Nook vs Kindle vs Nook Color, incremental Nook improvements

The Kindle now faces off against both the eInk based Nook 1 and the LCD based Nook Color. Not only does Amazon have to worry about Nook vs Kindle vs Nook Color, it has to worry about the fact that B&N is stealing Amazon’s incremental improvement concept (kaizen).

In this post we’ll look at different facets of Nook vs Kindle vs Nook Color and also at the multitude of ways in which Nook Color improves on Nook 1. It’s almost as if B&N sat down for a Kaizen training session with Mr. Bezos and then started working on Nook Color.

Nook vs Kindle – The gap is narrower

A few weeks ago the Nook 1.5 software upgrade was announced. It might not seem like much but it addresses some areas in which Kindle was hammering Nook -

  1. Now you can sync your place in a book across Nooks and Nook reading apps. This adds a lot of convenience and now Nook has a feature that a lot of Kindle owners love. 
  2. The ‘My Shelves’ feature is the equivalent of the Kindle’s Folders feature. This is another big Kindle advantage that B&N has negated.
  3. Password protect your Nook. Yet another Kindle feature that Nook was missing and isn’t any more. 
  4. Faster Page Turns – Still not as fast as Kindle but noticeably less slow than before. 
  5. B&N also mentions Improved Search but it’s still not very good.

While B&N has been doing this Amazon has started sending out games from the Kindle App Store and has announced that it will add the lending feature. The lending feature is a bit of a big deal when it comes to selling Kindles and Nooks.

However, the real impact would be adding ePub support and/or support for library books. That’s still missing and that’s still Nook’s main advantage over the Kindle.

B&N has also added two pluses in the recent months -

  1. It’s done a lot in terms of increasing retail availability and making sure Nooks are actually available – it’s even available at WalMart now. Kindles are available at Target, Staples, and Best Buy but only in theory - multiple stores are claiming they get only 2 Kindles a day and lots of users have complained about not being able to find Kindles in stock.
  2. In the Nook 1.5 upgrade B&N added the ability to password protect your purchases. This is a feature the Kindle is missing.

B&N has improved the Nook more since Kindle 3 came out than Amazon has improved the Kindle 3. That should be very worrying to Amazon because two of its strengths are constant incremental improvements and reacting very quickly to rival’s improvements.

Is Kindle 3 better than Nook 1? Yes, it’s got the eInk screen and lots of improvements and a faster processor and an easier user interface and faster page turns. However, the gap is a lot less than when Kindle 3 first came out and Nook 1′s retail availability is a lot better.

You can’t let a last generation product compete with you – Amazon has the opportunity to blow away Nook 1 and it ought to go all-out.

Where’s the Kindle 3.5 upgrade with better PDF support and support for library books? Where’s the next killer Kindle WhisperNet feature? What is Amazon waiting for – Has it assumed the battle is already won?

Kindle vs Nook Color – Different devices with an intersecting market slice

Just finished a Kindle vs Nook Color Review and comparing the Kindle 3 and the Nook Color head to head was very revealing.

  1. Firstly, there are just as many improvements in Nook Color (over Nook 1) as there are in Kindle 3 (over Kindle 2). Amazon is the software magic company with its lead in Cloud services and its infinitely scalable website and all its optimization algorithms – How on Earth is B&N managing to keep up? Why is Amazon not able to pull away?
  2. Secondly, the Nook Color manages to be a better choice for people who read around a book a month. That’s very, very significant. It means that instead of having a market of 40 million people to itself the Kindle only has a market of 20 million people to itself.

The latter was a very stunning realization. The Kindle is undoubtedly the best option for people who read more than a book a month. However, Nook Color edges out the Kindle when it comes to people who read 1 book a month or less. It also edges out iPad.

If Nook Color takes off, and it might, that’ll give B&N the financial strength and morale boost it needs to make a really good Nook 2 and a really good Nook 3.

A Kindle Color or a Kindle Tablet is sorely needed. The whole Kindle Reading Apps strategy is a trap – It seemed like Amazon was getting something for nothing and then B&N came out with a reading tablet and started eating up the casual reader market. Kindle Reading Apps should be add-ons that go out alongside a Kindle Tablet and a Kindle Phone – not replacements.

Nook vs Nook Color – Kaizen at the level of Amazon

You could argue that B&N made a fundamental mistake by choosing LCD over eInk. However, it ends up with a device perfect for casual readers.

Apart from the LCD choice B&N doesn’t make very many mistakes – In fact it improves things across the board.

  1. In the main menu B&N gets rid of ‘The Daily’ and ‘Reading Now’ tabs and rolls the ‘Games’ and ‘Audio’ tabs into a section called Extras. It also puts the ‘WiFi’ tab into the Settings Tab. The result is that there are now 6 main tabs in the Nook Color Main Menu and it fits on the screen. It makes the most important menu on the Nook Color a lot easier to use.
  2. B&N went from having almost no search to devoting an entire tab to search and making the Search an ‘instant’ search. It’s really very good and uses the touchscreen very well.
  3. Instead of a ‘LCD-eInk marriage from hell’ we now have a very well done Touch Interface. It’s not silky smooth – it’s just easy to use.
  4. The keyboard is so much better it’s a pleasure to use compared to the Nook 1′s ‘type the wrong keys constantly’ keyboard.
  5. Nook Color replaces whatever super slow processor and buggy code the Nook 1 had with a 800 MHz processor and code that’s reasonably fast.
  6. Nook Color uses an IPS LCD screen. That’s ridiculously good for a $250 device. Using LCD instead of eInk hurts reading but not as much if it’s a very high quality LCD screen. It also has much better pixel density than the iPad and about the same pixel density as Kindle.
  7. The Design is a big improvement. It could have used a few more buttons but it does a lot of things right design-wise including getting rid of the all-white casing of the Nook 1.
  8. The browser is really very good and uses the touch screen well – It’s instantly much better than the original Nook’s decentish browser.
  9. It makes the home page customizable and gives users 3 home screens they can set-up any way they like. That’s a great touch because who wants a boring list of hard to arrange book titles like the Nook 1 had.
  10. Nook Color makes lending very easy by including a LendMe Network App. Nook 1 owners had to use Internet forums and keep track of things themselves. Now users can just use their Nook Color’s LendMe App - though they still have to find other Nook owners on the Internet.
  11. Sluggish page turns on Nook 1 versus instant page turns on Nook Color.
  12. Need for a reading light on Nook 1 versus back-lit screen on Nook Color.

Perhaps Kindle 3 had a similar or larger number of improvements – However, Nook Color was working from such a poor base (Nook 1′s software and usability were both terrible) that its improvements seem more impactful.

Please Note that someone who hasn’t used Nook 1 might find the Nook Color less impressive. It’s not as smooth as iPad and that’s actually OK as it’s half the price. Whether or not you’ve used Nook 1 you’ll find Nook Color impressive for the price. If you love reading, the Kindle is still the right choice – However, Nook Color is a better choice for people who ‘read once in a while’.

Nook vs Kindle vs Nook Color – Amazon needs to move quickly and make BIG changes

Amazon is faced with a unique and unexpected challenge. Nook Color represents a threat that wasn’t supposed to materialize until the 7″ iPad 2 arrived in early 2011. It’s a 7″ LCD screen device that’s actually focused on reading and does a decent job. It also comes in at $250.

At the same time the Nook 1 has improved enough that the Kindle 3′s complete domination of the dedicated eReader market no longer seems guaranteed.

Here are 5 completely unsolicited suggestions Amazon should consider -

  1. Stop being complacent. A lot of people stopped thinking about the Nook once the Kindle 3 came out – think that extends to Amazon. In customers’ eyes things like support for library books and support for other book stores makes the Nook 1 a legitimate contender.
  2. Be proactive instead of reactive – Why isn’t Amazon the one coming out with a ‘reading tablet’? Why isn’t it bundling physical books with ebooks? Why is it not sending out software updates every 2 months?
  3. Focus on winning the eReader battle rather than winning the ‘who sells more ebooks’ battle. Ultimately, the company that wins the eReader battle will have the eBooks market to itself.
  4. Stop depending on Kindle Reading Apps. It’s lunacy to promote another device in TV ads and to start depending on devices that other companies control. Amazon should think about how tightly it runs its own platform and whether it would sell a B&N reading app and then wonder why it’s assuming other companies will keep giving it a free ride.
  5. Beat Nook and Sony Reader on device and software as thoroughly as Amazon beats them on book store and services. Sony Reader 350 is lighter, more compact, has touch, and looks better than Kindle WiFi - that should be unacceptable to Amazon. Kindle needs to be a better eReader than the Sony even when you strip away the book store and infrastructure supporting it.
  6. Make sure no one beats Amazon at its core strength i.e. incremental improvement. If Nook 1 manages to improve in 4 key areas Amazon should have a software update out within a month that improves Kindle 3 in 10 key areas.
  7. Add Revolutionary to its evolutionary (incremental improvements) greatness. B&N is taking a big chance with a ‘reading tablet’ that might end up in a big empty pit between Tablets and Dedicated eReaders – or it might create a new market. Amazon really should be taking chances like this. Sooner or later a reading device that has a fresh new approach is going to beat dedicated eReaders or carve up the market – might as well be a device from the Kindle family.

All of this brings to mind 2009 when Amazon sat on its Kindle lead and did nothing until Nook 1 arrived with PDF support and the fancy navigation touchscreen and jolted Amazon out of its slumber.

With rapid improvements to Kindle 2 (like adding PDF support within weeks of the Nook announcement) and by releasing a ‘better across the board’ Kindle 3 Amazon showed it can fight back. However, it’s gone back to sleep. This time, instead of being aware of the danger Nook Color and Nook 1.5 pose and waking up, it’s taking the easy way out and assuming that B&N has killed itself.

Nook Color is eating away at the casual reader market and Nook 1 is clipping at the Kindle 3′s heels. Both are very real threats and no amount of ‘We’re No. 1 and B&N is probably financially insolvent’ sentiment is going to change that. Add on the Press’ non-stop love-fest for a certain Tablet and you have a very hard next 9 months for the Kindle.

Nook vs Kindle vs Nook Color is not a fight Amazon can win over the long term – It needs a Kindle Tablet, it needs a lot of software improvements, and it needs a color eInk Kindle 4. It also needs them yesterday – though within the next 6 months would probably work. The Kindle is under threat on all fronts and it’s time Amazon started acting like it.

5 Responses

  1. I spent about 5 minutes at Best Buy trying out the nook color the other day. I was trying to find the dictionary, but ended up giving up. I generally consider myself the type that figures out devices quickly, but I just wasn’t finding the dictionary. Did they drop that feature?

  2. “You can’t let a last generation product compete with you – Amazon has the opportunity to blow away Nook 1 and it ought to go all-out. Where’s the Kindle 3.5 upgrade …?”

    “Amazon is the software magic company with its lead in Cloud services and its infinitely scalable website and all its optimization algorithms – How on Earth is B&N managing to keep up? Why is Amazon not able to pull away?”

    Here are my guesses: The “Normals” are in charge, and they’re doing what Normals do: Following the Product Roadmap, keeping within their budget, subjecting proposed new features to the “business case” litmus test, and generally being pennywise.

    They need to ask themselves instead, “What would Steve Jobs do?” He didn’t just go for sound-bite features. His Leopard OS upgrade contained only a couple. Instead, it had 250 minor features and tune-ups, and the press was disappointed. But over the long haul this provided user satisfaction that translated into 5 million more rabid word-of-mouth salesmen. There are dozens of little and medium features that Amazon should be working on to achieve the same result.

    “A Kindle Color or a Kindle Tablet is sorely needed.”

    A half-height DX would fill the bill. It would be relatively easy to create, and could be out in six months from a standing start (and I sure hope they have a prototype under wraps already).

    “If Nook Color takes off, and it might, that’ll give B&N the financial strength and morale boost it needs to make a really good Nook 2 and a really good Nook 3”

    But if they’re selling them at a loss, they’re just winning Pyrrhic victories. (Maybe that’s why Amazon is complacent?)

  3. You make Nook1 sound terrible at times, and at other times make it sound good. I think you need to clarify that the original firmware of the Nook1 wasn’t all that great, but subsequent updates have made it very competitive. Also worth mentioning with the 1.5 Nook update is a bolder font that makes readability comparable to, if not quite as good as, the Kindle 3.

    Personally, I prefer the touch interface of the Nook1. The only significant downsides to the Nook1 I see now are battery life and weight. The main updside is ePub support and the color screen is nice to have at times. The rest is trivial in my opinion.

    • Yes, for clarity here’s where I think it was and where it is now -

      At Launch – Terrible. Not very usable. Poorly implemented.

      First 1 or 2 updates – Not significant.

      After latest update – Quite decent.

      It’s still quite far behind Kindle 3. It’s just that it has closed the gap.

      My perception is probably different because the ePub support doesn’t matter to me and the color screen is just a pain. I can totally see people loving the ePub so for some Nook 1 and Kindle 3 are within striking distance.

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