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.
Naturally, there is a new Kindle Fire on the way. We are also expecting there to be a new E Ink Kindle eReader released alongside it. The Kindle Fire 2, or whatever Amazon decides to label their new device, has aroused a lot of interest over the past few weeks and the release of a Kindle that matches or exceeds the capabilities of the Nook Simple Touch w/ GlowLight will be a big thing for the company. Now, citing reliable sources rather than simply the less than reliable DigiTimes reports, CNET has come up with a July 31st launch event to introduce both of these products to potential customers.
Rumors have indicated that the Kindle Fire 2 will be improved in a number of ways. It will have a higher resolution 1280 x 800 screen while maintaining the same 7” size, according to most of the rumors today. This latest report indicates that it will also have a camera and physical volume control buttons. Both of these features will be welcome additions for many Kindle Fire users. One can only assume that with the addition of a camera Amazon will also have seen fit to include a mic to make their tablet into a viable communication tool.
The new Kindle eReader will also have minor improvements across the board. The most important of these will obviously be the ability to light up the screen. We saw several months ago that Amazon had bought a patent that would allow them to add a refraction layer for front-lighting their eReaders, but Barnes & Noble beat them to the punch. Given how well B&N has done in making a great lit eReader, we have to hope that Amazon has used the intervening time to improve more than just the lighting. Expect to at least see physical page turn buttons return to the Kindle Touch version of the next generation.
Amazon is expected to be selling these new devices for the same price as current models. The new Kindle Fire 2 will be going for $199 while the basic model of the new Kindle eReader will be just $79. While it is too early to say for sure, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to find out that Amazon was including lighting in all their eReaders at no extra charge, thereby undercutting Barnes & Noble’s prices yet again. The Kindle Fire that we know today will continue to be available in its present form for the indefinite future, but it is believed that the price will drop to just $149 as the new version hits shelves.
None of this tells us anything about a new larger Kindle Fire model. While reports still indicate that such a tablet is on the way, the rumor mills are surprisingly quiet about the details. Presumably it will be more powerful and have features comparable to other large tablets, but things like price and release date are completely unknown and barely speculated on. We’ll try to bring you more on this when the information becomes available.
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.
While the Kindle name is practically synonymous with eReading for many people, it has been confined largely to the US for a rather long time now and as such Amazon may have lost a chance to build the same momentum in other markets. Much of what made them so successful was being the first company on the scene ready to get eBooks out there when customer interest began to stir. The situation will be a bit different moving forward.
When it comes to international market coverage in eReading, Kobo is the name to reference. They haven’t had the same impact in the US that Amazon has managed with the Kindle, but the Kobo Touch eReader has been available in areas where a Kindle was hard to come by for quite a while now. They have recently partnered up with WHSmith in the UK in an effort to gain more coverage. The Kobo Vox, essentially their attempt to match the Kindle Fire or Nook Tablet, is just £149.99 (by comparison, the Kindle Fire is not even available). That’s not to mention the fact that Kobo devices are already available in 190 countries with expansion still ongoing, or the newly revamped self-publishing platform that they are having some success with.
Sony is also making something of a comeback. While they were possibly the first company to launch a major eReader line with the Sony PRS series, they have failed to stay relevant in recent years. Their new Reader Store has finally opened (months behind schedule) in the UK and they have a fairly substantial presence in select other markets where the Kindle is just beginning to move in.
Even Barnes & Noble is going to be something of a threat, potentially, in specific international markets. Well, one specific international market if they’re lucky. The much-reported partnership that the company has with Waterstones has produced very few results so far. The partnership is still likely to happen, but they are taking their time about it. This is most likely a matter of developing relationships for content to fill UK eBook stores with and could be held up at least partially due to the chance of the Agency Model being abolished in book publishing by ongoing lawsuits. This would naturally have widespread implications.
None of this is to say that the Kindle won’t be able to make it outside the US. If anything, the international launch of the Kindle Touch and Kindle Touch 3G enjoyed such popularity that even Amazon was shocked. Since the creation of a real, local Kindle Store in any given market is likely to be a major undertaking, however, anybody who has already got their store and device out there for customers is at a distinct advantage. Amazon certainly has enough weight to throw at the problems they encounter, and they will do so without much hesitation as the recent small publisher negotiations prove, but it may be a long process at best with all the other big names already at work.
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.
There has been some question about the importance of pricing in the Kindle Fire’s dominance over the seemingly superior Nook Tablet. On paper the Barnes & Noble tablet is definitely the slightly better device with more storage, expandable memory, twice the RAM, and otherwise similar hardware, which means it makes sense to pick out the one aspect of the comparison (in this case the price) that goes against it when determining why the Nook Tablet hasn’t done better. Barnes & Noble obviously thought so, and has decided to start offering a version of the Nook Tablet at $200 that sacrifices nothing but its superior onboard storage. Surely they are hoping this will be enough to at least start to draw even with the Kindle Fire.
The big question we have to ask now is whether or not this is a reasonable expectation from such a small change. Have people really been choosing the Kindle Fire just to get 20% off the competition’s price? This is definitely a possibility for some buyers, but overall there are other factors that we have to consider. What you buy when you get one of these tablets is more than just the physical device at this point; it’s an entire content ecosystem.
Many, myself included, are of the opinion that the real strength of the Kindle Fire stems from its deep integration with Amazon’s systems. It is undoubtedly a mixed blessing thanks to the associated lack of access to the main Google App Marketplace among other things, but this integration does allow for some impressive features. The on-device storage is practically irrelevant when a decent WiFi network is in range, for example, thanks to the streaming media options Amazon has made available. There is also more than enough space at any given time for several dozen apps, a couple hundred eBooks, and assorted music and video files. Will you be carrying around entire seasons of your favorite television show? Probably not. You can expect to have several hours worth of viewing on hand for when wireless connectivity is unavailable, though.
Barnes & Noble simply isn’t offering the same amount of service, which is why it makes sense for them to be trying to make up the difference with somewhat superior hardware at the same price as the Kindle Fire. The new Nook Tablet is, if anything, an even better option than the 16GB model for those looking into the possibility of rooting their new tablet, but if you’re keeping the stock firmware then it is a decision that should be carefully considered. Nothing has changed or improved here, when it comes right down to it, besides dropping the price.
If you are a fan of the Nook, or dislike the idea of Amazon’s having a hold on your tablet, this is a great deal. If you really want a color LCD device for reading on, the Nook Tablet is also still your best option. If these situations don’t apply to you, however, the $200 Kindle Fire vs $200 Nook Tablet competition is still pretty heavily weighted in favor of Amazon.
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.
It’s undeniable that the release of the Kindle Fire, and along with it the competing Nook Tablet, has shaken up the Tablet PC market. Since launch Amazon has already firmly taken second place next to the Apple iPad, selling as many as 5 million units in the 4th quarter of 2011 alone. Barnes & Noble is also doing pretty well, having moved more than a million of their own tablet in the same time period. The way things are going with these two, there has even been some speculation that there is no room for dedicated hardware manufacturers with this kind of competition.
Both Amazon and Barnes & Noble are selling their tablets at near, or possibly even below, the cost of production. The goal is to get people hooked into the platform and make ongoing profits based on media sales. Effectively, the hardware has become secondary now that it can be treated as a conduit for consumption rather than an end in and of itself. Amazon is doing a better job on this side of things than Barnes & Noble so far.
The Nook Tablet has the technically superior hardware, with double the RAM and double the storage space among other things, but doesn’t make very good use of it. The storage is restricted and the interface doesn’t seem to run significantly smoother than the Kindle Fire‘s. There is an SD slot to expand the available memory of the device, but to get a sufficiently large one to make a difference you can expect to add a significant percentage onto the already comparatively more expensive price. None of this means that it is a bad tablet, it’s actually quite excellent and highly recommended, but it is worth noting that B&N has a way to go before they are really making the best use out of their device’s potential.
The Kindle Fire, on the other hand, lacks some of the power of the Nook. What it does have is a deeper integration with Amazon.com’s storefront and content. Unlike B&N, Amazon has their own source of video and music for customers to take advantage of, as well as a robust cloud storage service that makes up for a lot of the seeming shortcomings of the hardware. The lower price certainly doesn’t hurt sales numbers either, especially given the inevitable comparison of both products to each other and the iPad.
We can expect sales for both tablets to be improving even more through the next year. The Kindle line, and the Kindle Fire in particular, is one of Amazon’s biggest marketing priorities, while the Nook line is pretty much the only thing B&N has going for it right now in terms of profitability. What remains to be seen is what effect the next iteration of the Kindle tablet line brings. A larger tablet could cement Amazon’s place on top of tablets for the foreseeable future, second only to Apple, but it could also severely damage the company’s reputation if something goes wrong and open the door to a big push by Barnes & Noble.
Either way we have good products to work with, but both Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet are built for content consumption and that means active ongoing support. The more popular each one becomes, the more incentive the associated company has to expand the platform, and the more valuable the tablet in question becomes for owners. It will be interesting to see the back and forth as the competition heats up in months to come.