With a few discreet press and analyst briefings but no song and dance event (ahem, Foo Fighters), Barnes & Noble has unveiled its new Nook Tablets: the 7-inch Nook HD and the 9-inch HD+. The prices of the devices range from $199 to $299, depending on the size and memory configuration, which makes them competitive with the Kindle Fire and far cheaper than the iPad (although a smaller, cheaper iPad could erode some of the price gap). The devices are lightweight, with high-quality displays and fast performance, outdoing the Kindle Fire on several specs. They now come with a video store, with content for rental or purchase from all of the major studios, filling a major gap in the previous generation of Nooks. The Nook software interface has been completely redesigned. My favorite feature of the devices is the "Profiles" feature--when you launch the device, you see profiles that can be customized for adults or children, down to custom content, browser settings, and store recommendations. This is a long-overdue feature in tablets: Forrester's data shows that 49% of US tablet owners regularly share their tablet with at least one other person.
Walmart and Target, having booted out Amazon’s devices, give B&N exposure to customers in 5,200 retail stores where Amazon devices won’t be displayed.
At its event in Los Angeles today, Amazon announced five new Kindle models: an ultracheap E Ink Kindle; a new "paperwhite" Kindle with a touchscreen and LED light to compete with Barnes & Noble's Nook with Glowlight; an update of its 7-inch Kindle Fire with improved hardware and software; and two "HD" models, with 7-inch and 8.9-inch screen options. Amazon also announced that it would offer its own basic data plan (through AT&T) for its 4G Fire--a very disruptive move that puts pressure on OEMs and carriers to offer their own lower-price plans, and sets the stage for an expected Amazon smartphone launch next year.
With these products, Amazon is:
Upgrading its devices to match its service. Last year, Bezos emphasized the service over the device, and that was key to Amazon's success--consumers buy tablets for what they can do with them, which helps explain why Amazon is the No. 2 tablet brand in the US. This year, with features like Dolby Digital Plus sound and what it calls a "Retina-class display," Amazon is bringing up the quality of the hardware to match the service, which is good for customer satisfaction and good for perception of Amazon's brand. Adding features like a front-facing camera, gyroscopes, and location APIs make Amazon's devices more appealing to developers, too.