Barnes & Noble is offering a $249 nookcolor that comes with applications to take it beyond e-reading. A new developer program has also been unveiled by Barnes & Noble to produce nook apps, although an analyst said a partnership with established mobile players is needed. The nookcolor could also serve as a low-priced web tablet.
Barnes & Noble on Wednesday unleashed a new nook e-reader featuring a seven-inch color touchscreen that lets users turn pages with a simple tap or by swiping left or right. The company also unveiled a new developer program to grow the nook's software capabilities.
The Android-based nookcolor is now available for pre-order with shipping on or about Nov. 19. According to Barnes & Noble CEO William Lynch, the goal is to enable readers to enjoy the same immersive color offerings displayed in print versions of publications ranging from popular children's' titles to glossy magazines as well as newspapers with color photos and ads.
"Reading anything and everything in brilliant color is the killer app and squarely the product's focus," Lynch said. "At $249, nookcolor offers a tremendous value -- particularly in comparison to the many other seven-inch tablets coming to market at twice the cost and often requiring expensive data plans."
Under Barnes & Noble's nookdeveloper program, content providers and application developers will be able to create software to expand the capabilities of the nook e-reader. In exchange, developers will gain access to merchandising opportunities on Barnes & Noble's web sites and more than 1,300 U.S. bookstores.
Moreover, content and app providers will not be limited to creating offerings related to e-reading. The nookcolor comes loaded with new capabilities such as a full web browser, Pandora Internet radio, Quickoffice reader for displaying Microsoft Office files, and free games.
Still, if Barnes & Noble and other e-reader makers really expect to develop a software ecosystem for nook devices, they will need to partner with established mobile platform players, observed Al Hilwa, director of application software development at IDC. Another "prerequisite for success in the long run" would be to partner "with an entrenched developer community such as Adobe or Microsoft," he said.
Building a Franchise
On the other hand, offering an attractively priced e-reader that doubles as a web-browsing device may be attractive by itself, Hilwa said. He thinks there is a low-end space emerging for tablets that are e-reader-plus devices.
"We saw Apple build its iPhone franchise initially out of an iPod-Plus strategy, and so it is possible for a new player to get into this space with this approach," Hilwa said. "The challenge is that new device makers or retailers may not have the platform skills to fully market a device like this end-to-end."
The nookcolor's new LendMe App, which enables users to borrow e-book titles from friends, seems tailor-made for Wi-Fi Direct -- a new spec developed by the Wi-Fi Alliance for enabling direct peer-to-peer connections without the need for an intervening hot spot. Though Wi-Fi Direct is clearly an option that will compete with Bluetooth by providing potential performance or cost advantages, Hilwa doesn't think the new spec will have an immediate impact on the e-reader market.
"There is a bit of complexity to the network stack that hopefully" the Wi-Fi Alliance "has simplified," Hilwa said. "For these types of communication technologies to be successful, apps should work transparently and only a small segment of low-level device-driver developers would be engaged."