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Nook vs Kindle ‚ tablet war widens

Barely weeks after Amazon’s own groundbreaking move into tablet computers, their deadliest rival, books chain Barnes & Noble, attacked on three fronts ‚ led by a formidable tablet. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK previews the device.

The Nook was never going to be a serious threat to the Kindle. Amazon had turned the latter into a byword for electronic books. Barnes & Noble, makers of the Nook, were regarded as also-rans who would soon be has-beens.

Then came November 7 and the new Nook. Or rather, the new Nook army. Barnes & Noble yesterday announced not only two new e-readers that would directly take on Amazon’s new Kindle readers announced at the end of September, but also a tablet that would compare well in features, and not badly on price. And backing up its army, it would rope in its massive store network as a support mechanism.

Significantly, the new Nooks will hit the shelves by November 18, almost simultaneously with the new Kindles announced six weeks earlier ‚ and due to be released on 15 November. It may well be that the launch was brought forward to tackle the Kindle head-on, but the devices will also benefit from the enormous e-reader awareness that will be created by the Kindle launch.

That the Kindle is the target is not even a question. Comparing the two devices was at the heart of yesterday’s launch.

“The Kindle Fire is deficient for a media tablet,”” said Barnes & Noble CEO William Lynch. “”With the Nook Tablet we are delivering the best media device ever created in a portable form factor.‚

He argued that the 512MB of RAM (active memory) on Amazon’s tablet, the Kindle Fire, was not enough to play a game while reading a magazine. The Nook Tablet has 1GB of RAM. The Kindle Fire’s 8GB of storage, he said, was not enough for the media library users would want to access when not connected to the Internet. The Nook Tablet offers 16GB of storage space, and an SD slot that allows for another 32GB to be added.

“”You’re not always going to be connected to the cloud,”” said, Lynch stating one of those obvious facts that has tended to be glossed over by the likes of Amazon, Apple and Google, who are all pushing their cloud offerings as major competitive advantages.

Like the Kindle Fire, the Nook Tablet has a 7‚ display, and runs on Android 2.3. However, it doesn’t give access to the entire Android Market, only allowing nook-optimised apps and others that are carefully selected. This is likely to be its biggest weakness, and one it intends to address with apps from third-party developers. However, there is as yet no developer army waiting in the wings as with other operating systems.

Pre-loaded apps include the obligatory Angry Birds, along with Netflix and Hulu Plus, suggesting a strong focus on entertainment content beyond the world of books.

Demonstrating its high-definition video capability, Lynch declared: ‚Judge for yourself, but we think content will look and render better on the Nook than on Kindle Fire.‚

He promised eight hours battery life for movie viewing, and 11.5 hours for normal use.

The Nook Tablet will retail at $249, compared to the Kindle Fire’s $199, but with twice the memory and storage capacity, that does not appear to be a major disadvantage.

And the rest of the army? also unveiled two new e-readers, didn’t it?

Nook had an answer for both, without any of the associated R&D costs: it dropped the price of its previous flagship device, the Nook Color ‚ a tablet in its own right ‚ from $249 to $199. It offers ÔÅ°ÔĆtouchscreen, books, magazines, interactive kids’ books, apps, music, e-mail, and web browsing. It will soon also integrate Netflix and Hulu Plus.

The company’s basic e-reader, the Nook Simple Touch, has been cut from $139 to $99, taking on the most basic Kindle readers head-on. Like the Kindle, it features a 6‚ screen, e-ink technology ‚ and no less than two months’ battery life.

Barnes & Noble are not going down without a massive fight: already it claims a quarter of the digital books market.

It believes its chain of hundreds of physical stores will be a big competitive advantage, giving customers a familiar environment in which to get comfortable with the device.

However, this may prove to be an illusion. Customers are already becoming familiar with the Kindle e-readers at thousands of electronics stores that stock the devices. Since they no longer need bookstores to buy books, they certainly don’t need them to buy book-reading devices.

* Follow Arthur on Twitter on @art2gee

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