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Summary: With Kindle Fire drawing near, Barnes & Noble needs a hit more than ever. But will the Nook Tablet be it?
Since the release of the Nook Color last year, two major events occurred that have meant a tremendous amount for Barnes & Noble and its future. First, on the traditional book side, there was the death of Borders, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in February. It’s no secret that traditional book sellers are struggling a bit in the increasingly-digital book world, so the news that Borders was closing its doors was undoubtedly very troubling for Barnes & Noble. But the news on the digital side was perhaps more of a concern: In September, Amazon announced the Kindle Fire, a 7-inch tablet that promised to eat up a sizable portion of the 7-inch tablet marketshare that Barnes & Noble had worked so hard to build up. So you might say that Barnes & Noble has quite a stake in the Nook Tablet, its latest product.
Following The Follower
Listening to Banes & Noble CEO William Lynch talk about the tablet rivalry between his company and Amazon, it felt as it it was Amazon, not Barnes & Noble, that had already released a tablet to the market. “We are trying to lead, not follow,” said Lynch, who proceeded to dedicate full minutes of his presentation to discuss the various ways he saw Amazon’s tablet as deficient. Is Amazon the underdog, or is Barnes & Noble? No one, not even Barnes & Noble, seems to be sure.
A Curated App Ecosystem
Like the Kindle Fire and the Nook Color, the Nook Tablet features a version of Android so significantly skinned that it barely resembles the Google OS. That’s a good thing because it hides many of the rough spots that Android is so famously home to. But it also poses a problem for the tablet’s app ecosystem, which is significantly smaller than the default Android Market and subject entirely to Barnes & Noble’s critical eye. But the company isn’t particularly concerned. Thousands of apps will be available the Nook marketplace in the coming year and all of them will be optimized for a 7-inch form factor. So maybe there is less here to worry about than it might initially appear.
The $50 Amazon Advantage?
In terms of specs, there isn’t a tremendous amount that separates the Nook Tablet from the Kindle Fire. Same screen size, similar power and battery life make the tablets more or less indistinguishable. But then there’s the pricing. Barnes & Noble plans to sell the Nook for $249, a full $50 more than Amazon is selling the Kindle Fire. Barnes & Noble justifies the price increase based on the Nook Tablet’s 1GB of RAM and 16GB of storage, which is double what Amazon offers with the Kindle Fire. But Amazon had good reason to skimp on storage: It aimed to keep costs down, for one, and it also made a heavy emphasis on the wonders of the cloud. Which side will consumers take? We won’t have to wait long to find out.
The Video Concern
As with the Kindle Fire, media plays a big role in the mission of the Nook Tablet. Barnes & Noble is loudly singing the praises of its video parters Hulu Plus and Netflix, not to mention music services like Pandora and games like Angry Birds. But Hulu Plus and and Netflix are streaming services, which means that users are are on their own if they want to watch videos while not connected to the Internet. Which service will step in to fill this void? Barnes & Noble isn’t saying quite yet.
The Barnes & Noble Advantage: Brick and Mortar
With the announcement of the Nook Tablet came another interesting development: Barnes & Noble is introducing the Nook Digital Shop, a section of its stores dedicated solely to its digital product portfolio. This gives Barnes & Noble a significant strategic advantage over Amazon, which relies on third-party retailers to get its products in consumers hands. In all, the Nook Digital Shop will likely make the Nook user experience feel similar to that of Apple’s products, which are supported via Apple’s own physical stores. This is something consumers will without a doubt notice and respond to.
Ricardo Bilton writes for ZDNet's The ToyBox. His work has appeared in The Japan Times, The New York Observer, and The International Business Times, among other publications.