device and just exploit its most basic hardware capabilities.  That might be a smaller percentage of the intended user base, but it is worth addressing.  The Nook Tablet also comes closer to offering a stock Android experience, for those who are concerned about potential privacy concerns related to Amazon’s Silk browser and other cloud based services.  They are also more focused on building up the color eReader market, and you can count on Barnes & Noble to maintain the eBook as their primary concern for the indefinite future.

The choice will be up to you and the distinctions are honestly fairly slight right now.  What is most important is that the Kindle Fire might have some valid competition after all.  Competition always leads to improvement.  Just look at how far the Nook Tablet is beyond the Nook Color.

Kindle Fire Demand Exceeds Expectations

So, clearly the Kindle Fire was destined to be a big thing from the moment it was announced.  In addition to being a part of the bestselling Kindle line, the pricing alone would have been sufficient to make people sit up and take notice.  Not many people expected anything less than $250 before the press conference, especially not a full 20% less.  It seems that even Amazon wasn’t expecting how much attention their new tablet would get them, though.

Recent analyst estimates have indicated that since pre-orders began on the Kindle Fire, currently scheduled to begin shipping by November 15th, as many as 50,000 units per day have been sold.  On the first day alone, as many as 95,000 pre-sales are believed to have occured.  In light of this, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has announced that he has dramatically increased the number of units ordered for this year’s production. Even he apparently wasn’t quite ready for the splash being made.

In addition to the fact that the Kindle Fire is priced so impressively competitively, seeming to have single-handedly caused a drastic drop in Android tablet prices over the past few weeks, the company has brought a lot to bear on the new product to make it appealing for customers, new and old alike.  While the obvious connection to the other Kindles exists, this is not primarily intended to serve as an eReading device.  The Kindle App still works well, and the color screen will allow for a large variety of content that has as yet been unable to join in on the eReader fun, but there is a lot more going on.

Amazon Instant Video, for example, will probably serve as the greatest draw for most people.  While the new tablet will only have 8GB of storage space onboard, the Android operating system included has been highly customized to allow the greatest possible integration with Amazon’s web services.  This means that if you have a wireless network handy, Amazon will be able to bring you any video content you have access to at a moment’s notice.  They’ll even save your stopping point for later if you set something down for whatever reason.  This service has been undergoing fairly constant expansion in recent months with tens of thousands of new titles being added as deals come together with new providers.  A fair percentage of this video content is even freely available with Amazon Prime subscription, a free month of which will accompany every device.

Given how appealing the media consumption angle is likely to be for customers, it is not at all surprising to see how hard Amazon is pushing the Kindle Fire.  While some analysts are convinced that they are losing as much as $10 on every tablet sold, creating the sort of long lasting customer relationship that this has the potential to form can only be good in the long term.  It might not be poised to overthrow the iPad any time soon, but the justifiable excitement over the newest Kindle is hard to ignore.