The Amazon Kindle's New, Old Threat: Barnes & Noble's Nook Is Coming on Strong

Nook vs. Kindle

Barnes & Noble's Nook e-reader is in the headlines for a number of reasons at the moment, and it's prompting a big question: With no competing device from Amazon, can the Nook steal the Kindle's throne?

The original Nook was the first e-reader to challenge the Amazon Kindle with a cleverer Android-powered device that one-upped the Kindle with a second color screen. Then B&N reinvented the Nook into the Nook Color, an all-color touchscreen device that garnered a serious amount of attention because of its high promise, interesting design, and low price for a large Android tablet. Now this device is back in the news.

The Home Shopping Network has been teasing the Nook Color for a while now, but just recently revealed some inside information on a big update to the Nook due in April. Specifically HSN has been mentioning an OS upgrade that will add the ability to play Adobe Flash content in web pages (for video streaming and gaming powers), and the arrival of the new dedicated App Store—an event B&N has independently confirmed. There's also a new email app that runs outside the browser environment. According to B&N, the Nook App store seems to be a curated version of an Android App store, (superficially similar to the one Amazon's developed), that will include "exciting new apps" like Angry Birds and "Drawing Pad." The Flash movie abilities may precede Motorola's plans to add Flash to the much more expensive Xoom tablet.

Meanwhile, DigiTimes is reporting that far-East production partners have delivered three million Nook Color units to B&N already. Sales are estimated at 600,000 to 700,000 for the first months of 2011, following the million-unit fourth quarter of 2010, and Digitimes estimates that the Nook's $250 price point has let it capture "over 50% of the iPad-like market" in North America. We're assuming this figure includes the Kindle and all the competing Android tablets, no matter what their size, but that still seems like a bold assertion.

The question is: If Barnes & Noble really is ordering Nooks by the millions, is planning a big headline-grabbing update in a few weeks, and is leveraging the price of its Nook Color as one of the most affordable large-screen Android tablets that costs half the iPad's price... can the Nook actually corner the e-reader market?

The aging Kindle, after all, is beset by several technological weakpoints including its awful browser and slow-speed grayscale screen. Amazon is making moves to capture income from the Android market by having its own very Apple-like third party Android Appstore, but it hasn't got an Android device on sale of its own. The Kindle may appear to some consumers to look a little dull compared to the huge number of color touchscreen tablets that're coming on sale, despite it's lauded e-ink display (and if you doubt the consumer is that shallow, then remember phenomena like the megapixel wars in digital cameras and cellphones—where a shinier more-capable device garners more attention). And since Amazon expects to have sold around 8 million Kindles (of all types) in 2010, and B&N only launched the Nook Color in late October 2010, it looks like the Nook is definitely moving in on Amazon's turf.

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