Barnes & Noble, I have to hand it to you. I’ve been watching eReaders with great interest, not for myself, but for my wife who is an avid dead tree reader (me, not so much) and my job, which is in publications. Credit to Amazon and their Kindle for breathing life into the field and to Sony and their readers for delivering much needed variety, but B&N and the Nook is clearly the one to beat in so many ways.
First, B&N managed to deliver an eReader that in no way detracts from their store experience by offering free in-store reading. That makes it a device to take with you to the store, not an alternative for going to the store. This complementary approach, integrating the Nook into the B&N experience, is pure gold.
To make that work, B&N made sure the device had wifi and partnered with AT&T, a wireless provider that offers both 3G for downloading books on-the-go but also wifi hotspots for the stores. You walk into the store. The Nook hooks up with the wifi hotspot. You get to read books, same as you do with the physical books in the store. Others have questioned the wisdom of choosing AT&T as their partner, but when you consider they needed both 3G and wifi, there wasn’t a better option.
Second, the Nook’s lending functionality brings it closer to a real book than any eReader before it. Not only does this overcome one of the stigmas against ebooks, but it helps drive adoption of B&N’s ebook system. To read a B&N ebook, you need a B&N ebook reader, be it a Nook or their application for PC, Mac, iPhone, BlackBerry, and soon Windows Mobile. The more people they get to read B&N ebooks, the more people will be inclined to buy B&N ebooks and be able to justify buying a Nook. Very smart move on their part.
Third, the combination of energy-efficient e-ink and quick response color LCD touchscreen brings together the best of both worlds. The LCD offers on-screen keyboard input, a “Cover Flow” style look at one’s library, dynamic buttons, music control, and whatever else will come, to complement the e-ink display for the real reading. It cuts the battery life, but it still runs more than a week between charges, which is plenty. I think this split-screen approach offers tremendous potential, particularly when one considers the next advantage…
Fourth, it runs Android. That opens all sorts of software possibilities. Both official and unofficial apps are practically assured, and with input via USB and storage via SD card, some good Nook hacks should be expected too.
To me, the only question left is content. Obviously B&N has the pull to get bestsellers on the Nook, but what about newspapers, magazines, and comic books? If they get the Washington Post, I will buy my wife a Nook and cancel our (well, her) subscription to the Sunday edition. Offer magazines, and I’ll make sure she gets them all through B&N. Get comic books on that thing and I’ll buy one for myself (assuming a steep discount since there’s no color, and some free in-store reading).
Thanks to the in-store reading integration, we’d be even more inclined to visit our local store, which is saying a lot because my wife goes there all the time. We were just there last night for reasons not at all related to the Nook. The point is, B&N has the device I want and the store integration to keep us coming back. They get us the content, and we’ll be completely sold. I imagine we won’t be the only ones.