Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2010 Issue

Barnes & Nobles Announces Nook Color; will Amazon also join the fray?


Yes, that is the Nook Color on the left.

The new Nook definitely does e-book reading. But it does more. Not more like either the iPad or the Slate 500, but it's worth mentioning. On the hardware side, it is essentially a 7" Android tablet. Android is Google's mobile operating system, and it's making its way onto all kinds of mobile devices these days. Many iPad competitors have announced tablets running the Android OS (operating system). But Android has varying levels of restrictions based on the purpose of the device - this reader/tablet isn't compatible with the regular Android Market for applications. Instead, Barnes & Noble has created a developer program in the hope of bringing third-party applications to its Nook Color. The program is in its infancy, so the results of it remain to be seen. It is an ambitious project for Barnes & Noble, but if it succeeds they'll be getting a big head start over Amazon. There are challenges, though: both Apple's App Store and Google's Android Market will always offer superior selection. And, if the transition from normal Android applications to Nook applications requires more than a small amount of effort, I don't see why developers would create apps for a market that is already inherently smaller than either of the existing ones in Apple or Google. The good news is that it shouldn't require much effort since the Nook Color technically runs Android.

Other than e-book reading, the Nook Color can be used to surf the web, play music, and even play video to a limited extent. Those are normally functions we see in full-blown tablets, not e-book readers. Those could easily be major selling points for the new Nook, although people might be buying it more as an inexpensive tablet than as a color e-reader. Additional capabilities will appeal to varying demographics: the Nook color can be used effectively for viewing magazine content and children's (picture) e-books. And it also includes popular applications for social networking like Facebook and Twitter. There's something for parents, and there's something for teens. No 3G (cellular wireless) was announced so standard wi-fi is the only option currently. It's still a lot of functionality packed into a one pound casing for $250.

Traditional e-ink readers have been the norm - battery life (upwards of a week on a single charge for some) and readability in direct sunlight being the main advantages over tablets and color readers. They remain the most popular dedicated e-readers. But with the second largest e-book retailer releasing a cheap(ish), yet attractive e-reader/tablet, they find themselves presently in a strange position: one not filled with competition. Barnes & Noble is the first, and only, major e-book retailer to launch a full color e-reader. I'd encourage them to work fast and try to make as much progress as possible with their developer program: they won't be alone for long.

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