Could The Kindle Fire vs Nook Tablet Fight Really Hinge On Magazines?

Since the launch of the very first Kindle eReader, the persistent and constantly repeated complaint has been that it lacks color.  Everything else that began problematically, from screen refresh time to clunky controls, has been addressed in later iterations of the Kindle line.  Sadly, you just can’t do much yet in terms of color without sacrificing the E Ink screen.  Barnes & Noble managed to effectively market their Nook Color for over a year on nothing more than the ability to overcome this limitation (regardless of the resultant shortcomings of their device) and it was inevitable that it be a big issue in terms of Kindle Fire reviewing, no matter how much Amazon might prefer to focus on other things.

How big a deal could this possibly be, though?  Upon closer inspection, more than I thought.  The obvious example that most people jump to for their color reading needs is the magazine.  Let’s simply disregard that one for the time being, though.  It involves a slightly different pricing model since only the newest issue of a given publication is likely to be in demand, shortening the life of each installment to a month or so in many cases.  I would love to comment but, without a better understanding of how the advertising model generally makes the transition to the sort of device that has the potential to simply block out images with a few tweaks, I simply don’t feel qualified at the moment.

We can definitely consider general book sales, though.  Assume that the majority of book sales are fiction.  Particularly Romance novels, I’m told.  Not too much need for color illustration in those, for the most part.  That does not mean that non-fiction is a negligible area, however.  Self Help and History are two of the most impressive genres of the past few years in terms of sales.  Both of them, in their own way can benefit from the inclusion of color.

While this is definitely important, though, it’s difficult to believe that it will really be a major factor moving into the next round of Kindle vs Nook competition.  Barnes & Noble’s book focus is completely understandable.  It only makes sense to do what you know best and they simply don’t have the structure in place to handle much else.  Amazon has already moved past that, adding competing capabilities and book selections almost in passing, and brought the emphasis around to video.

The Kindle Fire might not be a match for the iPad when it comes to hardware, but Amazon is building up their whole digital presence to the point of rivaling Apple’s more established one.  The book emphasis only made sense as long as the limitations of the device being sold restricted use to that media.  The future will be an overall digital experience.  Sure magazines and color reading will be a part of it, but on their own the effect just doesn’t seem likely to be big enough to matter.  There are rumors of a Nook Tablet video store on the horizon, as well as a push to increase the app content for that line of devices.  That’s likely to make a far bigger difference.

Kindle Fire vs Nook Tablet: Intentions To Root Change The Equation

Despite the relative technical differences between the new Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet and the Amazon Kindle Fire, I think that it is fair to say that Amazon’s product offers more right out of the box.  For the layman user, somebody with no stake in a particular platform and no desire to have to jump through hoops to pull the greatest possible performance out of their electronics, the available content and overall experience of the Fire is immediately superior.

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that you are not that user.  Even more, let’s assume that you are considering buying one of the new $200 Tablet PCs being released by these eReading giants with the sole intention of rooting it and making it into an all purpose generic Android Tablet.  It doesn’t take huge amounts of work under most circumstances.  Andrei already posted instructions to this Blog on how to root the Kindle Fire and there is a great deal of headway being made on the Nook Tablet.  Custom Android ROMs are sure to follow in the near future.  In the end, chances are good that the only prerequisite will be a willingness to spend the time and effort to go through a list of instructions.

Under these circumstances, the most important factor is the hardware.  Here, the Nook Tablet is the way to go.  It has twice the RAM of the Kindle Fire, as well as twice the internal storage space.  The expandable memory slot is a big incentive as well, of course.  Other than those bits, the processors, screens, size, and weight are all either exactly equivalent or so close that it won’t factor in much.  Probably the only other relevant difference is the fact that the Nook has some external volume controls that come in handy from time to time.  Before making any real decisions on this matter, however, I recommend taking both devices for a test drive.

While the Nook Tablet‘s initial setup has some major flaws, from locking up the majority of the storage space to simply lacking a halfway decent app store, it is still pretty smooth and comes equipped to take on most third-party video purchases.  You also get the added advantage of easily accessible support at every Barnes & Noble location nationwide.

The Kindle Fire, on the other hand, offers deep Amazon integration.  At a glance this is troublesome and a blatant attempt to lock customers in, but they have gone out of their way to keep the platform pretty open.  Competitor apps are in their Appstore (itself less well populated than the Google Marketplace but far better policed) and it isn’t hard to install things acquired elsewhere.  Even the Nook reader app has no trouble.  The interface is smooth, looks good, and performs better than most people would expect.  Really the only complaint here is the lack of video format compatibility, which is why it was worth mentioning for the Nook.

Either way you’re getting a good device, but keep in mind what is being bought.  These are not really intended to be all purpose tablets the way the iPad is and to treat them as such will likely disappoint.  If you do decide to break away from the cultivated experiences provided then the minimal hardware might be more apparent than it otherwise would be.  Personally, I had intended to ditch the Amazon firmware on the Kindle Fire after testing it out just enough to write about it knowledgeably.  It was good enough to change my mind and might do the same for you.

Barnes & Noble Cleaning Up After Misleading Kindle Fire vs Nook Tablet Campaign

The competition in the 7″ Tablet market was obviously thrown into disarray by the arrival of the Amazon Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet devices.  Even if you completely set aside the service being offered in conjunction by either company, any moderately powerful Android Tablet in the $200-250 range is attractive.  Just look at how well the Nook Color did, even locked down with ridiculously few apps and a marketing campaign focused on reading.  What’s also rather clear, however, is that with the Kindle Fire getting the majority of the attention pre-launch, B&N needed to make an impression on potential customers.  They may have overdone it a bit.

The most obvious disappointment for Nook Tablet early adopters was the storage space.  One of the biggest draws in this case was the fact that they included twice the Kindle Fire’s storage space.  This is especially important given the huge emphasis on video viewing that’s been happening lately.  The Nook certainly offers more natively supported formats, so 12GB of available space to side load your library onto is great on paper.  As we’ve learned since then though, that’s not going to be happening.  Barnes & Noble decided that Nook Tablet owners would probably be needing to have around 11GB of that space blocked to outside content.  That’s less than 10% of what was promised, which means that the only people likely to ever get the most out of their new Nooks in this regard are the ones who root them.

Also related to the video viewing qualifications of the device is the quality problem.  Probably to set themselves apart from the Kindle Fire yet again, B&N advertised the new Nook as “The best in HD entertainment”, among a number of other similar claims.  Now, obviously this could not be the case.  Anybody who gave it a decent amount of thought already knew that, given the resolution of the screen if nothing else.  This sort of language has since been dropped from the Nook Tablet product page.

The official response was that what they “really” meant for customers to understand was that they pull a higher quality video feed from Netflix than the competition and the message just got lost in translation somewhere. Where the Kindle Fire pulls the standard definition stream and fits it to the tablet, the Nook Tablet grabs the HD and downgrades it.  This does, admittedly, result in a better picture for those with the network reliability to support it and would have made sense to advertise.  Instead, they opted for what seems to have been deliberate misinformation.

It’s taken a bit of time, but corrections are being made to the advertising.  I think it’s important to make note of these early efforts to drum up preorders, though.  While the Nook Tablet is definitely a good product for the money, there’s something a bit off about this approach to selling it.  There is a big difference between fixing launch bugs and having to significantly modify your product descriptions to avoid deceiving customers.

Nook Tablet’s Larger Storage Offers Less Than Kindle Fire

In the eyes of many, the Kindle Fire didn’t have much of a chance of competing with Apple’s technically superior iPad tablet.  That remains to be seen in the longer term, of course, but for now it’s all just speculation.  Regardless, this shifts the focus of people watching for active competition to the Kindle vs Nook battle.  They have been ongoing rivals in the eReader world, of course, and now they both offer budget priced tablets that will do a lot more than help you read.

On paper the Nook Tablet is quite possibly the better device.  It has the same processing power, more RAM, and most importantly twice the local storage of the Kindle Fire.  This last alone was enough to get many people to declare it a clear winner before either device hit shelves.  Now that we can use them both side by side, the situation has drastically changed.

The Nook Tablet, despite having 16GB of storage space (~12GB available to users), severely restricts what users are able to do with that space.  To such a degree that the idea of purchasing the device as a video player without the intention of rooting it is fairly laughable.  Users will find that Barnes & Noble has chosen to allow a mere 1GB of storage for the loading of outside content.  While the remainder can be filled by anything B&N sells, the fact of the matter is that right now they don’t offer nearly enough content to justify the choice.

There is not, for example, a video store for the Nook Tablet.  Neither is there an MP3 service.  You can, of course, access services like Netflix or Pandora for all your media consumption needs, but should you desire to watch or listen to things that you yourself own already then chances are good there is a problem.  Basically the only thing available in any quantity besides apps, and the scarcity of Nook apps is another complaint to address at another time, is reading material.  It simply does not justify this.

While I think that anybody would agree that the Kindle Fire‘s 8GB on-board storage is one of its weak points, Amazon at least manages to expand your options.  Sure you might have trouble loading everything that you want onto the device at once, but you can always stream it or store in their provided cloud storage until it is needed.  This is in addition to also offering equally functional access to Netflix, Pandora, and basically everything else that the Nook Tablet is using to make up for its lack of media store integration.

What probably should have been a clear win for B&N has turned their device into a joke for many prospective buyers.  We can hope that as time goes on this will be changed via a software update of some sort since the Nook Tablet is honestly a decent piece of hardware for just $250.  It is ridiculous that to get any decent amount of storage space a new user should feel compelled to purchase a memory card when the drive is just sitting there more than half empty.

Kindle vs Nook: DC Debacle Spurs B&N To Dumb Move

It’s no real secret that Barnes & Noble has quickly come to depend on their Nook eReader line, which by extension means it isn’t really too surprising that they might overreact when that is threatened.  A recent spat with DC Comics over a limited term of Kindle Fire eComic distribution exclusivity for a segment of the publisher’s current titles has resulted in just such an overreaction, though, and their failure to see the mistake may well provide difficulties going forward.

The underlying complaint on the part of Barnes & Noble is that DC has had the audacity to offer eReader exclusivity on 100 or so titles to Amazon as a temporary means for Amazon to promote the Kindle Fire.  While there is no information yet, to the best of my knowledge, as to how long this deal will remain in place, both DC and Amazon have acknowledged that it is not intended to necessarily be a long term arrangement.

As a result, Barnes & Noble has pulled all DC titles from their stores.  This includes every physical copy of the Amazon digital exclusives from DC Comics.  No notice was given to customers initially, simply a blanket email to all stores requiring them to remove the books.  To pull the gist of the eventual published statement from the Brick & Mortar book giant: “Regardless of the publisher, we will not stock physical books in our stores if we are not offered the available digital format.[…]To sell and promote the physical book in our store showrooms, and not have the eBook available for sale would undermine our promise to Barnes & Noble customers to make available any book, anywhere, anytime.”

On the surface, one has to applaud the effort.  Maybe this was an instance of Amazon throwing their weight around that required a significant response from a major retailer to help publishers see that such behavior is unacceptable.  That sentiment lasts right up until the realization that at this time Barnes & Noble does not in any way offer electronic comic publications.

The chain has decided that they are so dedicated to the principal on this issue that they are willing to turn away customers at the door rather than allow Amazon’s Kindle Fire access to something the Nook Color has not even tried to exploit after a year on the market.  Now not only with B&N customers not be able to download their comics, they can’t get physical copies except through the B&N website.  Stores have even been instructed to turn away special orders.  No copy will be allowed to enter the store, no matter how much you want to give your money to Barnes & Noble.

In the end, I see this hurting nobody but B&N, their customers, and the creators of the works in question.  Nobody wins but Amazon and customers have one more reason to avoid dealing with anybody else.  While this could have been quickly remedied with a quiet apology for initial overreaction, there is no excuse for letting it continue and treating customers this poorly, especially at a time when they are faced with a superior competing product.

Barnes & Noble Targets Kindle Fire With New Nook Tablet

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

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

Specs:

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

Selling Points

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Which To Buy

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

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

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

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

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

Nook Color vs Kindle: Does B&N Still Have A Shot?

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).

Kindle Keyboard Nook Color Kindle Fire
Display 6″ Monochrome E INK 7″ Color LCD 7″ Color LCD
Interface Keyboard & Directional Controls Capacitive Multitouch IR Multitouch
Dimensions 7.5″ x 4.8″ x 0.34″ 8.1″ x 5.0″ x .48″ 7.5″ x 4.7″ x 0.45″
Weight 8.5 Ounces 15.8 Ounces 14.6 Ounces
Battery Life 2 Months 8 Hours 8 Hours
Storage 4GB Internal 8GB Internal, Expandable Memory Slot 8GB Internal, Amazon Cloud Storage
Browsing Capabilities Basic HTML Experimental Full Browser w/ Flash Support Silk Browser w/ Flash Support
Price $99 – $139 $249 $199

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.

Barnes & Noble Already Prepping Kindle Fire Competition

Beginning just days before the press conference that revealed the Kindle Fire to the world, rumors started popping up that Barnes & Noble was nervously prepping their next tablet for a hurried launch to avoid getting shut out of the market.  Naturally they haven’t confirmed these rumors to any degree so far, but the latest reports indicate the potential for both a cheaper Nook Color hardware update and a larger, more powerful incarnation of the same at around $350.

For the past couple months, it’s been pretty great to be Barnes & Noble.  They’ve been selling one of the most functional affordable tablets on the market, almost by accident.  They’ve had what was honestly the best eReader in the US market in terms of performance and readability.  On top of this, Amazon spent months seeming to ignore the world of eReading hardware aside from vague hints.  It couldn’t last forever, but they got to make a big splash with no significant recently released competition.

At first glance Amazon has now got a huge advantage again, especially in terms of the Kindle Fire.  While the Nook Color brought a lot of function for comparatively little money, its main value has generally been in how easily rooted it is.  Barnes & Noble has added an internal app store that has gotten quite a bit better over time, but they have nothing quite as robust as the Amazon Android App Store nor do they have the ability to offer the same kind of end to end experience that the Kindle Fire is anticipated to provide.  Simply put, the emphasis on the Nook Color as specifically a color eReader might have backfired.

Since B&N is experiencing a great deal of its current success (what there is of it) from the Nook line, they cannot afford to not respond.  Fortunately, from the sound of things, there were plans in place.  The Nook Simple Touch eReader shouldn’t have any real problems just now.  It might be slightly more expensive than the cheapest of the Kindle Touch models coming up, but the technology is comparable and for now we have to assume that the experience will be generally similar.  What they’re worried about is the Tablet competition.

A new, larger, more powerful Nook Color, assuming rumors hold some basis in reality, will be either announced or released before the end of October at around $350. This, along with a hardware update to the existing Nook Color, would theoretically have a chance of bringing them back to the front of consumer perception again in time for the 2011 holiday season.

Admittedly we’re talking about theoretical hardware at the moment, so as with most of the Kindle Tablet speculation it has to be taken with a grain of salt.  Still, if they can bring hardware and content availability anywhere near to in line with what Amazon is offering with the Kindle Fire it would be great.  Just the announcement of a $200 tablet from Amazon has already changed hardware prices in the market significantly.  Real, effective competition among budget tablet providers can only be a good thing.

Waterstone’s To Be UK’s Next Kindle Competition

Everybody knows that Amazon doesn’t release the sales numbers for their Kindle eReader.  That being said, some analysts have estimated that the popular eReader will sell over 17 million units this year alone and that the platform as a whole now accounts for as much as 10% of Amazon’s overall revenue.  That doesn’t mean that the Kindle is unassailable, of course, but it is definitely difficult.  The Barnes & Noble Nook has proved both parts of that.  Now, in an effort to revive flagging sales numbers, British bookseller Waterstone’s is going to try to replicate the B&N success story.

James Daunt, the Waterstone’s managing director, said in a recent BBC 4 radio interview that he was inspired by the Nook’s success in the US market.  So far, Barnes & Noble has not decided to expand their eReader presence beyond the US in spite of the exceptionally favorable reviews of their most recent generation of devices, which leaves a gap in the market for somebody else to exploit. Lately, given the consistent downward trend of most of Barnes & Noble’s non-Nook numbers, this seems like a great model for an otherwise declining company to make a comeback with.

Right now, Waterstone’s does not have a hardware partner or much in the way of solid details in terms of their intended offering.  Daunt has claimed that the company is “well down the planning line” on the way to an early 2012 launch are somewhat encouraging, but there is a lot to get done for such an ambitious move.  This is a fairly late stage to be entering into eReading on short notice, given the high quality of the current generation of eReaders.  Even the Kindle is sometimes only considered second-best by comparison these days.  That’s a lot to measure up to for any newcomer.

Since the closing of Borders Books and Books Etc, Waterstones seems to be the only major brick and mortar book seller in the UK market.  At a glance this seems to be something of a last-ditch effort.  The Waterstone’s internet storefront, which has been selling eBooks for some time now, has failed to compete successfully against the Kindle’s UK store.  A hardware tie-in would guarantee some returning business, but only if customers can be persuaded to adopt the new platform in the long term.

One of the biggest considerations for people seeking to build their own eBook library is whether or not their purchases will eventually be rendered useless by the end of a format or the closing of their chosen retailer.  Whereas Amazon seems to be around for pretty much the foreseeable future, Waterstone’s will have to make a big impression to avoid losing customers to the fear of obsolescence.  Add into that the overwhelming probability that there will be a new and improved Kindle released even before the Waterstone’s eReader comes to market and it will be a much tougher sale to make.

As always, competition is the most important driving factor for product improvement and customers should welcome a new serious contender to the eReader marketplace, but so far there isn’t enough detail to get your hopes up for.

Kindle Tablet Finally Sampled?

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.