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Nook Color Becomes Dwarf Star in Tablet Universe

By Rob Spiegel
Apr 25, 2011 12:37 PM PT

Barnes & Noble unveiled a major update for its e-reader tablet, the Nook Color, on Monday. The US$249 e-reader lets customers have some tablet features without having to break the bank.

Nook Color Becomes Dwarf Star in Tablet Universe

Barnes & Noble Nook Color
The Barnes & Noble Nook Color

The Nook Color operating system is upgraded to Android OS 2.2/Froyo and will now support Adobe Flash Player. The update also includes full featured built-in email, an enhanced Web experience, additional interactivity with books and magazines, and a collection of apps from third-party developers -- a mere 125 to start, but growing.

Nook users already had access to 2 million digital titles, but this update will roll out some enhanced reading experiences. Nook Books Enhanced offers 225 media titles that supplement text and pictures with embedded video and audio, and that list is also expected to grow. Barnes & Noble also has added dozens of new titles and an improved navigation system to Nook Newsstand. Newsstand offers more than 150 full-color newspapers and magazines including OK!, ESPN, The Onion and PC Gamer.

Nook Kids has been expanded with 15 new Read and Play titles. The digital picture books create an interactive experience by bringing animation and activities to the stories. Another addition is Nook Friends, which allows users to create a social network based around reading. Friends can share books, swap suggestions, sync with Facebook and view activities.

All updated devices will include the apps, Nook Email, Nook Friends, Pandora radio, Crossword Puzzle, Sudoku, Chess, Contacts and Gallery. Barnes & Noble is offering some free apps, including calendar and notes. Most paid apps cost less than $2.99 and almost all are priced below $5.99.

The Nook Color uses a TFT LCD screen. Most e-readers use a black and white e-paper screen that is easier to read but cannot display color or videos.

Barnes & Noble did not respond to TechNewsWorld's request for comments by press time.

Updating the Reading Experience

The upgrade to the Nook Color brings some interesting ideas on how to enhance and supplement the reading experience. The book of the future looks to be more of a multimedia experience instead of just pages filled with words.

"This is a nice update for the Nook Color," Laura DiDio, principal analyst at ITIC, told TechNewsWorld. "It's got lots of new multimedia features, all of which are centered around the device's core functionality and raison d'etre: reading. The new Nook Friends, a social application designed to facilitate purchasing, sharing and recommending books, is a neat application for bibliophiles -- it provides them with a forum to exchange reviews, experiences and ideas about new publications, while fostering and furthering social networking. And with a 7-inch display and a price tag of $249 it provides lots of technology at an affordable price tag."

The Nook Color has a different purpose than the iPad. The iPad is a full-featured tablet and the Nook Color is an enhanced e-reader which is now getting some more tablet-like features.

"The Nook Color is not the iPad 2, nor does Barnes & Noble intend it to be," said DiDio. "It is not a leading-edge multimedia device that is designed to allow its users to play nearly unlimited games and download tens of thousands of applications."

Comparing it to the iPad is unfair, in DiDio's view. "It's not the same animal -- it's like comparing a cat to a mountain lion."

The new support for Android 2.2 (Froyo) and Adobe's Flash Player for video viewing are welcome advances, said DiDio. "One of the most basic and desirable features people look for in an e-reader or tablet device is superior graphics, and once they've read a book, many people inevitably progress to watching videos in their spare time."

E-Paper and TFT Will Blend

The Nook Color uses a TFT LCD screen, while most e-readers use electronic paper. The advantage of the Nook Color's LCD screen is that it can display full color books and magazine and supplement material with videos and pictures.

"The Nook Color is really a tablet," Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld. "The difference is an e-reader uses e-paper -- like the Kindle -- and a tablet has a TFT screen. The tradeoff is that e-paper is vastly better for reading, while the TFT is vastly better for video. The Nook is a tablet -- they've just positioned it as a reader."

The Nook Color targets those in the e-reader crowd who want some additional features in their reader, as well as people who want a tablet but are looking to spend less.

"If you're really into color and you're more of an occasional reader, and you want to see publications with color, you're going to drift toward the tablets or the Nook," said Enderle. "Barnes & Noble has differentiated itself from the Kindle by creating a tablet."

Eventually we will see a convergence of the e-reader and tablet displays, Enderle predicted. The displays of the future will offer both e-paper and TFT functionality.

"The problem with e-paper is it has a slow refresh and doesn't do color at the moment," said Enderle. "With TFT, the contrast isn't good for reading, and it washes out in the sun. We're seeing convergence with displays that can do both things reasonably well. That may not happen by 2015, but it will certainly happen by the end of the decade."

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