Tablets aren’t the most powerful computing gadgets. But they are the most convenient.
They’re bigger than the tiny screen of a smartphone, even the big ones sporting nearly 5-inch screens.
They have longer battery life and always-on capabilities better than any PC — and will continue to be better at that than any ultrathin/book/Air laptop. That makes them very handy for carrying around and using frequently, casually, and intermittently even where there isn’t a flat surface or a chair on which to use a laptop.
And tablets are very good for information consumption, an activity that many of us do a lot of. Content creation apps are appearing on tablets. They’ll get a lot better as developers get used to building for touch-first interfaces, taking advantage of voice input, and adding motion gestures.
They’re even better for sharing and working in groups. There’s no barrier of a vertical screen, no distracting keyboard clatter, and it just feels natural to pass over a tablet, like a piece of paper, compared to spinning around a laptop.
That's right, I said eReaders. True, it looks like a tablet, runs like a tablet, and delivers a lot of the value that tablets deliver, but the Nook Color's 1.2 upgrade (which is actually a step up to Android 2.2; don't let the numbers confuse you too much) is really a foreshadowing of the future of eReaders, not the future of tablets.
First, the facts. With the new upgrade that will be gradually pushed out to all existing Nook Color devices for free over the next few weeks (or you can download now at www.nookcolor.com/update), the folks at B&N have added some very useful features: an integrated email client, Flash 10.1 support, a curated Android app store (see sidebar), and an improved user experience through a myriad of tweaks. These upgrades make the Nook Color look more and more like a tablet, with a very attractive $249 price point to boot.
Must the iPad now cower in fear? No, not really. Because even at this price point, the Nook Color remains a smaller, less powerful tablet than the iPad. And as we've seen, the range of competitors coming in after the iPad's territory are coming in at higher prices with more powerful features (for example, last week I dropped $529 for an LG G-Slate from T-Mobile with 3D video camera and 4G data plan). The tablet market is gradually moving into higher-power features, not lower-power experiences.
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.
This is a phenomenal week to be covering the publishing industry. Tuesday, Apple released its quarterly earnings. Big surprise, another record-breaking quarter for the folks in Cupertino. A few billion here, a few billion there, blah, blah. How amazing is it that we're not really surprised by such overperformance in an otherwise still-troubling economic environment? Of great interest to me, the eReader guy, was the final iPad tally for the quarter ending June 26th: 3.27 million units worldwide. Still no good guidance on what the US split is, but no matter how you slice it, iPads are hot. (And, no, I still have not bought one, still holding out for iPad 2.0).
And if you follow the implications of that success, as many in the media have, Amazon should just concede the eReader business, pack up its cream-colored Kindle and go home, right?
Wrong. And to prove it, Amazon made a point of announcing some news of its own, the day before Apple's results were public. Amazon flaunted its own success in selling both Kindle devices and eBooks. That's right, despite that iPad upstart, the Kindle is still flying off the shelves, selling more units each month than the month before it all through Q2, when the iPad challenger was supposedly pummeling it. And it's dominating the eBook business as well, selling as much as eight in ten of the eBooks of major bestsellers, seeing its eBook sales rate triple over last year. Oh, and Amazon indicated it sells 1.8 eBooks for every hardback book it sells. That's right, even though it discounts hardbacks to paperback prices for many bestsellers.