B&N and Amazon Planning Big eReader Hardware Refreshes?

Looks like B&N and Amazon aren’t resting on their past successes. Rumors are pegging both companies as having some refreshed hardware coming soon, possibly a tablet for Amazon and an original NOOK refresh for B&N!

Let’s start with Amazon’s tablet. The rumor, admittedly unconfirmed, is that some sort of LCD-based device is coming from Amazon later this year to combat the incredible success of the NOOKcolor. Amazon has all the pieces in place for a fantastic device, with an app store, a tablet-optimized version of the Kindle app, plus the added bonus of Amazon MP3 and the new Amazon Prime video streaming service. It’s not really a shocker that Amazon will muscle into the tablet space, but I have a few speculative ideas about how they could really turn the market on its head.

Amazon has done an amazing job building Whispersync into a magical way to keep your books perfectly in tune across multiple devices. They’ve also been generous enough to offer up free 3G access on capable Kindles. Now imagine combining those two with the tablet concept. Instead of making you pay for a 3G service, what if Amazon offered free 3G for Amazon services? In other words, much like B&N offers free 3G on the classic NOOK, Amazon could offer free 3G for Kindle, MP3, and (if they’re feeling SUPER generous) Amazon Unbox. It would certainly be a big one-up over the NOOKcolor and the iPad, though it would require a fair amount of trickery to restrict the 3G to just Amazon’s services (and get a service provider to go along with it!)

Even without throwing in 3G, Amazon could have a formidable competitor to both the iPad and the NOOKcolor if they combine all their cloud services into one media-centric tablet. It’s disappointing that it probably won’t be Mirasol or another fancy screen, but it makes sense that Amazon wants to become a player in this space before it becomes completely overrun by B&N, Apple, and the other tablet makers.

Then there’s B&N. Their news is far more cryptic, with the only clue to the impending release being a securities filing noting a new device on May 24th. While it’s not clear what it will be, there’s a fair likelihood it’s an update to the NOOKclassic. For starters, B&N has been pushing refurb’d NOOKclassics all over the web to clear out inventory [NewGearDaily has a great deal on NOOKclassics if you’re in the market for one!]. Second of all, the NOOKclassic hasn’t seen a major overhaul since it was released almost a year and a half ago. Even the NOOKclassic WiFi is basically the same device, just without 3G.

So what could we probably see in a new NOOK? My guess is an updated Pearl eInk screen (like the Kindle 3), since that’s an easy one. B&N differentiated themselves from the Kindle with the touch LCD along the bottom 1/4 of the NOOK, and I think it would be a logical jump for B&N to include a touchscreen for the eInk portion of the NOOK as well. Not only would this give them a distinct selling point over the Kindle, it would also give them a plausible reason to maintain price points that are higher than Amazon’s. Plus, there’s always the chance they could cross-sell some NOOKcolor apps with the NOOKclassic (not games, obviously, but recipe apps, etc might still work well on eInk.) The point is, there’s potential there, and since B&N is releasing this significantly after the Kindle 3, and well after the NOOKclassic has permeated the market, it needs to make a compelling case for upgrades and new purchases. Sony’s devices have had touchscreens since their last refresh, but B&N has significantly more marketshare in ebook readers. They need something big and splashy, and that would do it!

What do you think is coming from Amazon and B&N? Are you chomping at the bit for an upgrade to your NOOKclassic? Have you held off on a NOOKcolor hoping Amazon has something up their sleeves?  Share your best speculation below!

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6 replies

  1. I’d like to see the new Nook take some cues from the Sony Touch, but keep their nifty free wireless. I think the color miniscreen was an interesting experiment, but I don’t think it’s been a huge success. Reviews seem to be very divided, at best, on its utility. When I was shopping for an ereader, I thought the Sony had the best hardware, with the touch-only interface allowing a smaller device with the same size Pearl screen the Kindle has. What kept me from jumping on that train was the difficulty of getting books on the Sony devices. They’re not tied to a major bookstore, and no wireless, while costing more. Eh.

    • Agreed 110% on Sony. They completely borked their opportunities in the ebook space, and higher prices with less content access really was the death blow. Most retailers dropped Sony like a hot potato as soon as B&N and Amazon started working retail channels.

      The color screen is probably going to stick around in some form (maybe as a row of hard buttons?) because those icons are all major parts of the NOOK navigation system. They’re even built into the UI of the NOOKcolor, as a collapsible menu that you can call up from any screen and navigate to settings, library, etc. Because they have spent so much time building those navigation icons as part of the NOOK style, if they ditch the color strip they need a new way to include them.

      They could get rid of some of the frames around the strip and expand it, making it more of a usable LCD. If they went touchscreen on the eInk side they might not need as much border frame to separate the two screens, and that would be a huge improvement.

      Personally I didn’t love the touchscreen either, it felt very gimmicky. But like I said, they seem super committed to making the row of icons a major part of the NOOK UI, so it’s probably sticking around for a while.

  2. Just got a Nook Color and didn’t know anything about the possible Amazon refresh until the day afterwards (of course). Still, I’m relatively pleased with my choice so far. The color was a major selling point for me as it opens up a lot of possibilities. I’m still experimenting with it, but it’s served me well so far. I’ll have to keep my eyes open for whatever Amazon releases. I’m definitely intrigued, but probably won’t be switching anytime soon. B&N did a good job with the Nook Color, even if they are fighting off lawsuits right now. With a little work, it can be a semi-decent Android tablet. Obviously not full-featured, but close enough for a lot of people.

    • The NOOKcolor is a great device! The Amazon one is still only rumored, so don’t feel like you made the wrong choice. It seems like the best guess the rumor mill has is a fall/winter release. Plenty of time to enjoy your NOOKcolor and then decide next year if Amazon’s is more interesting.

      The NOOKcolor is a fabulous device, either out of the box or manipulated to be more of an Android tablet. If you’re using the NC for reading but want the occasional full tablet experience, I strongly suggest you look into creating a microSD with Nookie Froyo or Cyanogen CM7 (Gingerbread). The NC boots from SD first, so if the bootable SD is in your NOOK is a full Android tablet. Shut it down and take out the SD card and reboot, and POOF, back to being a regular NOOKcolor. The best part is that using the SD hack doesn’t touch the internal memory, so it’s easy to experiment without putting your device at risk or disturbing your reading library.

      (If you want more tips on this just email me. I am far from an expert but I’ve fiddled with it enough to be reasonably comfortable. Hoping to get my NOOKcolor updated to the new OS and to get a post up soon about the new system versus the SD card one, but in the meantime you can always hit me up for tips.)

  3. That’s the plan right now – get a microSD (need it for a better PDF reader anyway) and get some Android going on it. The only thing I’m looking for there is a way to pick whether to launch Android or Nook code from the SD card. I don’t know if that’s built-in or not, but it would be nice to be able to choose on startup or default to Nook unless choosing otherwise within ## seconds. I really plan to do more with the e-reading side of things overall, but there are definitely a handful of uses for the fuller Android experience.