We’ve recently talked about the release of the new Kindle Fire HD 8.9”. It’s a solid device that gives every indication of being worth an investment. While not quite as versatile as many Android tablets due to Amazon’s proprietary software configuration that prevents access to the Google Play service, there is little else to complain about and a lot to be excited for. Some reports indicate that between this and the 7” model, Amazon’s tablets will outsell the iPad Mini 2 to 1 over the upcoming holiday season.
All that sounds great for Amazon and it’s definitely a sign that they will remain a major part of the Android tablet scene for some time to come. They may be in trouble as time goes on, however. The problem is not what many people have expected. The iPad is hard to compete against, but the surge in video game consoles with touchscreen accessories may hit Amazon in a major way.
The Wii U just dropped, which is what brings this to mind. Nintendo’s new console comes with a controller that doubles as a tablet. It offers a supplementary second display that should come in handy in everything from game play to movie watching. Sure, it requires a Wii U console to work, but that also allows the user to tap into a wide selection of content associated with that system.
Microsoft is also said to be working on a 7” tablet to supplement the Xbox 360 and the as-yet unannounced Xbox 720. Their Smartglass software already allows anybody with a portable device (smartphone or tablet), or even a convenient PC, to tap into the console experience. The Xbox Tablet, as it’s being called, will offer many of the same benefits that the Wii U controller boasts as well as serving the role of standalone portable.
Now, the main use of the Kindle Fire line is in consumption. Amazon designed them for that purpose and there has been no real effort to make them into anything but a convenient gateway into Amazon’s digital content selection. This means that in many ways the same customers they are looking at attracting are also likely to be interested in gaming and entertainment consoles, for obvious reasons. If we’re looking at a class of devices that are exceedingly popular and tie into their own proprietary tablets, as in the case of these consoles, it may cut into Kindle Fire prospects.
While this is all speculation, I can’t help but feel that Amazon is going to have to come up with some special service that distinguishes their hardware offering in the next year or so. The budget tablet market is still going strong, but there are a lot of big names that seem about as well equipped as Amazon who are set to enter the market. Since all the digital content sold through the company is meant to be platform-agnostic, there’s going to need to be something special done. Otherwise it’s only a matter of time before the iPad is just one of many strong competitors for the Kindle Fire HD.
As the rumors grew more intense and details began to leak from production line sources about the reality of Apple’s new device, it became fairly common to see “hold off on any purchases until the iPad Mini is ready” posted as advice. There is even reason to believe that many people took that advice, it turns out. Amazon put out a statement recently indicating that the 24rd of October (One day after Apple’s iPad Mini launch event) was “the $199 Kindle Fire HD‘s biggest day of sales since launch”.
Some of the lack of interest in the iPad Mini has to come from its shockingly high price. At $329 for the basic unit it is hard to compete with the $199 Kindle Fire HD in a market oriented toward people wanting to spend less for their tablet. That extra $130 is a huge step above the prices of 7” tablets that Apple has openly shown they intend to compete with.
More importantly, the Kindle Fire HD has a superior display. Now display isn’t everything, but it’s a lot. Apple has largely maintained their advantage in tablets by offering some of the best visual performance money can buy. A tablet, like a smartphone, is basically a handheld screen; nothing could be more apparent as a selling point. Amazon and Google have had to price their tablets at cost in order to compete with the iPad up until now, but with better prices AND better visuals the competition is more than weighted against Apple for once.
The spec comparisons largely go in this direction. Apple cut so much out of their device that just about all it has going for it is the slightly larger screen size (7.9” vs 7”) and the name “iPad”.
It’s possible that the iOS ecosystem will overcome these deficits. It certainly will be the biggest factor in driving sales. As more and more developers optimize their apps for the iPad 3’s A5X processor and the iPad 4’s A6X processor, however, people using the iPad Mini’s A5 processor might find their experience increasingly lacking. Anecdotes of iPhone 4 owners unhappy with the problems created by iOS 6 performance are common enough to make this particularly important. We’re talking about a device using roughly the same technology as the iPad 2 at a time when the iPad 4 is headlining.
There is still every reason for Amazon to be concerned about their chances in the larger tablet market. The 4th Generation iPad was updated to compete with the sort of powerful Windows 8 tablets beginning to hit the market and it is hard to imagine that even the $200 price difference in favor of the Kindle Fire HD 8.9” will be enough to drive sales in the face of those competitors unless Amazon does some serious expansion of their content ecosystem before the November 20th release date.
In terms of smaller tablets, it’s fair to say that the big names to watch right now are Google, Amazon, and maybe Barnes & Noble. Apple has priced their option right out of the running, given what it’s made of. As much as I like the Kindle Fire, it would have been great to get some even more intense competition to push things forward. It’s a disappointment that Apple didn’t come through here.
Well, I’ve been proven wrong before and it’s happened again. Contrary to my previous expectations, Apple has finally come out with an iPad Mini to exploit the market for 7” tablets currently occupied almost entirely by the Kindle Fire and Nexus 7. Apparently they were willing to swallow their pride and cut costs and profits to the point where it’s hard not to consider an iPad instead for all your budget tablet needs! Ok…not so much.
Apple made the dubious decision to price the iPad Mini starting at $329. This means that the basic model will be $170 more than the Kindle Fire and $130 more than the Kindle Fire HD and Nexus 7. When we’re talking about devices that are popular at least in part due to their affordability, it’s insane to think that the iPad Mini can compete with comparably performing products running from 48-60% its price.
This is, of course, an iPad we’re talking about. It will do well. Part of that is due to the overwhelming weight that Apple’s reputation with consumers carries. An Apple product will meet with a disproportionately high number of people willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. More importantly, it is an iPad and therefore connected to the established iOS ecosystem.
Even if the hardware is inferior (and it is, which we’ll get to in a moment), having the ability to pull from the 250,000+ iPad apps currently in circulation is a big advantage. Realistically Android has comparable selections available, and nobody is ever going to find themselves wondering “would be life be complete if there were only 1,200 more tablet-optimized apps I could buy today”, but the side by side comparison of app ecosystems is still unequivocally in Apple’s favor.
Courtesy of CNET
We have to wonder if this will be enough to push the product this time around. Consider the specs to the right, courtesy of CNET’s Jessica Dolcourt. The practically iconic point of superiority for iPads, the high quality display, is missing. In this case we get a larger 7.9” screen at a lower resolution than either of its two main competitors. The lower weight is nice, though not a huge difference. The A5 processor is quite outdated by comparison at this point. Even the onboard storage presents a problem since Apple is charging a $100 fee for each level of upgrade compared to Google and Amazon’s $50 (Google is rumored to be refreshing the Nexus 7 shortly to use 16GB as the baseline for their $199 model as well).
I’m going to have to call this a failed effort on Apple’s part. They will get their piece of the 7” tablet market, I’m sure, but they won’t be able to dominate it like the larger playing field. The only really appealing aspect of the iPad Mini is the cellular connectivity and even that adds another 30+% to the base price. The Kindle Fire HD is in no danger here, at least until the 8.9” model is released and we can start drawing comparisons with the real iPad.
There were few things about the Kindle Fire’s release that sparked more attention than the Carrousel home screen. This approach set the Kindle Fire apart from other Android tablets by creating a simpler, more intuitive user experience. Naturally that, alongside Amazon’s locking users into their ecosystem, drew fire from critics who prefer a more configurable, personalizable interface and a device that can tap into Google’s large app selection. The real problem it caused, however, was less bound to a particular view of how the Android experience should be presented and more in its complete lack of user controls.
For the most part, this boiled down to privacy. The Kindle Fire, when it was released, could not reasonably be considered a family-friendly device. In many cases it couldn’t even be comfortably used as a multi-user device. The Carrousel displayed everything that was accessed, in the order it was accessed, along with every piece of media attached to the user’s account. It’s hard enough to overlook the potential for embarrassment in that arrangement among adults, but this made it more or less impossible for parents to use their Kindle Fire while moderating the content that children might be exposed to.
This has since been fixed, of course. The Carrousel offers deletion, parents are able to control more aspects of their child’s access (with even more coming soon thanks to Kindle FreeTime), and privacy is restored. Barnes & Noble, possibly in response to precisely this debacle, has come up with what is probably an even better set of user-profile features than the Kindle Fire HD now offers or can be expected to offer with the release of Kindle FreeTime.
The details are understandably vague at this point. The Nook HD is not out until November 1st and some of the software is clearly still being fine-tuned, making over-promising a real possibility if they aren’t careful. Still, what we know now is enough to declare this a highly family-friendly feature.
Each Nook HD owner will be able to create up to six Nook Profiles. These will be theoretically autonomous, including their accessible content. Each profile will have its own private library, though clearly the owner will have override control to a large extent that should allow simple sharing between these. In addition to personalized content collections, users will be able to tailor all personalization options independently. The Nook Tablet doesn’t offer much in the way of visual customization, but it doesn’t offer as little as the Kindle Fire either so this could be quite handy.
This makes the situation for parents a bit better as well. Barnes & Noble is pushing the children’s eBook market fairly hard still and the Nook HD is no exception. Using Nook Profiles, parents will be able to separate their kids’ books from the main library so that they won’t have to worry about them while looking through more adult-friendly content. The parental controls will still apply to a child’s profile, of course, but should be able to be bound specifically to that profile. If you password protect your personal profile, this means that it’s reasonable to use the Nook HD normally without entering in a PIN constantly.
The Kindle Fire HD now has some great parental control options, soon including a finer level of control than anything offered by the competition right now if the FreeTime claims are to be believed, but this is a case where the Nook HD is noticeably superior. Barnes & Noble really wants the family-oriented customers and it shows.
Obviously the Nook Tablet hasn’t done quite as well as Barnes & Noble hoped it would. While the hardware was a definite step up from the Kindle Fire from the start, their inability to bundle the same quantity and quality of non-eBook content had an effect on adoption rates. Now, with the Kindle Fire HD poised to bring Amazon back into the front of the Android tablet market for the first time since Google announced the Nexus 7, Barnes & Noble has come up with some much stronger competition.
The Nook HD is priced at $199, just like the Kindle Fire HD. It has a higher resolution (1440 x 900) and a smaller hard drive (though a 16GB model can bring that spec even with the Kindle Fire’s basic model for only $30 more). The processor on the new Nook is 1.3GHz, which gives it a slight edge in power as well. It even has a microSD slot, which is one of the features Amazon seems to be making a conscious effort to avoid. Overall we’re looking at a nearly identical device with small points of superiority here and there.
There are a few points where the Kindle Fire HD still stands alone, however, and they may be particularly important. Since the major purpose of this variety of tablet is media consumption, we have to assume that there is some video viewing planned for the average user.
The Kindle Fire HD’s Dolby sound system and stereo speakers are widely considered to be the best tablet sound system on the market today regardless of the device size or price. That’s a big step away from the old Kindle Fire’s lackluster audio performance and will be attractive.
The Kindle’s superior wireless capabilities and larger hard drive only serve to push it further ahead. If the goal is to enjoy the best possible viewing experience, the ability to stay connected, download quickly, and store more will obviously come in handy.
The deciding factor as far as overall success, however, is going to still be the content ecosystem. A media tablet that has nothing in the way of media to serve up is clearly unappealing. Amazon has the lead on this, having both a head start and a huge presence in practically every aspect of digital media distribution. Barnes & Noble is stepping up to at least stay competitive until they can develop a more robust selection, though. Nook Cloud and Nook Video are good examples, even if they are still a bit unfinished-feeling.
While I don’t think that the Nook HD can necessarily compete on even terms with the Kindle Fire HD for the price, the Nook HD+ might be able to pull it off. The 9” Nook HD+ offers comparable hardware to the Kindle Fire HD 8.9” for $30 less than Amazon’s $299 asking price. It’s easier to overlook a couple shortcomings for a discount.
Whether or not they can pull ahead with an offering like this remains to be seem. Nothing about the new Nook tablets stands out as a major downside except perhaps the limited Barnes & Noble ecosystem. This launch demonstrates a commitment to stay in the market for a while, so maybe even that will see rapid improvements as time goes on. It’s good to see a situation like this where nobody can pull ahead as the clearly superior option.
It took a while for Amazon to get the Kindle Paperwhite ready for production. The months since the Nook Simple Touch w/ Glowlight was released have been problematic for the Kindle line, as customers had to consider the fact that there was no comparable Amazon offering. A lit screen with none of the shortcomings of the backlit LCD is a huge factor in creating the best possible reading experience and Barnes & Noble managed to get it to their customers first.
According to both the specs released and any number of reviewers, however, the new Kindle Paperwhite is noticeably superior to the Nook Simple Touch in a number of ways including that lighting. There isn’t much that can be done to recreate features like X-Ray on short notice, or to replace the screen being used on the Nook. That sort of thing will have to wait until at least the next big product release. Even the superior lighting capabilities of the Kindle Paperwhite are Amazon exclusives at the moment. The best that can be done to keep the competition alive is a price drop.
The Nook Simple Touch w/ Glowlight is now available for $119 both in stores and on the Barnes & Noble website. This matches the price of the cheaper, ad-supported Kindle Paperwhite. The timing of the price drop makes it clear that this was a reactionary move, though probably one that was planned in advance and merely waiting on the final price set by Amazon.
That new price will at least keep the superficial comparison about even, especially for customers who don’t care much about getting the absolute best hardware and for those who like having access to the advantages provided to Nook owners in local brick and mortar outlets. The associated product line, filled out as it is with a new set of low cost tablets, certainly won’t hurt reactions either.
While the Nook Tablet has been looking a bit dated, the new Nook HD tablet is a huge improvement. They did essentially the same thing that was accomplished with the original Nook Tablet vs Kindle Fire competition. Amazon has the superior content ecosystem and a decent device, but B&N trumped a number of hardware features while matching the price. Oddly enough, while the screen on the Nook HD is slightly high resolution it does lack cameras and comes with significantly less storage space then the Kindle Fire HD (when comparing base models). The lack of ad support and therefore a need to opt-out of on-device advertising is not a small advantage to offset that.
Realistically, a point by point comparison of the products leaves Amazon firmly ahead in the Kindle vs Nook competition again whether we’re talking tablets or eReaders. It isn’t enough of a lead to make the Nook unable to compete and it certainly won’t end the competitor’s prospects, but this latest price drop does highlight the fact that Barnes & Noble knows they will need to stretch a bit if they want to continue gaining market share this holiday season despite the Paperwhite‘s strong showing.
The Nook Tablet, while a fine device and superior to the Kindle Fire in several subtle ways, has not really managed to achieve the kind of popularity that the Kindle Fire enjoys. It definitely does well, but compared to the lively Kindle vs Nook competition in US eReader markets something is lacking. Seeing as Barnes & Noble is reliant on the success of the Nook line to keep their business going at this point, though, they can’t really afford to let the Kindle competition to get too far ahead in either price or power.
I’ve mentioned here previously that there are hints cropping up that point to a new Nook Tablet in the works. That would be expected even if Amazon were not on the verge of releasing the Kindle Fire 2, thanks to Google’s Nexus 7 tablet. The Nexus 7 has gotten huge responses since its unveiling and proves difficult for the software giant to keep in stock. Many view its release as the end of the existing Kindle Fire’s dominance over Android. Since the Nook Tablet’s main claim to fame was that it provided superior technical power for about the same price as the competition, a popular device put out by Google that includes both superior hardware specs and a clean version of the most up to date Android OS is a major threat.
Still, even with that taken into consideration we have to wonder how much of what is going on over at Barnes & Noble is preparation for the Kindle Fire 2. They have recently slashed the price of the 16GB Nook Tablet by 20% to $200, finally matching the Kindle Fire’s pricing, and lowered the Nook Color’s price to just $149. The Nook Color may be more than a little bit obsolete at this point, but it is also still a good deal at that price and might be among the most easily rooted devices on the market. Keeping it around at a lower price makes sense in the same way that Amazon’s offering a highly limited Kindle eReader for only $79 does.
While I can’t necessarily speak too highly of the overall Nook Tablet experience provided by Barnes & Noble compared to that of the Kindle Fire, this is an excellent way to take advantage of low pricing to grab a 7” tablet with a bit of extra power and storage space if you don’t feel like waiting on a Google delivery. My recommendation would be to wait at least a week while we see what Amazon has in store for their next tablet, which is likely to be priced to match, especially since the Kindle Fire 2 is likely to be officially announced any day now. If you can’t wait, there are far worse options to choose from than the Nooks.
One of the reasons that mobile app developers make more by selling through Amazon than they do in Google Play’s app store, and they make significantly more, is the comparative ease of purpose. Since the Kindle Fire and the Amazon Appstore for Android in general are linked to a user’s Amazon.com account and therefore their stored payment options, anything the user desires is just a click away. Impulse purchases are almost dangerously simple and the whole ecosystem is set up to encourage frequent indulgence.
By comparison, Google Wallet has largely been a failure. It was always just a bit too clunky to use easily and customers are far less likely to offhandedly make $0.99 purchases here and there when they have to put work into making it happen. For a number of reasons, mostly having little to do with app sales, Google has finally addressed the problem and made everything simpler.
The new and improved Google Wallet might be compared to Google Voice. You have an account number for your wallet and it simply links through to your preferred stored payment option. Their new approach allows users to make use of any credit or debit card without going to the trouble of repeatedly entering its information. For the app side of things, this ends up working much like Amazon’s one-click purchasing.
The main motivation for this change is actually point of purchase transactions. Much like PayPal’s current experiments with Home Depot, which allow customers to pay using their PayPal defaults, Google Wallet can theoretically be used to turn a smartphone into a valid option for retail purchasing. Since that option requires the user to have an NFC-enabled phone and the store in question to be equipped to accept such transactions, this is still of limited use for many people. Adoption of such options is increasing rapidly, though, so the push makes sense.
The big issue that may now finally be settled is that of whether Amazon’s Appstore provides better compensation because of its content and implementation or just because of the convenience. The curated selection offered by Amazon does tend to lend itself to higher quality apps with little of the deliberately exploitative content that remains common on Google Play, but it results in a somewhat weaker selection. This might be Google’s chance to catch up.
Realistically it’s going to be a long while before the developer compensation rate matches between the two stores, if it happens at all. The Kindle Fire is still the largest Android Tablet presence at the moment regardless of the superior performance and popular reception of Google’s Nexus 7. If the Kindle Fire 2 is not a complete failure then it’s hard to imagine things being completely turned around. Narrowing the gap is a good step, though. I’ve mentioned here before that close competition is good for the consumer and that remains as true in the Amazon vs Google sales comparison as it has been in the Kindle vs Nook contest.
A recent report through CNET indicates that Barnes & Noble is preparing to combat the anticipated Kindle Fire 2 release with a new and improved model of their Nook Tablet. Very little is known so far when it comes to details about the device, but it seems that the new Nook will still be focused on being an eReader first and a tablet second. There are a couple different ways that this becomes important.
The biggest selling point, according to this admittedly preliminary report, will be a new sort of screen technology never before seen in the tablet market. This could mean any number of things, but seeing as Barnes & Noble is more concerned with the implementation of high quality reading applications there is a good chance that it will be battery efficient, easy on the eyes, and otherwise well suited to extended user focus.
Given their failure to seize a significant portion of the Android tablet market thus far, it would be unrealistic to speculate about a high resolution, high pixel density screen along the lines of what is used in the latest iPads and iPhones. That isn’t the sort of direct competition that would go well for the company no matter how invested they are in the future of the Nook line.
Despite their inability to make much of a dent in Android, however, the new Nook Tablet will definitely be remaining with the OS. There has been some speculation among analysts that the recent Microsoft investment in the product line would lead to a Windows 8 powered Nook, but that will not be happening just yet.
Microsoft’s announcement of the Surface tablet line was enough of an upset to their OEM partners that it seems unlikely they will enter the budget tablet market any time soon. Without their direct involvement, and the waiver of licensing fees that would have to come with it, the price of running Windows 8 remains too high for any 7” tablet priced to compete.
Obviously the hardware specifications will be closely equated to the Kindle Fire 2. Even if the Kindle Fire sold better by quite a lot, the Nook Tablet was practically a point by point demonstration of one-upmanship on that side of things and there is not likely to be much of a change despite the intrusion of Google’s Nexus 7 into the marketplace.
Where they really have to work is in media services. Both the Kindle Fire and the Nexus 7 do far better at getting users the content they want when they want it. There isn’t much point in offering nice hardware if it is hard to find something to use it for. A Microsoft tie-in here would make a lot of sense, especially given the software giant’s recent interest in expanding their Xbox Live media services. Streaming to Nook Tablets would help things along and save Barnes & Noble money on infrastructure development.
The Nook Tablet vs Kindle Fire decision will likely come down to an evaluation of this “revolutionary” new screen. If it is truly amazing and half as unique as claimed then Barnes & Noble will have a major advantage. If not, the Kindle Fire will still offer more content, better integration, and a smoother custom Android interface. They are both said to be coming out for just $200, but the Kindle Fire has far less to prove.
The new Nook Tablet is expected to be released in late September or October of 2012.
As was bound to happen eventually, Barnes & Noble has joined Amazon in offering a browser-based reading solution for their Nook customers. Since last August, the Kindle Cloud Reader has been offering the same capabilities to users of the competing platform. The current promotion set to launch Nook for Web, as the new application has been dubbed, offers users six free best sellers for giving it a try. Both the promo and the features make this worth taking a look at.
To try it out for yourself, simply head over to the Nook for Web site. Currently supported browsers include Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. In the preview, you can choose from any of the six selections available in this promotion. You get the first portion of the book immediately with no need to establish a Barnes & Noble account. This allows you to check out the features of the web app and see for yourself if it meets a need. Should you like what you see, these books are available for download through a link at the end of their sample portion.
In terms of features, Nook for Web is definitely competitive with the Kindle Cloud Reader. You can choose from eight font sizes, eight font styles, and a set of different page layouts. The default layout will take into account the width of your browser window and decide whether or not you need two columns for an optimal reading experience. If you don’t like the choice it makes, you can also choose to go with the publisher’s default layout preference or restrict things to a single page no matter the width of the window. At this time you can’t force a two column view.
Pull-down menus let you access the table of contents on the fly, as well as use the Nook platform’s social networking features and access information about the title you have open. The whole package fits well in Barnes & Noble’s established eBook platform and you can see where they have made efforts to keep the experience consistent for existing users. Obviously any books you already own for your Nook will be available to you as soon as you log in.
In some ways B&N has done a great job of meeting the needs of their community here. The features are sound and compatibility is extensive. They have even made Nook for Web work in Internet Explorer, which the Kindle Cloud Reader still does not do. On the other hand, they are missing compatibility with non-desktop browsers and I think that is going to hurt adoption.
The motivation behind the Kindle Cloud Reader was Amazon’s need to get around Apple’s restrictive terms and conditions for in-app sales. As such, iPad and iPhone owners were the priority in its development. Launching without letting those users take part in the new service immediately costs Barnes & Noble the chance to pull in some potential converts from the Kindle Platform. No matter how many people use Internet Explorer, and that isn’t a small number, the percentage of people who read on their mobile device is far higher.
It doesn’t hurt to take advantage of this promo (available through 7/26) even if you’re otherwise a Kindle customer. A free book is a free book. To gain access to the complete text of each title, you will need to create an account. Other than that, there’s no hoop to jump through. Having tried both, I definitely prefer the Kindle Cloud Reader. This is a good first step in what could eventually be a really impressive web app, though.