The Nook, which is based on Google's Android operating system, offers a 3.5-inch diagonal color touch screen for navigation and a six-inch electronic paper display based on E Ink technology. In addition, the device has integrated access to AT&T's 3G wireless network to buy e-books or subscribe to magazines and newspapers from B&N's online store.
Other features include embedded Wi-Fi for browsing within the book-seller's stores. But the most innovative functionality is in the touch screen and in the ability to share e-books.
Book-sharing uses B&N's "LendMe" technology that lets the Nook send e-books to others at no charge for up to 14 days at a time. E-books can be sent to an Apple iPhone or iPhone Touch, or to select BlackBerry and Motorola smartphones or to a PC or Mac. To receive the e-books, the devices must have B&N's e-Reader software.
The touchscreen is below the e-paper display and about the size of an iPhone screen. The display makes it possible to flip through cover art and search B&N's online inventory of more than 1 million e-books using the Nook's virtual keyboard.
The device also synchronizes with the eReader software in a user's smartphone or computer, so users can pick up where they left off in the last book they were reading, and also see annotations. The Nook can hold up to 1,500 e-books and has an expandable memory slot for a MicroSD card for external storage. In addition, the device can read PDF documents uploaded from a PC or Mac. Photos can be transferred from a computer to create custom screensavers.
B&N sells most digital versions of bestsellers and new releases for $9.99, which is roughly the same as itsrivals. In addition, B&N offers subscriptions to more than 20 newspapers, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times. The company expects to eventually offer subscriptions to every major U.S. daily.
B&N plans to begin rolling out storefront displays for the Nook Wednesday in its highest-volume stores, including 17 college bookstores, such as DePaul University, Harvard University, Southern Methodist University, University of Pennsylvania, and Washington State University. The device also will be on display at B&N service centers in every store.
B&N is taking orders for Nook, which the company plans to start shipping at the end of November. The device will cost $259.
At that price, B&N has launched a major assault on the Amazon Kindle, which according to Forrester Research accounts for 60% of e-reader sales today. The second most popular device is from Sony.
The Kindle starts at the same price as the Nook, and the Sony Reader is available for as little as $200. However, neither device matches the Nook's features. Besides the lack of a color touch screen for navigation, neither e-reader has integrated Wi-Fi or the ability to share DRM-protected content with others, features that many analysts say are necessary to attract more buyers. The Nook also has a replaceable battery, which the other devices lack.
Nevertheless, e-readers as a class may still be too expensive to reach mainstream U.S. consumers. A recent study by Forrester Research found that the devices would have to priced at $50 to reach the widest range of consumers. Such a low price wouldn't cover the price of the screen.
For now, e-readers are proving popular among avid readers and business travelers looking to lighten their load of books and magazines. Forrester recently upped its projection for e-reader sales this year to 3 million units from 2 million, with 30% of the purchases occurring during the holiday season. E-reader sales next year could exceed 6 million units, according to Forrester.
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