Thursday, October 28, 2010

Barnes & Noble Nook Color - PublishersLunch urges caution

Nook Launches "The First Reader's Tablet"; Pairs with Books-A-Million, and Says Sales Are Over A Million Units

Barnes & Noble introduced the expected Nook Color at a splashy press conference on Tuesday afternoon convened in their own backyard, on the fourth floor of their Union Square store--which was transformed into a nightclub-style space for the event.

What is it may be the most asked--or mis-answered--question in the days to come. Contrary to many press reports, it's not a true tablet, and even though it has an Android operating system this is not a device to compete head-on with the wave of notPads coming from Samsung, Dell, Blackberry, Motorola and others.

It's a touchscreen color ereader that integrates other features--including some book and music-focused apps, what's said to be a fast web browser--and uses its core features to display videos and accommodate gestures and some interactivity, hence BN's coinage of calling it "the first reader's tablet." At least some of that goal hinges on the LG Vivid View screen, the first commercial iteration of this high-resolution screen technology, which they claim is laminated to "maximize the readability benefits of a backlit screen while minimizing the glare." (The company was only demonstrating devices indoors at the event; a request to see unit in action outdoors was declined. Even indoors, you could detect the lamination, and it's not a high-gloss glass like the iPad screen.)

All of that ought to set it well apart from the other wave of cheapie LCD readers pretending to be tablets also on their way to stores soon, but that will be part of the confusion Nook Color will need to overcome. It has the compact form factor and weight (at just under a pound) of an ereader rather than an iPad, though as Steve Jobs warned us, a seven-inch screen is indeed small for a lot of tablet-like functions.

At $249 with an "expected ship date" of November 19, the wifi device is 10 dollars less than the original Nook announced about a year ago. Like the jump from original Kindle to Kindle 2, the new Nook suggests a lot more technological savvy and finesse.

On the news front, Barnes & Noble announced that Books-A-Million will make the Nook line their "exclusive reading devices," in-store and online, and ceo William Lynch said that Nook will power BAM's ebookstore as well. BAM is the third largest physical bookseller in the country (albeit a distant third). BAM says they will feature "special in-store displays that include demonstration units for customers" starting in November.

Lynch also declared "Nook has sold well over a million units, and we're well on our way to selling a million more." He was confident that Nook Color will be "the ereader of choice this holiday." In the presentation he claimed "nothing like this has ever been invented" and noted during a Q&A session that "this device lets us play a lot of offense" in the marketplace.

Under the can-your-Kindle-do-that header, Barnes & Noble's would list Nook Kids, their new Newsstand, video capabilities (for enhanced books), and some improved social capability. Nook Kids takes advantage of the color, the touchscreen, and the video capabilities all together, and publishers are clearly excited about having a viable platform and store for this material beyond Apple. On the social side, friends can share bookshelf lists with each other, facilitating borrowing requests and lending among groups, and they've made it easy to do things like share passages and thoughts to Facebook and Twitter from within ebooks.

The company expects to make serious inroads with Nook Newsstand as well, since the color display makes the display of magazines possible, along with color versions of newspapers. (See the next item; Kobo has a similar strategy.) They say they will have over 100 magazines available at launch, both as single issues and by subscription, with more to come. In the quick demo I found the magazine samples too much like looking at thumbnails, but it was hard to evaluate from a quick glimpse, and others seemed more enthusiastic. They have an "article view" that brings up the text for entire articles with one click, but here the screen size seems like a limitation versus the iPad, though the magazines and newspapers do look a lot better than on black-and-white eInk. Newsstand offers free 14-day trial subscriptions across their offerings.

The units come with a limited set of apps, like Pandora, and the company issued an open invitation to join the Nook Developer program, with a clear focus on "developing reading-centric applications." They will not connect directly to the Android marketplace, though, saying they intend to present a "curated, organized commerce experience."

A release suggests developers can "enrich book content with reference material, audio, photos, videos, Web links, plug-ins, and more" or develop "applications from cooking to travel to science and nature, helping readers further explore their interests." Most tantalizing in this area, they suggest the company might finally match Amazon in offering a robust API into their databases, promising "unprecedented access to a wide variety of BN.com content and data through Web APIs."

More conventionally, Nook Color gives an easy home to all those enhanced ebooks publishers have been creating (though it will not display Flash videos "in this version of the software"). While videos look good on the screen, we were told for now it doesn't offer full screen videos, and the samples we saw--embedded inside book pages--were not large enough to be easy or useful to view, particularly the sample instructional cooking video.

You should read any and all accounts of yesterday's demos with a large helping of salt. Only BN demonstrators were allow to touch the sample devices, so no one has a true hands-on report. The touchscreen did appear to some of us to have very slight lag in responsiveness (which could be a software issues), but it's hard to assess something you haven't tried yourself, and the order of magnitude here is far smaller than the page-refresh-rate issues they have had on the black-and-white Nooks. Someone on TechCrunch was widely quoted, quick to slam the whole idea in a matter of minutes, but without attending the event.
This may or may not be a machine that makes super-techies drool, but in an expanding market where readable color and multi-touch at a middle-ground price point match what a lot of consumers say they want, Nook Color looks like a strategically smart addition to Barnes & Noble's line.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi do you know if this new nook works here in nz?

cheers

Bookman Beattie said...

I believe so. I chceked them when in the US earlier this year and they said provided I had a US address (I would have been able to use my daughter's NY address).
I'll see if I can get more info, meantime Google Barnes & Noble and e-mail them your question.

Anonymous said...

Hi thanks for that, they wont ship directly how ever im going in a few weeks so i will pick one up then, will let you know how i get on?
merry christmas to you.