Since the release of the iPad, fans of the e-book have debated about the future of eReaders. Is the future represented in the glossy touch-screen LCD of a tablet or the eminently readable, but obsequiously plain eInk screen?
If the talking heads at Kobo and Barnes & Noble are to be believed, the answer is both.
Kobo fired first with the announcement of their new Kobo eReader Touch Edition. It features the same 6-inch eInk screen that has come to be the industry standard, but instead of relying on buttons to navigate the fields on-screen, it sports a new infrared technology that allows users to swipe pages, highlight passages, and take notes all using a slick touch screen interface.
Barnes & Noble quickly followed up with the announcement of their own. The new Nook also utilizes that brilliant infrared technology to power its touch interface. Like the Kobo reader, the new Nook is shorter and slightly thicker than its predecessors. The eInk display also reportedly has 80-percent less “flashing” when turning pages, and sports a number of interface improvements, such as the ability to tell how many more pages are in a given chapter.
On the periphery are features like battery-life and storage size. Barnes & Noble is making a lot of noise about how their new batteries can hold a charge for two months, but those claims seem spurious at best. The Kindle is still the market leader in terms of native storage, with 3 GB standard, but both the new Kobo and Nook sport slots for SD cards, so power users can add as much as 32 GB — good for, oh, about, 32,000 books.
Of course, this wouldn’t be too much of a coup unless these new entrants were competitively priced, and they are indeed. The touch-screen Nook is debuting for an eminently reasonable $139, and the Kobo comes in slightly cheaper at $129. Compare that with the comparable third-generation Wi-Fi-only Kindle, which sells for $139 ($114 if you don’t mind seeing ads instead of Agatha Christie’s face on your screen saver), and it becomes clear just how drastically the landscape has changed.
The brand recognition alone will continue to buoy the Kindle until they can counter with their own touch-screen model, but in a world dominated by smart phones, it’s hard to underestimate the familiarity and novelty that lies within the touch interface. It’s easier to see now why the plucky folks at Kobo were so confident that they could survive the bankruptcy of their partner Borders. And for their part, Barnes & Noble can continue to pride themselves on putting out a superior product, even if their market share so far lags behind their determination.
The ebook world has been abuzz in the last week or so, after Apple made the controversial move of rejecting a Sony Reader Store app that would have allowed users to purchase and read ebooks from Sony on their iPhone or iPad. Apple defended the decision, citing existing app store policy that says intra-app purchases have to be routed through the Apple store, so that Apple can charge their 30% toll charge. Cue Internet outrage.
While the policy may remain unchanged, this would certainly represent a monumental shift in the way that policy is enforced. Right now, users of both the Barnes & Noble and Amazon apps are able to purchase books on the iPhone and iPad, albeit in an indirect way. Instead of actually purchasing them from within the app, they are directed to the Safari web browser, where they can then purchase them via the web. It’s not the most elegant solution possible, but so far, it’s worked.
If Apple, attempting to leverage the popularity of their devices, decides that this is all of a sudden a violation of the rules, it wedges both Barnes & Noble and Amazon between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, a 30% cut off the top almost totally negates their margins for any books purchased on an iOS device.
On the other, both companies have been actively promoting the cross-platform nature of their ebookstores, which allow you to start reading on your Kindle and pick up where you left off on your phone, PC, or other supported device. That is a feature and a promise that they would have a hard time backing away from now without losing a lot of good will with customers.
B&N and Amazon aren’t left with terribly many palatable choices. They could bend over and take it from Apple and write it off as a cost of doing business. They could abandon Apple platforms entirely. They could even try to skirt around the requirements by just burying the option to buy books within the app somewhere hard to find. It’s hard to say at this point.
Speaking personally, I’ve grown rather fond of reading Kindle books on my iPad. Based on the number of people I routinely see reading books on their iPhones on the train to work, I’d wager a guess that others feel much the same way. Whatever the fallout from this, all the companies involved would do well not to disturb the status quo too much, lest they cast aside the good will they’ve spent years building up.
The evolution of the eReader over the last year or two has really been an extraordinary thing to watch. The iPad launched in the Spring, and set the bar for a multi-functional, multi-dimensional tablet computer that also packed a pretty impressive eBook package. In the fall, the Kindle 3 hit store shelves, and blew us away with the tightest, sexiest dedicated ereading experience one could really hope for. With both of those major niches squared away, it really didn’t look like Barnes & Noble’s new Nookcolor had anybody left to whom they could appeal.
I’ve held off writing a full Nookcolor review because my time playing with one had been too short to really cast a judgment. Thanks to a family holiday get-together, however, I was finally able to see the iPad, Kindle 3, and Nookcolor side by side, and I came away impressed with what Barnes & Noble has done for itself.
For one thing, the VividView Color Touchscreen used by the Nookcolor is quite a bit more impressive than it is generally given credit for. It still can’t hold a candle to eInk in terms of readability, particularly in brighter light conditions, but the brilliant colors make the Kindle seem antiquated at times, and the laminated screen doesn’t smudge as easily as the iPad. That combination alone makes it a potent entrant for children, for whom illustrated books that utilize touch interfaces are the end-all be-all.
The distinctions between the various ebook stores are getting murkier every day, but the ability of the Nookcolor to natively access the new Google eBooks has to be seen as a plus. It’s not quite the cross-platform format whore that the iPad is, but being given a choice about one’s content provider is obviously something that consumers are interested in.
I think I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention that more tech-savvy readers have the option of rooting their new NookColor as well, turning a pretty darned good eReader into a bona fide Android tablet. It’s not really an option for those who want to hold on to their warranties, but it goes to show that the hardware under the hood is more impressive even than B&N has let on so far. The default software suite, including games and support for things like Pandora, is impressive, but opening the tablet up to all the toys on offer on the Android Market takes it to another level.
If you’re already firmly entrenched in your iPad or Kindle camp, there’s little that the Nookcolor can do that is liable to make you cast your eReader of choice aside. But for people just getting into the ebook game, it’s a perfect middle-ground between the single-functional eReader dynamo and do-it-all tablet of the future.
Barnes & Noble has cast what could well be their final die in the eReader wars with the announcement of the NOOKcolor. With Amazon looking to corner the market on low-cost eInk eReaders, Apple dominating the high-end tablet space, and additional competitors like the new 7″ Google tablet T-Mobile offers entering the market, the big book retailer is going to try and walk the line and hope that consumers follow them.
It’s certainly an interesting choice, and not one that many gadget gurus would have predicted. Built on the Android development platform, the NOOKcolor eschews the eInk technology that has dominated the eReader space until now for a full-color touch-display.
“With NOOKcolor, we’ve combined the functionality and convenience of a 7-inch portable wireless tablet with the reader-centricity of a dedicated eReader, and employed a breakthrough color screen technology that will wow customers,” said William Lynch, Chief Executive Officer of Barnes & Noble.
Owners of Apple’s iPad would likely greet such a statement with skepticism, since the iPad is capable of that and much more. The difference, for consumers, is going to be the relatively reasonable $249 price tag.
While the NOOKcolor is definitely an exciting new entrant into the product space, especially in time for the holidays, there are a lot of questions that need to be answered:
• Barnes & Noble is using a laminated touch screen for the NOOKcolor – will this offer users anywhere near the same visibility in bright light that the Nook and Kindle enjoy, or will it suffer the same problems in that environment as the iPad?
• The NOOKcolor features a full web browser, but no Flash support. Will they be able to offer some sort of work-around, much like the iPad does, so users can use killer web apps like Youtube?
• A big part of the NOOKcolor push is the expanded NOOK kids experience, featuring full-color children’s books. Are parents willing to dish out $249 for their kids in this economic climate?
The NOOKcolor is currently available for preorder at NOOKcolor.com. We’ll have full first-hand impressions for you when it debuts on November 19.
The bid for your eReader dollar continues to get more and more competitive. The latest salvo was recently fired by Barnes & Noble, who emailed customers last week to inform them of a new promotion where the purchase of a Barnes & Noble Nook nets new owners a $50 B&N gift card that they can then turn around and use to start their eBook library. (It’s also available on their website.) At the typical Barnes & Noble price for a new best seller, it’s like getting four free books! The site does claim it’s a limited time offer, so if you’re in the market, don’t hesitate.
Since it’s a fair bet Nook owners were going to buy $50 in books at some point anyway, this is an effective $50 price cut. With Father’s Day right around the corner, it’s an aggressive move from the minds at the book mega-retailer, who are all quite familiar with the annual surge in “dad books” that are sold around the third week of June.
While I’m delighted to see some folks finally getting a price break, this deal only further deepens the question as to when we can expect a real round of price cuts from the major eReader manufacturers. With the much more feature-rich iPad starting at $499 and the market for early-adopters long since dried up, both B&N and Amazon need to start thinking about value and bargain positioning. Just last week, Amazon left us speculating whether the Kindle 3 would be a low-cost complement to the rumored Kindle Touch. A price drop on the existing stock certainly wouldn’t hurt either.
In fact, there are a number of things that both Barnes & Noble and Amazon could do to add value without even lowering the price:
- Include a case – It continues to baffle me why both companies pretend that something as basic as a case isn’t standard equipment for an expensive piece of consumer electronics. Instead, both opt to nickel and dime customers for another $30. These should be standard issue, with fancier versions available for those that want to spend extra.
- More free titles – There are literally millions of public domain titles out there, but neither company seems to do a lot to emphasize that fact, probably because it would hurt their bottom line to have people picking up free titles over paid ones. Would it really hurt to include more classics? (For the record, you can fairly easily get them on your own if you’re proactive enough.)
- More sharing – One of the great joys of book ownership is being able to easily and seamlessly share new works with friends and family. Amazon still lacks a lending option altogether and B&N’s is limited to one lend per book. Encouraging more sharing encourages community around their devices, and they’re not doing enough of that.
Rest assured, when there’s actually a proper price cut, we’ll be on top of it.
The Barnes & Noble Nook ereader gets some cool features added with their latest 1.3 software update. In addition to a reported performance increase and faster page turns, Barnes & Noble is now offering a Read In Store feature which allows users to read complete ebooks while inside a Barnes & Noble store.
The new update also let’s you challenge your Nook to a Chess match with 3 levels of difficulty, and Sudoku with four levels of difficulty.
There’s been also a considerable update to the web interface. Updated Wi-Fi aids in easier login to Wi-Fi hotspots. You can also browse the web with the built-in Web Browser (beta). The Nook’s color touchscreen can be used to navigate; use the virtual keyboard to type in the URLs you want to visit.
The home screen now includes these new features, as well as direct access to Audio. The Barnes & Noble Nook is based on the Android operating system, which has been exploding in the smartphone market and will undoubtedly make a big splash in the Tablet PC market as well.
Check out the Barnes & Noble Nook Support page for upgrade instructions.
There is little question that, from a design standpoint alone, Barnes & Noble’s Nook is the most innovative, feature-laden eBook reader in its class. According to Spring Design, a fellow gadget-based company out of California, that’s no coincidence. They’re alleging that B&N’s new Kindle-killer is based on ideas and designs pulled straight from their own dual-screen Android-based e-reader, the Alex.
It would seem the two companies have been collaborating since earlier this year, under an agreement that Spring Design hoped would lead to a full-fledged partnership. Instead, they’re now accusing Barnes and Noble of violating their non-disclosure agreements and “misappropriating trade secrets.”
“We showed the Alex e-book design to Barnes & Noble in good faith with the intention of working together to provide a superior dual screen e-book to the market,” said Eric Kmiec, Spring Design’s VP of sales and marketing, in a statement. According to documents they filed in court, a B&N executive even went as far as warning Spring Design not to consider Amazon as a partner, because their competitor would just “steal Spring’s unique idea without ever buying anything from Spring.” Yikes.
Now instead of a partnership between the two companies, Spring Design filed a lawsuit on Monday and further announced their intention to launch their Alex e-Reader in January in direct competition with Barnes & Noble. The book-seller does not appear to be commenting on the substance of the lawsuit at this time.
The biggest consequence of this new development is not, as it would seem at first, the presence of another competitor on the marketplace. It’s true that both the Alex and the Nook feature color touchscreen navigation and utilize Google’s Android operating system, but the Alex is, as far as we can tell, merely a standalone device. The Nook’s greatest strengths are still the ability to lend books to friends as well as the device’s inevitable ubiquity in the nation’s largest book retailer, something Spring Design can hardly replicate on their own.
No, the most interesting part of this lawsuit is the potential injunction that a judge could put on Barnes & Noble, preventing them from releasing the Nook until the situation is resolved in court. It already seemed far too late in the year for them to release it for this holiday season, but this pending litigation makes that a virtual impossibility. And while I highly doubt that a big corporation like B&N can be gummed up in court for too long, it certainly gives Spring Design the opportunity to get their e-Reader out there first to make the Nook look the copy-cat.
I guess it just goes to show that whenever you spot innovation anywhere in the business world, it’s probably only coming about second-hand. And so much for that.
We’ll be keeping tabs on how this affects the release of the Nook, once B&N sees fit to comment.
As simple as it is to load up a Kindle with content and start reading right away, it’s the parting with the device at the end of its life cycle that actually remains the murkiest for avid e-Reader owners. Whether you’re selling your Kindle to pay the bills, upgrading to a Kindle DX, or making the move to competitors’ products (we hear good things about the Nook!), you can find your questions answered here.
Kindle to Kindle
Of course, one of the simplest transitions can be made when you’re leaving one Kindle behind to get a new model. Amazon gives you the option of registering multiple Kindles to the same account, allowing you to seamlessly reacquire all your old content on your new device. Simply click ‘My Account,’ hit ‘Manage Your Kindle,’ and deliver your library of content to either device. This works exceptionally well for those of us who want to hand our old devices down to spouses and partners, as long as you’re operating under the same account.
Do be aware however, that Amazon restricts the number of times that books can be downloaded to different devices. This isn’t something that comes up terribly often, since most people haven’t even had their first Kindle experience yet, but you can be locked out of content that you’ve purchased. Downloads can be limited to 5, 4, and sometimes even 3, depending on the stinginess of the publisher. This number is completely hidden and varies from title to title, so use discretion.
Kindle to e-Reader
The exception, of course, is anything you’ve downloaded from Project Gutenberg or any of the other sites out there that offer public domain or creative commons titles. As long as the files are in MOBI, PRC, or TXT file formats, they can be read across the board.
No, it’s cool. We understand. Sometimes it’s just difficult being a member of an elite and prestigious group like Kindle owners. The stress of it all can really get to your head. If you’re selling your Kindle off, separating it from your account is as simple as going to the ‘Manage Your Kindle’ page and hitting the “Deregister” link next to the device that you’re leaving behind. You can still re-download your content if you choose to get another Kindle down the road, and it remains accessible to your PC and registered iPhone for as long as you’re associated with the same account.
With the Nook just now exploring the lending angle of DRM-restricted content, I expect that the move to more platform-accessible file formats is in our future. Once publishers realize that it’s in their best interest to allow the flow of content from one device to another (with a layer of DRM to protect their bottom line, mind you), I expect that this process will become far simpler and more open.
Until then, choose your poison!
If the battle for e-Reader supremacy hadn’t started in earnest already, ladies and gentleman, it is so ON! Barnes and Noble has today released specs for their new hotly-anticipated entry into the e-Reader market – the nook. (And yes, that’s right, this device is so new and edgy it doesn’t even use capital letters!)
We already reported on many of the colorful and interesting new features of the device after it was scooped last week, but let’s rehash a bit, shall we?
- It sports a 6” E ink Vizplex screen, making the reading surface more or less the same size and quality of the Kindle 2.
- Navigation is handled by a 3.5 inch color touchscreen LCD below the main screen, which seems like it will operate in much the same way as the album browser on the iPhone. (Though from the kitschy video that they’ve released, it doesn’t look quite as smooth.)
- There is 2GB of internal memory, the same that can be found in the Kindle 2, but B&N has wisely decided to include a microSD slot as well, so you can expand your memory up to 16GB with an additional card purchase.
- AT&T is the 3G wireless carrier of choice, and their network is supplemented with the ability to access Wi-Fi networks. In fact, you’ll be able to access Wi-Fi for free at all Barnes and Noble retail locations. A noble gesture, to be sure, but who is going to a brick and mortar book store after buying an e-Reader? I digress…
- If I’m reading this correctly, it appears as though the nook also sports native PDF support, which is a big plus for people like me, who find themselves constantly sending things to their @free.kindle.com address to get them converted to accepted file formats.
- Here’s a feature I didn’t know I needed until now: personalized screensavers. Instead of the folksy pictures of birds or scowling countenance of James Joyce, you can now upload jpegs of your kids or whomever else to adorn the screen. A nice touch.
- There’s a replaceable battery which is reputed to last up to 10 days. Given that Amazon claims the Kindle 2 can last up to 14, I would peg a more realistic number around 3 days of moderate to heavy use. The big change though is the replaceable battery –when your Kindle battery dies, you have no recourse except to get a new one. The nook will have no such problems.
- The LendMe technology will allow you to share most eBooks with friends and family on their nooks, supported phone, or computer for up to 14 days at a time. This is a real game changer.
I don’t think there’s any question that the nook is the superior device to the Kindle 2. In fact, one could say that it was engineered specifically to one-up the Kindle in nearly every respect. (I’m shocked that they didn’t go as far as positioning it $10 less than the Kindle at $249, instead of the now-standard $259.) All the little quibbles that Kindle owners have had over the last couple years have been addressed – seamless PDF support, replaceable batteries, faster navigation, the ability to lend books, expandable memory, and even easier access to public domain titles through an agreement with Google.
In fact, the only areas in which the Kindle still appears to have an edge are in its experimental features – specifically the web browser and text-to-speech – and access to newspapers and magazines. I was a little surprised at the lack of periodicals in the B&N eBook store, but hopefully that’s something they shore up before it officially launches.
While hardly the revolutionary device it could have been, the nook is poised to dominate if they can release it in time for the holiday rush. I’ve noticed that peoples’ reflexive dislike of e-Readers disappears instantly the moment they hold one in their hands. As soon as Barnes and Noble starts positioning these in their stores nationwide, they could well become the new juggernaut in this burgeoning market.
There’s no firm release date just yet, but that should be coming sooner rather than later. Hopefully we’ll be able to get a hands-on impression before long, so keep your eyes peeled.