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.
Barnes & Noble has finally begun to spin off their Nook brand into its own subsidiary company and Microsoft has jumped at the opportunity to be a major part of that effort. According to an announcement released jointly this Monday, the software giant will be investing $300 Million into the Nook business thereby acquiring 17.6% equity stake. This could be bad news for Amazon’s Kindle line, which is already facing some of its toughest competition to date in the realm of eReading thanks to the new Nook Simple Touch w/ GlowLight.
Making things even more pleasant for B&N, this arrangement will also involve the settlement of Microsoft’s ongoing patent litigation the bookseller over certain aspects of the Nook’s design. Microsoft will now be picking up royalties for all Nook products, but in the end this may result in significant savings compared to the cost of legal defense. Whether or not that is the case, and admittedly I’m not a lawyer so it is purely speculative, this partnership will open up some major new opportunities for advancing the Nook.
In the immediate future we can expect a Nook app for Windows 8. This will be an important development for both companies as Microsoft is betting big on the potential for tablets using their new OS while Barnes & Noble will need to be ready for the next major push in operating systems. The nature of the Metro UI that Windows 8 (and its ARM compatible offshoot Windows RT) uses will actually create an even better reading experience than existing Windows reading apps if done right.
More long-term, Microsoft has already alluded to an interest in using Windows 8 to gain a foothold in the eReader market. While this was mostly an offhanded remark at a recent event, and could therefore have been meant as a subtle emphasis on how adaptable their new operating system is, buying into as big a player in eReading as the Barnes & Noble Nook line is a fair indication that something more serious is going on.
In the face of this, Amazon has to be wondering what to do next with the Kindle line. While the Kindle Fire is coming out on top of every other Android tablet on the market today, their Android fork might not quite compare to a properly configured Windows 8 installation powering the next Nook Tablet. Nothing stops Amazon from following suit and licensing the new OS themselves, of course, but this would likely lose them the ability to completely control the user experience enjoyed under the existing system. Microsoft will certainly allow locked-down version of their software to circulate, but fragmenting the Metro UI is not going to happen.
This might end up being the first step in a major Android vs Windows 8 fight. The Kindle Fire holds the majority of non-iPad tablet users, but if a new Nook offered superior hardware and an operating system that shines when compared to Android without increasing the price significantly then the tables could turn. Amazon still has their content distribution and the tight integration that gives them the edge, but the next Kindle Fire might need to be especially impressive to keep consumer interest going.
The biggest complaint about eReaders since Day 1 has been the fact that you can’t read them in the dark. Now, normally I’m the first to call out such complaints as poorly informed since they tend to involve comparisons between E Ink Kindles and LCD alternatives. Apparently that will no longer be an important distinction soon. The Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight has begun shipping ahead of schedule and should already be in the hands of many of the earliest preorder customers.
Now that there are actual devices available for review it is possible to make a more informed comparison. We can start with the Nook Simple Touch that we already know and love. The differences between the two models are minimal. The new incarnation has a gray border around the outer edge of the device, but it is otherwise hard to tell them apart. It apparently has an screen protector to reduce glare laminated to the display, but this does not reduce clarity in any significant way even in side by side comparisons. There is no essential loss involved in the addition of the new technology.
What you gain by going with the GlowLight version of the Nook Simple Touch is fairly impressive. Any other additions aside, the lighting feature is the important part. It is not, as some have claimed, an example of back-lit E Ink. The new Nook uses a type of LED-lit front-lighting to spread the illumination evenly without causing any significant increase in eye strain. Unlike the situation for many reading on something like the Nook Tablet or Kindle Fire, there will be no noticeable discomfort due to the light even after hours of extended use. It also does not drain the battery in a shocking fashion. While I have not had a chance to map out the exact side by side comparisons in battery life with the original Nook Simple Touch, the drain from the GlowLight feature seems to pale in comparison to the WiFi connectivity that comes standard in every device.
There are downsides, as always, but in this case they are minimal. The extra forty dollars added to a $99 eReader is a fairly big jump, but the expanded number of potential use environments will likely more than make up for that in the eyes of many. There is currently no option to get this model with 3G connectivity or integrated audio.
The Kindle has a lot of catching up to do. While they still have what is arguably the best eBook selection on the net, this development puts Amazon way behind in terms of hardware features. Nothing that has happened since the release of E Ink Pearl has been more important to the development of the eReader as a product and we can only hope that Amazon gets their front-lit Kindle in production and ready for sale as soon as possible. In the meantime, the Kindle might honestly not be the best option for new users regardless of how much nicer the integrated store is than the Nook’s.
While we recently learned that Amazon was planning something new with a front-lit version of the Kindle, Barnes & Noble has gone a step further and launched a lit Nook complete with release date. There’s no reason to think this is anything but a reaction to the leaked info regarding Amazon’s plans, but the fact that they already had a response prepared like this indicates a great deal of foresight. What was already quite possibly the best eReading hardware on the market will be the first to get upgraded for the next generation.
Those familiar with the Nook Simple Touch will also have a good impression of the Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight. They are the same product, as the name might imply. GlowLight, Barnes & Noble’s solution to the problem of reading in poor lighting, has just been added into the existing model with minimal fuss. It doesn’t even get in the way of what have traditionally been the strengths of the un-lit eReader.
The new Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight will still have the same E Ink screen that we’re used to. It will work as well as ever in direct sunlight and any other situation where reading from a paper book would be plausible. The difference now is that holding down the ‘n’ button on the Nook will turn on a set of LEDs along the sides of the display. This provides sufficient light for any situation while avoiding a drastic increase in battery drain.
This upgrade will add an additional $40 to the price tag of the Nook. It is likely more than worth the investment, though. You are getting all of the advantages of E Ink with the conveniences a standard LCD would provide, but supplied in such a way as to be fairly easy on the eyes even when the adjustable lighting is in use. That’s the sort of convenience you really can’t pass up in an eReader.
The Kindle product line is still my preference and the eReader line that I would recommend to anybody I knew personally. That is not so much a matter of hardware superiority at this point, though. If anything, it is a matter of hardware adequacy and highly superior back-end support to shore up the physical product by comparison. There is nothing wrong with the Kindle Touch, per se, but it also doesn’t come with any such compellingly interesting new features.
We know that Amazon will be releasing something similar to GlowLight. Chances are even good that now that B&N has set a May release date for the new Nook, a shiny new Kindle will appear by June. If circumstances surrounding the settlements in the DOJ price fixing investigation didn’t seem likely to offer Kindle owners some truly amazing advantages in the near future, though, this would be the time when Amazon needed to sweat a little over the competition’s superior offering.
In what is just the latest point of conflict between Amazon and Barnes & Noble over their relative positions in book sales, B&N has announced that they are unwilling to stock any Amazon published works in their stores. It is clearly an informed decision that responds to multiple pressures coming from Amazon.com and online retailers in general, but it also raises the question of whether the Brick & Mortar chain can make such a bold move without drawing customer attention to the value of owning a Kindle.
The stated reason behind this decision is that Amazon has been increasingly successful in arranging exclusivity agreements with major publishers and authors that have prevented the competition from being able to provide the best possible service to their Nook customers. A fair point, and not one that many people would disagree with. Amazon is definitely fond of throwing their weight around. At the same time, however, it is a general admission that the Nook is unable to manage to compete on equal terms against the Kindle as things stand right now and possibly not the best way to reassure customers and investors of the long term viability of the product line.
This also relates to the extremely controversial practice of “showrooming” that has made headlines regularly ever since Amazon released their price check app for iOS and Android smartphones. Since Amazon’s structure allows them to save a great deal of money on things like local stores, they can offer lower prices on a wide variety of things. This is especially the case with paper books, where it is extremely unusual to fail to catch a deal compared to any local retailer. A company that relies on their overt physical presence as much as Barnes & Noble does will obviously be negatively affected by such instant access to price comparisons since it deters impulse buying and turns their stores into profitless showcases for another company. By refusing to carry the physical copies of Amazon’s new publications, they clearly hope to demonstrate to those lured into exclusivity agreements that the Brick & Mortar is still vital to success.
Again, I can’t help but feel that this is a big gamble. If Amazon were not already well ahead in book sales then this would not be a problem in the first place. The Kindle has, thanks to their huge investments and the very exclusivity arrangements that B&N is unhappy with, built up the most substantial library and user base in the eReading world. It will take something drastic to knock them back down to a manageable level, but the idea that Barnes & Noble showrooms can have that kind of influence is questionable.
This feels like something that will end up turning major authors into Kindle exclusives whether they intended to be or not, further devaluing the selection at Barnes & Noble. While they have also declared that these books would still be available through web services, it will take a lot of customer loyalty for that to be a viable purchasing option compared to Amazon.com.
The past few months have been interesting for both Amazon and Barnes & Noble. While the former has been enjoying record success in both their eReading efforts and the new Kindle Fire tablet sales however, B&N seems to be having some trouble keeping up with things related to their Nook line. There has even been talk of them spinning off the whole Nook endeavor into its own company due to the high expense of keeping pace in a competitive market. Despite all of this though, and regardless of how it plays out in the larger scheme of things, a lot has been happening that should keep the Nook line a definite consideration for consumers.
Probably the most important factor would be what’s new with the Nook Tablet. While it was always somewhat superior to the Kindle Fire on paper, the experience of using it has generally failed to impress by comparison and certain restrictions on how the end user could manage their data caused a great deal of upset. Recently this has all changed with the announcement of a simple method for rooting the tablet and gaining much greater control over it as a result. All you need now is a MicroSD Card and some freely available software from the guys over at XDA. While for most people’s general uses this still will not necessarily make the Nook Tablet superior to its Kindle competition, it does open up the possibility of finally making the use of the better hardware for those who want to get maximum performance for their money.
The eReader side of things has hardly been left to sit around unnoticed either, of course. There are currently two major bits of information going around specific to this. First, word is out that Barnes & Noble will shortly be announcing the release of their eReaders outside the US for the first time. Most likely this will be in a partnership with UK bookseller Waterstones, if the rumors are to be believed. Some might remember the same company expressing interest in creating its own eReader to compete with the Kindle some months back, so this partnership would be completely in character.
There is also word of a new generation of the Nook already getting set to hit the shelves. It would be difficult to imagine what significant improvements they could have planned over the Nook Simple Touch already given how well it stacks up against the competition (I would argue that if you ignore the differences in integrated stores it is noticeably superior to any of the latest Kindles), but could be an effort to either reduce prices or spring something entirely new on the market. Either way, for the most part these rumors are tied up in claims regarding the Waterstones partnership and should both come to fruition they will likely appear on a similar timeline.
Possibly not the best time in the world to be the company that runs the Nook line, given how heavily Amazon is investing in making the Kindle Fire and Kindle eReaders successful. They’ve done a great job of stepping up to the plate and providing good products despite this, however, and offering superior hardware for the money is always going to serve to draw the attention.
While the Nook line is clearly among the most popular eReaders ever to hit stores, arguably second only to the Kindle, it seems that the expense of keeping current has proven too much for Barnes & Noble. They recently announced that there is an interest in breaking off the Nook and its associated business from the company as a whole. There is no real word yet as to what the future of the eReading line will be, as things are still being explored at the moment, but B&N is blaming recent greater than expected losses on their investments in the Nook (especially the Nook Simple Touch which has completely failed to meet sales expectations) and as such seems to have good reason to be dropping it. The big question for users will probably have to be whether this is actually a positive even for Amazon. There are good reasons to be skeptical and hope that somebody comes along willing to pick up the expenses.
Nobody would really mind always being able to know which eReader is the best to buy, of course. If all that is really left for users in the US is the Kindle, it makes things easier at the store. The lack of competition that such an arrangement relies upon, though, is problematic. Look at how things stand now simply from a hardware standpoint. The Nook Simple Touch, while tied to what I personally would consider the less compelling platform, is definitely the superior device. The Kindle Touch is nice and has a few advantages of its own that make it a close race, but the lack of physical page turn buttons and the light color of the case both work against it. You wouldn’t think something as simple as the color would have such a huge effect on perceptions, but look at all of the complaints that have come up about contrast for the new Kindles despite having essentially identical screens when measured carefully. That said, neither would have gotten to where they are today so fast if there hadn’t been the steady trumping of each model from either company as it appeared.
Demand, fortunately, has never been higher. This means that there is likely to be some other interested party willing to pick up the Nook line should Barnes & Noble give up. In a way this would be a particularly positive change since it would introduce the possibility of finally seeing an international release of the currently US-only product. Booksellers tend to welcome any advantage that will help them keep afloat despite competition from Amazon, so finding sales partners wouldn’t be particularly difficult given the proper incentives and marketting.
Ideally I would love to see Google or Kobo pick up where B&N leaves off. Not many other companies besides Apple have both the media and hardware expertise necessary to keep up with the Kindle and just selling what has been developed so far without developing new products would be the end of the line. This assumes that the eReading line is done as far as B&N is concerned, but things increasingly point that way. We’ll see where things go over the course of the next couple quarters, but time will tell.
The Nook Color was not the first color eReader by any stretch of the imagination, for all it beat out the Kindles to that point. Even if you exclude all of the PDAs, Blackberrys, and smartphone types of devices in general that gave the Microsoft LIT format a space to thrive in, there were others that came before. Credit where credit is due, however, B&N created the first reading tablet that was worth owning. Its value might just not come as much from the pure quality of reading experience as it could need to to remain competitive as an eReader.
Analysts have regularly indicated that the appeal of the Nook Color, for the average consumer, is in its ability to access magazines and casual games along the lines of the ever popular Angry Birds series. The portability, full color display, and Android based operating system make it great for short periods of interaction and immersion, even if the screen is less than ideal for extended reading. Now, with the release of the Kindle Fire, there is reason for Barnes & Noble to be concerned over their device’s future.
What it comes down to is a practically point by point feature trumping on Amazon’s part, plus a superior media distribution base to draw on in the areas where a tablet is most useful. The points of comparison stand out a little bit when you consider the Nook Color’s superiorities over the Kindle 3 (Kindle Keyboard).
||6″ Monochrome E INK
||7″ Color LCD
||7″ Color LCD
||Keyboard & Directional Controls
||7.5″ x 4.8″ x 0.34″
||8.1″ x 5.0″ x .48″
||7.5″ x 4.7″ x 0.45″
||8GB Internal, Expandable Memory Slot
||8GB Internal, Amazon Cloud Storage
||Basic HTML Experimental
||Full Browser w/ Flash Support
||Silk Browser w/ Flash Support
||$99 – $139
That comparison is based on what features Barnes & Noble has chosen thus far to highlight on the device specs section of the Nook Color sales page, in an effort to present things fairly. I’m ignoring the majority of software concerns, especially in terms of file type compatibility, since apps are theoretically able to make up for most any deficiency. These would still, however, favor the new Kindle. While the Nook Color is the only one of these with an expandable memory slot, which would seem incredibly useful to many users, this has proven a mixed blessing for the company since it provides people with a simple and effective way to bypass the Nook’s proprietary Android build.
Basically it appears that with the Kindle Fire Amazon has looked at what the competition was doing and improved on it. No surprise, that’s what competing products are supposed to do. They’ve essentially got a slightly smaller, slightly lighter 7″ tablet that they’re not hooked on the idea of presenting as an eReader. Overall the technology behind the Kindle Fire is newer and more powerful in every way that matters and still comes in at a lower price for the end user. The only real question now is what B&N does with this information.
We can take as a given that Barnes & Noble is not in a position to provide the same sort of robust media library that Amazon is bringing to customers. Even if they were to start pulling in video streaming deals and other things along those lines to fill in the gaps, the time factor would be a problem. What they can do is work to get Netflix, Hulu, or any number of other streaming services on-board as partners. With Amazon poised to make a move into that market in a larger way than they have so far, it shouldn’t be too difficult. It would mean giving up on potential media sales revenue, but it also eliminates the need to build up the infrastructure to support that media. We know that rooted Nook Colors are able to access services like Netflix already, so it would only make sense to cash in on it given how easily root-able these devices have proven to be.
There is also the rumor of a new Nook Color that will bring hardware upgrades. Now, this is pretty flimsy in spite of having seen posts declaring it would be released “any day now” since early September, but it could make a big difference to their presence in the device market. While a price drop in the current Nook Color is a given, having a newer more powerful model available would work well whether it was a more expensive option or as an outright replacement. In the former scenario it would highlight the fact of the low price point while providing options. In the latter, there is room to hope that in some way the Kindle Fire will be inferior. If the hardware option is going to make a difference, however, it needs to happen soon. Once people start getting their hands on the Kindle Fire, barring major issues with them, the momentum is likely to increase leading into the holiday season.
What we do know is that the Nook line as a whole is pretty much the only part of Barnes & Noble that is growing right now. They need to keep things going. As a result, you can be sure that something is on the horizon to keep the situation competitive. Tablet PCs just tend to be the most useful when it comes to things that aren’t reading, so it might take a bit of a shift for B&N to really make their presence known now that there are comparably priced options available. Whether or not they manage remains to be seen, but hopes are high. While the Nook Color has not been my favorite device personally, it did provide us with one of the first reasonably priced yet fully functional tablets almost by mistake (rooting is essential in a way that many are hoping will not be the case with the Kindle Fire). It would be a shame to seem them fall aside now.
Earlier today, a TechCrunch reporter claims to have had a chance to play around with an actual working Kindle Tablet in a closely supervised situation. Much of the information he came out with isn’t exactly what we were hoping to hear when the real details started to turn up, but everything does fit the current situation pretty well and there are no glaring discrepancies. As with all unofficial reports it should probably be taken with a grain of salt, but for the time being it is probably safe to say this is our best picture of Amazon’s upcoming entry into the Tablet PC market.
Here’s what we have to work with:
- 7″ Back-lit touchscreen of some description with no hybrid options(2 finger capacitive multi-touch)
- Highly customized Android OS, possibly forked as early as Android 2.2
- No physical controls aside from the power button
- Possible single-core processor
- As little as 6GB internal storage
- WiFi Only at launch
- Expandable memory slot
- No camera
- Bundled Amazon Prime Membership
- $250 Price Tag
- Late November 2011 Release Date
Clearly the high expectations of Kindle fans will not be met in their entirety.
There is a sense that Amazon is rushing this to market, even after all this time. If a guess were required, I would say that it almost seems as if they were hoping to carry the day by using the next best thing in display technology to get the jump on everybody only to have that tech fail to manifest in time to be useful. That aside, they’re still bringing plenty to the table to make a splash.
The Nook Color has managed to carve out a space for itself by being something of a budget iPad, for all its stated eReading emphasis. Amazon can bring the same sort of value to the table, perhaps with a more impressive array of applications and support structure, and not even have to bother with the eReader facade. We have to assume at this point that they won’t make the mistake of marketing this as a Kindle eReader, whether or not it’s capable of displaying books, given the whole anti-iPad LCD commercial campaign.
The focus on cloud storage and streaming will negate the obvious problem of minimal storage space to some extent, though Amazon seems to be gambling a lot on the ubiquity of wireless networks. If the reporting article is to be believed, then the Android OS fork should be customized and optimized well beyond simply skinning Froyo and throwing out the standard Google App Marketplace, which means that it’s too early to judge anything based on that at this time. Nobody really expected Amazon to include a completely open copy of Android anyway, right?
Just because this isn’t the ideal situation that would blow the iPad out of the water without any significant contest doesn’t mean it isn’t a great step. Tablets put out by anybody but Apple have tended to fare poorly so far, as evidenced by the HP TouchPad debacle recently, but Amazon has the marketing, support, and name recognition to make it happen. I still don’t think this will end up being a direct contest with just the Nook Color for most people, unless something gets reviewed particularly poorly at release.
The much awaited Barnes & Noble announcement on March 24th has taken place and provided the marketplace with a new Nook eReader that is far better suited to compete with the Amazon Kindle than the Nook Color has so far managed. It seems like a long overdue and very welcome update to the increasingly dated original Nook offering. Due to ship before Father’s Day, specifically by June 10th if the B&N website is to be believed, we should have some more hands-on information in the near future. For now, looking at the feature list, there’s some reason to be excited about it. The feature list is almost point for point a comparison against the Kindle. Here’s what they’ve got for us:
E Ink Pearl Touch Screen
This one was a bit obvious, but finally the Nook gets a better screen. Even if B&N had done nothing besides throw the Pearl screens into the existing first-generation Nook, it’s a no-brainer. Still, glad to have it. While I’m somewhat skeptical of the usefulness of a touch screen, it’s likely to be more user-friendly than the one on the old Nook and we have to hope the implementation is smoother than the Sony equivalent. I have little doubt that it will be.
2 Month Battery Life
You say the Kindle is good for a month of reading without recharging? Then of course the Nook must be good for two! In all seriousness, do we really need to worry about how long the charge will hold once we’re over a month? My only complaint on this point is that it is misleading. In truth, all they’ve done is give us a battery with the same life as the Kindle and measured the expected battery life with an assumed 30mins of reading per day instead of the previously assumed 60mins. In response, Amazon has changed the info on the Kindle page to match. No, they didn’t change any hardware, just the metric.
Newer, Lighter, Smaller Form
One of the biggest complaints about the old Nook was the size and weight. Now, it’s shorter, lighter, and even has a dark frame to make the screen stand out more. All good news! The Nook is now around an ounce lighter, an inch shorter, and only a little over 30% thicker than the Kindle. It will be far more comfortable to read on for extended periods than the original Nook ever was.
Who Comes Out Ahead?
Well, Amazon still has a couple things going for them. More internal memory is nice, though of course the Nook still allows use of an SD card so the point is moot. There’s no 3G version of the new Nook, so that’s still a plus for the Kindle. For some reason B&N seems to have gotten rid of the web browser, so that’s something to take into account. No matter how either side tries to play things up at this point, though, it seems that we’ve got something of a tie. Unless you have very specific needs, the two are fairly even. While I would have loved to see some sort of innovation from the new Nook, at least they’re back in the game and you can’t find much wrong with the product they’re presenting us with.