It’s no secret that Amazon’s Kindle has defined the e-book reader market segment. It brought in a breath of fresh air to a segment that up until that time was well, boring. In Apple like fashion they integrated a great bookstore, wireless downloading, and via Oprah, a cult like following. Like all market leaders though, they have been attacked via the 1984 fiasco and calls for a more open platform.
Enter Barnes and Noble. The brick and mortar book mega-tailer has finally seen the impending writing on the wall for paper in this digital age. They took what the Kindle has and cranked it up to 11. My one peeve though is the name, Nook. Don’t get me wrong, Kindle is not much more descriptive, but Nook just sounds like a Fisher Price product. I just hate product names that sound hokey and childish. End Rant.
The Nook gets so much more right then the Kindle. The segmented screen, part e-ink and part color, makes for a much more user friendly and eye appealing presentation. It also integrates the tech sector’s newest fad, multi-touch. The killer feature to me though is not part of the device itself, but the Barnes and Noble stores. You can actually go to the store and touch it, evaluate it, and see if it works with your eyes. The Kindle has yet to match this, but I see deals with retailers such as Wal-Mart and Best Buy on the horizon. They allow you to use the stores themselves as libraries, browsing the physical books and then being able to sit in store and read books for free. This is a great idea to boost the coffee shop portion of the stores. It makes it much more intuitive and easier to find books in a genre that you enjoy when you can pick up the book see the covers and scan through it quickly. This is something that no website will be able to match.
One killer feature that seems to be getting poo-pooed by the tech community is the book “loaning” process. For 14 days you can “loan” a book to a friend, allow them to read it, and get it back. Now while this loan is occurring you do not have access to the book. Now first off, I’m sure that the content providers were the ones that demanded this feature. In all reality though, if I lend a paper book to a friend, I can’t read it while they have it. So it only makes sense to me that I cannot read the electronic version while I loan it to a friend. Come on people, we can’t have our cake and eat too all the time.
Now for the bad. To compete with the Kindles download anywhere feature they used AT&T’s wireless network. Why this decision was made, given the hatred of that network by iPhone users is confusing at the least. I guess the argument can be made that GSM is a worldwide standard, saving on design costs for an international version and the fact the T-Mobiles network in the US is nowhere near as far reaching. The other deal killer is the question of how many publishers will allow the “loan-a-book” feature. If too many publishers opt-out of this, you take a positively killer feature and murder it. B&N really needs to make sure as many publishers are on board as possible.
Lastly, I have one small gripe with the tech press more than I do with the reader itself. Everyone seems to think that the fact that the Nook is based off of the Android platform is a killer feature. I contend that it doesn’t matter. Most of the people who buy this product could care less what the underlying software is, just the same as they could care less who makes the processor, screen, memory, etc. The only way Android becomes a “feature” is if B&N opens the platform up for development, something I do not see happening. I highly doubt they will allow developers to use the data connection on a device where the connection is essentially subsidized. I could be wrong on this, but if they want the product to “just work” outside applications will not be allowed.
All in all the Barnes and Noble Nook will definitely give the Kindle a run for its money. The biggest problem is that Amazon has already locked up a good portion of the e-reader market. Current Kindle owners now face the reality of any closed system, if they want to move to the Nook, all the books on the Kindle are now useless. This harkens back to the days of Apples FairPlay system on iTunes, locking people into that ecosystem. I’m sure though there will be some intrepid hackers that will find ways to remove the DRM and allow people to move the books they paid for over.