Barnes & Noble on Tuesday revealed specs and pricing for Nook, a new e-reading device that puts Barnes & Noble in direct competition with not only Amazon and its book e-tailing empire, but also Amazon's mighty Kindle.
The Nook, priced at $259, was unveiled at a Barnes & Noble event Tuesday afternoon, and as previously rumored, will run on Google's Android platform, plus have a color touch screen in addition to its main screen.
According to Barnes & Noble's confirmed specs for Nook, the e-reader has a a built-in 3G wireless connection (provided by AT&T), provides Wi-Fi connectivity and offers 2 GB of internal memory (expandable to 16 GB using a micro SD card).
The display is a 6-inch E-ink screen and also a color touch screen that allows users to both navigate the Nook's content and convert into a virtual, touch-screen QWERTY keyboard. The Nook measures 7.7 x 4.9 x 0.5 inches, weighs 11.2 ounces (an ounce more than the Kindle), and has a battery life of 10 days (4 days fewer than the Kindle), with a replaceable battery. It doesn't have the Kindle's text-to-speech feature but does come with a built-in speaker and can play back MP3 audio.
One of the Barnes & Noble Nook's key features is the ability for users to lend out books they've purchased to friends for up to 2 weeks free. According to Barnes & Noble, if you're a Nook user, you can buy a book through Barnes & Noble's eBookstore and send it to a friend's Nook, iPhone or iPod Touch, plus select BlackBerry and Motorola phones and Windows and Mac PCs that have Barnes & Noble's eReader software installed.
As if to dispel any notion of who Barnes & Noble views as its competition, the launch page for Nook on Barnes & Noble's Web site offers a line-by-line comparison of Nook with Amazon's Kindle 2, citing key areas like the color touch screen and support by AT&T's 3G network that the Kindle doesn't have. Nook is also touted as the first e-reader to run on Google Android (although Spring Design, which announced its Android-based e-reader Alex on Monday, would probably have something to say about that).
The Nook debuted at a Barnes & Noble news conference in Manhattan Tuesday that featured Barnes & Noble CEO Steve Riggio and BN.com CEO William Lynch. Customers will be able to start ordering the Nook at nook.com starting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, with the devices scheduled to ship in late November.
"Simply following the leader is not in our DNA," said Lynch at the unveiling, according to numerous reports of his remarks.
At first glance, the Barnes & Noble Nook appears to offer many of the Kindle's best features, match Kindle's pricing for both device and content (the previously announced Barnes & Noble eBookstore offers new releases at $9.99, same as Kindle), and add in extra features like that ability to lend books.
Given Barnes & Noble's ability to match Kindle both at the level of content -- eBookstore versus Amazon.com -- and now devices, Barnes & Noble is perhaps the most formidable competitor Amazon has yet faced in the e-reading market. Barnes & Noble is also a known quantity in book selling -- it's not an obscure device maker like an iRex or Plastic Logic, for example -- and can offer at least as much functionality and connectivity for its e-reader as either Amazon or Sony.
"Barnes & Noble has more of a chance than any of the new entrants to the market," said Sarah Rotman Epps, an analyst at Forrester Research, in an interview with The New York Times Tuesday. "Our data shows that the prospects for e-reader devices are book-buying consumers, and many consumers still have a relationship with Barnes & Noble. They need to leverage those relationships before it's too late to seize their part of the e-book market."
Forrester's most recent data on e-books and e-reading suggest the market for e-readers will continue to expand into 2010, and that at the close of 2009, Amazon will have a 65 percent market share of e-reading devices with Kindle. Now that Barnes & Noble's in the hunt with a device of its own -- and content support, through its eBookstore, for the iRex and Plastic Logic devices -- Amazon suddenly has a a lot to be concerned about.
Another winner is Google, which through its Google Editions digital ecosystem and now two readers running on its Android platform, would seem to have as much of a stake in the exploding e-books market as anyone else.
Barnes & Noble's long climb to e-reading relevance began earlier this year with the purchase of Fictionwise.com and the launch of its e-reading software. In July came the unveiling of Barnes & Noble's eBookstore. Now with a device, it's poised to blow away the entire field of Kindle competition and leave it and Amazon as the lead competitors for e-reading market share. Expect the e-readers wars to only heat up from here.