Today, amid the kind of rumor and speculation that is more typical of a Silicon Valley announcement, Barnes & Noble unveiled its NOOKcolor, a second NOOK to complement the barely one-year-old original. The NOOKcolor brings a 7" color LCD touch tablet device to the reading market, filling a gap between today's grayscale eReaders that use eInk technology and tablet PCs like the iPad.
This move puts B&N ahead of both Amazon and Sony -- the longtime holders of the number 1 and number 2 slots in the eReader business. Not ahead in terms of device sales, because this new NOOK, priced at $249, will be likely to drive a few hundred thousand units before year-end. But ahead in terms of vision. Because one day, all eReaders will be tablets, just as all tablets are already eReaders.
There are three good reasons why tablet readers are the right thing for the industry to move toward:
Multitouch interfaces have become the new standard. Once consumers experience multitouch, they don't really ever go back to thinking a mouse or button interface makes much sense. Doesn't mean they never touch another button, it just means they prefer to interact in a more natural and intuitive way. That's why Sony recently upgraded its reader line to include touch on even its cheapest model, the Pocket Edition.
Today, Barnes & Noble announced the release of NOOKcolor--beating Amazon to the punch of releasing a color eReader that's really a multimedia tablet. Billed as "the reader's tablet" by B&N, the 7-inch device has an LCD screen, weighs less than 1lb., and runs on Android. Though it won't connect to the Android Marketplace, it will run reading-specific apps as well as games like Sudoku and eventually Netflix. At $249, the NOOKcolor fits comfortably in the price range of dedicated eReaders, but it's half the starting price of the iPad--which raises the question, will consumers be comparing the two products? I think they will, especially if they are a current B&N customer or if they want a device primarily for reading that also has other media consumption and Web browsing capabilities. If reading is secondary to accessing other media and the broad Apple or Android app ecosystems, consumers will be better off with a more multifunctional tablet like the iPad or future devices from RIM, Samsung, and others.
Earlier this week, HP quietly released the Slate 500, an 8.9-inch tablet running Windows 7 that's marketed exclusively to businesses. According to HP, 400 customers are currently evaluating the device, which will be sold through HP's direct sales force and through its Web site for SMBs. The Slate 500 is literally just Windows 7 on a slate form factor; the idea is that businesses that run their systems on Windows 7 will be able to use the Slate for enterprise applications (the device doesn't sync with a user's HP PC).