Kindle Tablet

Wanted to write a Kindle Tablet post that covers all the possibilities, and also makes some Kindle Tablet predictions. Well, this is it.

Kindle Tablet – What screen will the Kindle Tablet use?

There are three possibilities -

  1. The practical choice – IPS LCD. It’s what iPad and Nook Color use. It’s battle-tested and reasonably cheap. 
  2. The dream screen – Qualcomm Mirasol. This would blow away every other Tablet when it comes to battery life and ‘new technology appeal’.
  3. The multiple-mode choice – Pixel Qi. The ability to switch between color LCD and transflective LCD is very attractive. However, it just isn’t as sexy (or battery friendly) as Qualcomm Mirasol.

My gut feeling says Qualcomm Mirasol. For one, which one would you rather bet on – a start-up like Pixel Qi or an established giant like Qualcomm. For another, if you want to create a few solid competitive advantages, Qualcomm’s color eInk screen promises to do that exceedingly well.

If it were my call, it’d be IPS LCD as it’s the safe choice – but here’s to hoping we see Amazon take a chance on Qualcomm Mirasol.

Kindle Tablet – What will the Kindle Tablet Release Date be?

This is probably the least thought out section.

  • If using IPS LCD – Summer 2011. Probably July 11th, 2011.
  • If using Qualcomm Mirasol – Winter, 2011. Probably November 17th, 2011.
  • If using Pixel Qi – Very early. Perhaps as early as mid June.

Please do keep in mind that what B&N announces on May 24th might change the ‘announcement date’ and perhaps even the actual ‘Kindle Tablet release date’. If Kindle Tablet uses Qualcomm Mirasol, it’s unlikely to arrive in June or July 2011 – not matter what B&N announces.

How many models of the Kindle Tablet will there be?

Here are the 4 ones that seem most likely -

  1. 5.8″ or 7″ Kindle Tablet with WiFi and Special Offers for $200 to $249.
  2. 5.8″ or 7″ Kindle Tablet with 3G and WiFi and Special offers for $299 to $349.
  3. 10″ Kindle Tablet with WiFi and Special offers for $399 to $499.
  4. 10″ Kindle Tablet with 3G and WiFi and Special offers for $499 to $549. 

The main switches will be – 3G and WiFi vs only WiFi, No Special Offers vs Special Offers, 5.8″/7″ versus 10″. An additional switch is probably IPS LCD vs Qualcomm Mirasol.

That could mean as many as 6 to 10 models. However, for simplicity, Amazon will probably go with 3 or 4 models.

Not adding anything here about different memory sizes because Amazon is unlikely to prevent users from adding extra memory.

Kindle Tablet Price Predictions

Elaborating a bit more on the previous list.

The lowest price Kindle Tablet WiFi model will almost certainly be in the $200 to $250 price range and come with ‘special offers’. Amazon will probably subsidize it heavily as the Special Offers can encompass every single category of goods sold at Amazon. This will literally be the ‘ in your hand’ Kindle Tablet.

This model will aim to take over the niche Nook Color is thriving in.

The two highest price Kindle Tablet models will probably be a 10″ Kindle Tablet with 3G and WiFi and Mirasol Qualcomm and a 10″ Kindle Tablet with IPS LCD and 3G and WiFi. These will probably be $550 and $450.

These Kindle Tablet models will aim to take over the entire market of ‘people looking for a quality Tablet who aren’t wedded to Apple’. Note that there is no Android Tablet that has been a huge success in this market and that iPad is very much an option - so Amazon will prioritize quality and new features (like Qualcomm Mirasol) over price.

The Kindle Tablet models in between these two extremes are not very interesting. They will probably serve as contrasting options/choices that make the $200 Kindle Tablet WiFi and the high-end Kindle Tablets more attractive. Amazon might also copy a page out of Apple’s marketing black book and introduce an over-priced top-line Kindle Tablet model at $800 or so – this would provide much lower value for money and would highlight the excellent value for money the lower priced Kindle Tablet models provide.

Kindle Tablet – What App Store will the Kindle Tablet have?

This is only worth discussing because there’s a small possibility Amazon surprises us here.

The consensus opinion is that Amazon is building the Amazon Android App Store as an App Store for its own future Tablets and Phones. However, how many actual apps for tablets does it have?

Amazon might use the existing Amazon Android App Store for Kindle Phone – But would it really use it for Kindle Tablets?

There is a small chance it creates a completely different App Store for Kindle Tablet. Just as Apple has the iPhone App Store and the iPad App Store, we might see a completely separate Tablet App Store for the Kindle Tablet.

How will Kindle Tablet complement Kindles?

Amazon wants to remove its dependency on iPad and Android Tablets for casual readers who want to read on a Tablet device. It sees its customers reading on Kindles at home and in sunlight and on Kindle Tablets at night and when out and about.

Kindle Tablets will take over the role that iPads and rooted Nook Colors are currently playing in the Kindle ecosystem.

Amazon will probably also introduce bundles – $50 off or $100 off if you buy a Kindle Tablet and a Kindle together. Perhaps even a free Kindle with Special Offers if you buy the 10″ Kindle Mirasol Tablet.

Will Kindle Tablet have ‘Special Offers’? Will Kindle Tablet target Groupon and offer Living Social deals?

Yes, there will almost certainly be ‘Special Offer’ variants for a few of the Kindle Tablets. In fact, the lowest priced Kindle Tablet might be available only with ‘Special Offers’.

It’s also a safe guess that Living Social deals (Amazon owns a stake in Living Social) will form a large chunk of the ‘Special Offers’.

You could make a reasonably strong argument that Kindle Tablet’s possible utility as a defence against Groupon and other Daily Deal retailers is one of the top three aims Amazon has in mind for the Kindle Tablet. The first two probably being – direct channel to customers, defence against Apple’s closed ecosystem and Google’s pretend-open ecosystem.

Will Kindle Tablet attack iPad or Nook Color or Android Tablets?

Firstly, let’s leave the major part of the iPad user base out of the equation – the ones who already owned Apple products before they bought the iPad. Amazon is not going to target a customer base that has Apple engrained into its identity.

That leaves two major groups – those just looking for a good Tablet, those looking for a non-Apple Tablet.

These are the groups Amazon will target. Its main competitors will therefore be iPad, Android Tablets, and Nook Color (possibly even a Mirasol powered Nook Color announced on May 24th).

Amazon will have at least two Kindle Tablets – a 5.8″ or 7″ Kindle Tablet to take on Nook Color, and a 10″ Kindle Tablet to take on iPad and 10″ Android Tablets.

Amazon probably understands that it’s unlikely to catch up with Apple on quality and quantity of Tablet apps for a few years (if ever). So, it’s probably going to look for other ways to attract people looking for the best Tablet – quality of hardware, value for money, customer service, etc.

When it comes to people who want a non-iPad Tablet, things get a little murky – Nook Color is selling very well partly because it’s so easy to hack. Not sure whether Amazon will be OK with that. It probably cares a lot more about creating a secure channel to customers than attracting ‘Android is Open’ people.

Amazon will probably start by making something that suits its own existing customers and will then iterate to create models that attract more people – so neither an iPad killer, nor an Android Tablet killer.

How will Kindle Tablet do?

Very well.

It’s a strange prediction to make without knowing what the Kindle Tablet actually is. However, consider the context -

  1. Apple (with a little helping hand from the artificial and stupid restrictions put on netbooks) has created strong demand for tablets.
  2. There are lots of people who do not want the iPad or cannot afford it.
  3. There is no strong non-iPad Tablet except the Nook Color - except it’s actually a reading tablet and not a full Tablet.
  4. Amazon will compete very well on price.
  5. Amazon already has a reasonably good Android App Store – although with a limited number of tablet apps.
  6. Amazon has all the required elements in place – music downloads, movie downloads, cloud infrastructure, huge customer base, a solid brand, solid logistics.
  7. Amazon has the opportunity to study what Apple and B&N and other Tablet making companies did and improve on it.
  8. There is the possibility of introducing new technology – either of Qualcomm Mirasol or Pixel Qi would make the Kindle Tablet pretty impressive.
  9. Amazon has a lot of loyal customers who will take a chance on it. If a $399 Kindle with a first-generation eInk screen managed to sell enough to lead to the current eReader and eBook revolution, you have to imagine a decent Tablet offering would have a good shot at selling millions of units.

In fact, things are so well-aligned you almost worry Amazon will get complacent. You could argue it already has been complacent by letting Apple and B&N get so much of a head-start.

How will Apple and B&N and other Android Tablet makers respond?

Apple won’t do much. Customers will separate themselves into Apple and non-Apple camps and the Apple camp is very safe until Steve Jobs is around.

Apple’s 90%+ ownership of the Tablet space is bound to end. As long as it has 80% or 90% of the profits it couldn’t care less how many packs of diapers Amazon is selling via its Kindle Tablets.

Android Tablet makers (except B&N, discussed separately below) have little clue. They haven’t been able to make a worthwhile Tablet yet and it’s unlikely that in the next 6 to 12 months they will get their act together.

You have to keep in mind that lots of these companies are wedded to making laptops and desktops powered by Windows. You can’t unlearn your core competency. Apple was in a different situation – it had to do something to fight Microsoft. Finding a way to work around Microsoft’s dominance was always in Apple’s heart. None of the other Tablet makers have much incentive to destroy Microsoft’s dominance in desktop and laptop operating systems.

B&N is the dark horse. It’s supposedly selling 800,000 Nook Colors a month. It’s just opened an App Store for Nook Color and has 150 apps. It had a clear path to selling 10 million+ Nook Colors a year. A solid Kindle Tablet threatens that. The only recourse would be to release a much-improved Nook Color 2. Quite frankly, it’s going to be a fascinating contest – Nook Color vs Kindle Tablet from June to November, and then Nook Color 2 vs Kindle Tablet from November 2011 to June 2012.

2011 is going to be the year of Kindle vs Nook. The twist is that there are going to be two very different Kindle vs Nook battles – Kindle 3 vs Nook 2 in eReaders and Kindle Tablet vs Nook Color in Tablets. Who in early 2010 would’ve predicted that the most exciting Tablet War in 2011 would be Kindle vs Nook?

What is Amazon waiting for? Some deals

First, for your Kindle, some deals -

  1. The Horse Boy: A Father’s Quest to Heal His Son by Rupert Isaacson. Price: $2.99. Genre: Parenting & Families, Special Needs, Autism, Spirit Healing. Rated 4.5 stars on 55 reviews. 
  2. The Power of Half by Hannah Salwen and Kevin Salwen. Price: $4.77. Genre: Getting More out of Less, Giving Back, Sharing is Caring. Rated 4 stars on 71 reviews. 
  3. In Her Name (Omnibus Edition) by Michael R. Hicks. Price: $1. Genre: Epic Fantasy, Adventure, Science Fiction, Military Space Opera. Rated 4.5 stars on 58 reviews.

It’s quite interesting to see a book with so much promise (the third one) stuck outside the Top 1,000. How do you manage to get 4.5 stars on 58 reviews, be at $1, and still not be in the Top 1,000?

Anyways, this brings me to something even more perplexing.

What is Amazon waiting for? Why doesn’t it release a Kindle Tablet?

Nook Color is rumored to have sold 3 million units. It’s also rumored that B&N is taking delivery of 600,000 to 700,000 Nook Colors a month.

There are three big markets here -

  1. People looking for a dedicated reading device. Some portion of them are buying the argument that Nook Color is a Reading Tablet.
  2. People looking for a Tablet-eReader hybrid. Nook Color is almost perfect for this group of people.
  3. People looking for a cheap Tablet. Nook Color is almost perfect for this group too.

Amazon is losing out on some Kindle sales because of 1, i.e. Nook Color as reading tablet is competing with Kindle as dedicated reading device.

However, far more worrying are the two niches where Amazon isn’t even competing -

  1. Amazon doesn’t have a Tablet-eInk hybrid. Now that Apple has set up its patent defence with an eInk-LCD hybrid tablet patent, Amazon might never be able to create such a hybrid.
  2. Amazon doesn’t have a tablet. There is a huge market for a non-Apple tablet - No one is stepping up to the plate. The situation is so bad that Nook Color is selling millions of units just because it has ended up being the best non-iPad tablet-like device. Think about that for a second – the market demand for a cheap Android Tablet (or a cheap tablet, period) is so high that people are buying a reading tablet and trying to use it as a full tablet.

Amazon is literally spurning these two markets – Go, get a Nook Color. We have nothing for you.

Where is Amazon’s Kindle Tablet?

It’s been nearly 5 months since Nook Color was introduced. It’s been nearly 5 months since people began talking about the danger of Nook Color. It’s been 4 months since the main stream media realized that Nook Color is a huge threat.

Yet, nothing from Amazon.

  • Perhaps Amazon doesn’t realize that if Nook Color sales get to the 10 million mark, and the Nook App Store isn’t a total disaster, then B&N will be set for the next 10 years.
  • Perhaps Amazon feels that because it has set up its Android App Store it can delay the actual hardware. That Angry Birds Rio will make up for a 5-6 month delay in the hardware.
  • Perhaps B&N took Amazon by surprise. It certainly took everyone else by surprise.

Here’s the question – Would you rather have an Android App Store with 10,000 apps or would you rather have 3 million Reading Tablets in circulation?

I’d take the latter every single time. 3 million Nook Colors makes for a huge customer base. It means that B&N is getting data points it can use to build a stellar Nook Color 2. It means that Amazon’s Kindle Tablet will have the odds against it.

3 million is a huge number – especially in the first 5 months. If this were Apple we would be getting presentations about a revolutionary new category having been created and about Nook Color outselling the first version of Wrigley’s chewing gum.

How much more time does Amazon have before the game is lost?

Amazon probably thinks it can release a Kindle Tablet in Fall 2011 and still put up a fight.

Reality is that if Amazon doesn’t release a Kindle Tablet within the next 2 to 3 months it will have B&N as a rival in the Reading Tablet and Tablet markets for a very long time. If it delays beyond 5 to 6 months, it might never be able to catch up.

The iPad is eating up most of the high-end Tablet Market. Nook Color is eating up a lot of the low-end Tablet market. Despite its huge strengths, Amazon can’t afford to let Apple and B&N lock-up huge pieces of the Tablet market. There’s a huge difference between fighting for an undecided customer versus stealing away another company’s customers. Just ask all the people trying to compete with Windows and Google Search.

An Inflection Point of the strangest sort

What’s happened since Nook Color launched? Nothing.

What has Amazon done since Kindle 3 launched? Not much.

So, we have had a stretch of 5 to 8 months with very little happening. And that very nothingness might have been an inflection point. B&N has probably created the post-eReader reading device and Amazon has let it grow and prosper sans competition.

There is still time. Amazon should announce something within the next few weeks and it should get something out within the next few months. If it doesn’t, it might be left wondering how it was too blind to realize that the post-eReader reading device, the Reading Tablet, is a far bigger threat to the Kindle than Publishers and Apple and physical books.

Comparing how Kindle, Nook Color are promoted

The Kindle and the Nook Color are both promoted heavily on Amazon and B&N’s websites. Let’s compare how the two are promoted and see if anything interesting pops up.

Comparing how Kindle, Nook color are promoted – the main pages

B&N’s main site has an image of the Nook Color right at the top taking up around a quarter of the page -

  1. Nook Color has Elle Magazine showing on the screen. An obvious focus on its color capabilities and strength with magazines.
  2. Nook Color is described as an ‘Award Winning and Best-selling Reader’s Tablet’. The use of the term ‘Reader’s Tablet’ is interesting.
  3. Nook Color gets a ‘Buy Now’ button which takes you to the Nook Color product page.
  4. There’s a ‘Best Dedicated eReader’ quote from The Associated Press shown. This is something that comes up repeatedly – a focus on showing what the Press thinks of Nook Color.
  5. There’s an option to start a ’360 degree view’ of the Nook Color. This is surprisingly helpful.

Amazon’s main site has Kindle right in the center and taking up around 30% or so of the page. It just seems to be getting a bit more focus than the Nook Color gets on B&N’s website.

  1. There’s a book shown on the Kindle’s screen. The angle makes it hard to tell which book.
  2. It’s described as ‘The #1 Bestselling Product on Amazon’. We see a lot of this in Amazon’s marketing – a focus on how well Kindle does amongst Amazon customers.
  3. There’s text saying ‘order now’ but no button. Instead there are links for the $139 Kindle WiFi and the $189 Kindle 3.
  4. No Press quotes or references. Amazon focuses primarily on customers for social proof.
  5. No option for a 360 degree view.

At this point the Nook Color has a bit of an advantage because it’s got the 360-degree view. However, gets a ton more traffic.

The Product Pages for Kindle, Nook Color

Amazon is all about details and logic and social proof

Let’s start with the Kindle 3 product page.

  1. In the name itself we get a lot of phrases highlighting Kindle strengths - wireless, reading device, free 3G, works globally, new eInk pearl technology. The name is far too long but the idea is good.
  2. Social Proof from customers – #1 bestseller, most 5 star reviews. It’s clearly shown that Kindle 3 has a 4.5 stars rating based on 16,179 reviews. Amazon is completely focused on showing how much other customers like the Kindle.
  3. There’s the added social proof that 3,343 people ‘Like’ the Kindle (there’s a little Like button on the top right).
  4. The choice of graphite or white.
  5. An indicator that it’s In Stock.
  6. A section on reviews from major publications. Example: ‘New Kindle leaves rivals farther back’ from The New York Times. This is the first and only place where Press Reviews are shown.

Those are the things visible before you scroll down. So Amazon’s focus seems to be – To show customers love the Kindle, and throw in the fact that the Press loves the Kindle too.

As you scroll down you run into all the data you could possibly want to help make a decision (including user reviews) -

  1. A section on main features/selling points. It’s interesting how it’s a very data-oriented layout. It’s just a bunch of bullet points with photos to the side. The features Amazon highlights are – eInk screen, sunlight reading, new fonts, sleek design, 15% lighter, battery life of one month, double storage, books in 60 seconds, free 3G wireless, WiFi, faster page turns, enhanced PDF reader, new WebKit browser.
  2. Then there’s a section where each of these is explained, along with some other benefits like lending and ease of use.
  3. A section comparing eInk to LCD screens.
  4. A section comparing the various Kindles.
  5. A section on choosing between Kindle 3G and Kindle WiFi.
  6. A size comparison of the new Kindle 3 and the older Kindle 2.
  7. Charlie Rose interview with Jeff Bezos.
  8. A video on features. All Amazon videos focus on people reading on the Kindle. B&N focuses on the Nook Color.
  9. A detailed list of features and benefits. There are images on the right side throughout. The left side has a ton of detail – everything you would want to know about each feature.
  10. After a few pages the right side shows a list of bestsellers and new releases and highlights the $9.99 price of Kindle books and the savings over hardcovers.
  11. After quite a few pages detailing the various features there’s a section talking about Kindle reading apps.
  12. A section on technical details.
  13. A few sections on Accessories and then a video on what customers are saying.
  14. Finally, customer reviews. The focus is on ‘most helpful’ customer reviews, with ‘most recent’ customer reviews listed on the right side.

Those are the main sections. It’s 20 pages of details and writing and around 4 pages of accessories and forum links and such.

20 entire pages detailing Kindle’s features and benefits. Amazon is putting all the information customers could want right on the product page. The more you read, the more invested you get. The further down the page you go, the more reasons you get to buy the Kindle. It all culminates in the solid customer reviews.

It’s also interesting that apart from product details and social proof there isn’t very much else. It’s a very logical, data rich approach.

Here are 25 reasons to buy the Kindle. Every other Amazon customer is buying it. Just Buy It!

That brings us to the Nook Color Page.

B&N is all about visuals and promoting features Kindle doesn’t have

B&N seems to want to focus on showing how pretty and bright and colorful the Nook Color is. 

  1. The first thing that’s interesting is that B&N changes what’s shown on the screen of the Nook Color – the screen rotates through images of magazines, the bookshelf, Nook Store, the home page, and Elle magazine.
  2. It touts Nook Color as ‘The Ultimate Reading Experience’.
  3. The features it focuses on are – 7″ color touchscreen, magazines & newspapers in color, kids’ books coming alive, 2 million plus titles. It’s clearly focusing on things the Kindle can’t do that well.
  4. After that, there’s a section titled ‘Touch the Future of Reading’ which focuses on the color touchscreen, the WiFi, sharing, personalization, personalized recommendations, and Nook Extras (Nook Apps).
  5. There’s a small section that covers NookBooks, Nook NewsStand, and NookKids. Then accessories and a bunch of links.

The main Nook Color product page only lists the main selling points of the Nook Color. There are other pages that cover – Features, Specifications, Book Choice, Magazine Choice, Nook Kids, Extras, Reviews, Support, and Protection Plan. The features page has a sub page for each and every feature. Lots of images.

For reviews B&N only features reviews from the press. No user reviews at all.

B&N even has photos of famous people, such as George W. Bush, seen with the Nook Color. Have no idea what to make of B&N’s focus on what the Press thinks of Nook Color as opposed to what actual owners think.

B&N has a pretty different approach from Amazon.

Look how shiny and pretty Nook Color is. Look how the Press thinks you should get it. Look at all the things you can do on this you can’t do with the Kindle.

As opposed to Amazon, which focuses mostly on what customers think of the Kindle and on providing copious amount of information, B&N focuses most on showing lots of bright color images of the Nook Color, promoting the features heavily (especially the features Kindle doesn’t have, like the color screen), and showing that the Press loves Nook Color.

It’s almost as if B&N is aiming Nook Color at people in love with pictures and colors and shiny gadgets while Amazon is aiming Kindle at people in love with words and logic.

Will Nook Color owners read Kindle Books?

The Kindle has to watch out for the Nook Color. It’s a pretty impressive Reading Tablet – not to mention the only reading tablet.

However, there’s a silver lining. Nook Color is easy to root, and it has a very good browser. That means there are two entry points for Kindle Books to worm their way on to the Nook Color.

Two ways Nook Color owners can choose Kindle Books

Interestingly, two of the Nook Color’s strengths make it vulnerable -

  1. It has a surprisingly usable browser. That means when Kindle for the Web debuts, Nook Color owners will be able to access Kindle Books easily.
  2. Nook Color can be rooted to work as an Android Tablet. The developers at Nook Devs have already made it reasonably easy to root your Nook Color. If you’re a little tech savvy, and willing to risk your warranty, you can turn Nook Color into an Android Tablet. At that point, you have access to Kindle for Android.

So the only question left is – Will Nook Color owners take advantage of this? Will some significant portion of Nook Colors be turned into Kindle clones?

Actually, there’s a rather interesting answer.

Rooting your Nook Color is rather overwhelming

Note: This was just experimentation to see what it’s like, to try and root Nook Color. Not saying it’s OK to root the Nook Color, and based on my experience – definitely not recommending it.

There are some problems with the process of turning the Nook Color into an Android tablet -

  1. The process is not straightforward. You need a SD card reader to get things to work. You have to download files, and the process on Windows require a special software, which lets you write an image to a microSD card.
  2. You risk your warranty. The Nook Devs team has a notice up warning you of everything that could possibly go wrong. Most users will run away when they see that notice.
  3. You have to undo things, to get future versions of the Nook firmware. Which means that when B&N sends out a version of Nook Color firmware that introduces the Nook App Store, or a version with fixes and features, you have to re-do the whole rooting thing. Can’t see users going through the process multiple times – For users who are not tech savvy, it’ll be a nightmare.
  4. The rooted system is not at all suitable for non-technical users. You get lots of good options, but it’s very confusing. Things like superuser settings will short-circuit most users’ brain cells.
  5. It’s not easy or straightforward after you’ve rooted your Nook Color. It’s taking two completely separate design philosophies, and two completely separate product philosophies, and trying to integrate them.

There are also problems when using Kindle for Android -

  1. It hasn’t been optimized for Nook Color.
  2. It’s just a strange experience – Kindle for Android is a bit awkward, perhaps due to the way apps work on rooted Nook Colors.
  3. There’s a security issue. Who knows what information the rooted Nook is sending to whom?
  4. What about legal issues - Aren’t users agreeing to some contract when they buy a Nook Color? Perhaps the contract includes something about not hacking your Nook Color, or something about not using the Kindle Store.
  5. Android is just a different world. Users who are used to protected ecosystems, like the ones Apple and Amazon and B&N have, will struggle mightily. 

These two sets of problems stack up, and make using Kindle for Android on Nook Color a rather painful experience.

Rooting Nook Color and using Kindle for Android doesn’t cut it

At the moment it just isn’t easy enough, or good enough – plus the end result is far from satisfactory.

We can split users into two categories -

  1. Those who buy a Nook Color to root it, and run it as an Android Tablet. Perhaps 20% of total sales.
  2. Those who buy a Nook Color as a Reading Tablet.

Less than 5% of the latter will root their Nook Colors. B&N is not going to lose its target customers to Kindle for Android. People who buy Nook Color for its potential as an Android Tablet, were never customers. They were probably going to get another Android Tablet, and run Kindle for Android on it. This way, at least B&N is selling more Nook Colors, and might be able to hit economies of scale earlier.

The danger of Nook Color being rooted on a massive scale just doesn’t exist for people who buy Nook Color as a reading tablet.

Kindle for Web is the sole remaining threat

At the moment, Kindle for Web isn’t out, and we don’t know what it’ll be like to read Kindle books in the Nook Color’s browser. However, we can make a few safe guesses -

  1. Nook Color’s browser is very usable – Which suggests that a decent experience might be possible.
  2. B&N might disable some functionality in the browser, such as changing brightness, and thus hamper the ‘reading in the browser’ experience.
  3. B&N could simply lock out Amazon’s servers.
  4. Amazon is going to have a very tough time creating a reading experience in the browser that’s comparable to the reading experience in the Nook Color’s in-built book reader.
  5. The difference in ebook prices between Kindle, Nook, and Kobo stores, isn’t enough to justify choosing the browser reading experience if it’s significantly worse than the reading experience provided by the Nook Color’s in-built software (which does a really good job).
  6. With browser-based reading, you can’t really get the ‘your books are on the Nook Color’ experience, which you do get with the in-built reading software. That sense of ownership is lost. B&N could very easily limit the number of files that can be cached in the browser, and thereby severely limit the ability of browser-based Kindle books to have an impact.
  7. Are people really going to switch over to a PC-like, ‘reading in your browser’ experience? The whole ‘reading in the browser’ experience is contrary to the crux of reading devices. We want a device built from the ground up for reading - The browser isn’t built for reading.

Basically, the ‘Kindle Books in the Nook Color browser’ experience will be only 60% to 70% as enjoyable as reading Nook Books using the in-built reading software. For 5% to 10% of people that’ll be enough - For everyone else, it won’t.

A grand total of 10% of Nook Color owners are under threat

Let’s say 80% of the people who buy a Nook Color, are buying it because they want a reading tablet. Less than 10% of those 80% will go for Kindle books. The rest will either be very wary of hacking their $249 Nook Color, or they will not be satisfied by the degraded reading experience the Nook Color’s browser provides for Kindle books.

The other 20% are immaterial – They are simply looking for a cheap Android Tablet. They wouldn’t buy the Nook Color if it couldn’t be rooted, and they aren’t really B&N’s target demographic.

B&N will still have 72% of Nook Color owners buying books from the Nook Store. In effect, they will lose a minuscule 8%. That’s a very small figure – It’s not even worth B&N’s time to block hacks. B&N could simply focus on the 72% of Nook Color owners who are good customers, and make a lot of money by selling those good customers Nook Books and Nook Color Reading Tablets.

The default reading software on the Nook Color is almost perfect (talking about the software features and polish), and there’s little danger to B&N at the moment. Nook Color’s strengths open up areas of attack, and those attacks aren’t a serious threat because of Nook Color’s other strengths.

Nook Color impresses me more and more every day. The Kindle Tablet has changed from a nice-to-have, for Amazon, to an absolute must-have - unless Amazon doesn’t mind ceding 80% of the casual reader market to B&N.

Kindle, Nook Color, and value for money

The Kindle at $189 is great value for money – you get free 3G Internet, 3G and WiFi, the new eInk Pearl screen, free public domain books, cheap ebooks (sometimes), text to speech, and a lot more.

The Nook Color at $249 is also great value for money – you get an IPS LCD color touchscreen, you get a great browser, you get a cheap Android Tablet if you’re willing to root the Nook Color, you get ebook lending (which Kindle is supposed to add soon), and you get support for library books.

Let’s start by looking at the concept of value for money itself.

What is ‘value for money’ - as applied to eReaders and reading devices?

When we talk about the ‘value for money’ an eReader provides we instantly jump into a mixture of hard to quantify things -

  1. There’s a component of what we’re paying for the eReader, and what we feel the eReader is worth. The looks, the build, the features, the coolness, and the feeling of ownership. 
  2. There’s a component of whether or not we’ll save on books, because of the eReader.
  3. There are features that are core and add value – portability, similarity to reading a book, an ability to help us focus on reading.
  4. There are features that will provide additional value for money – features such as text to speech, and ebook lending.
  5. There are add-ons that might provide value – such as an in-built store, and the convenience it offers.
  6. There might be a big, huge bonus like free Internet access.
  7. There might be ‘the ability to do more than one thing’ which is generally assumed to provide extra value. It’s an interesting equation - Reading has x value, ‘things other than reading’ have y value. You add them up, and you get more value than a device that only allows reading – provided the price is similar.

There are a myriad of things that add up to one abstract quality – ‘value for money’.

How much value do we get for the money we spend? 

If the abstractness weren’t enough of a challenge, we also have the fact that different people ‘value’ different things, and come in with different expectations.

Value for Money is different for different people

Let’s say Harry reads mostly at home, and has WiFi, and reads mostly at night. Sally, on the other hand, reads mostly at lunch-time, on her commute, and at the beach, and almost always during the day.

Things that Harry will value, and Sally will probably find irrelevant include -

  1. WiFi support.
  2. Backlight or Reading Light.
  3. Ability to adjust the brightness of the screen easily.

Things that Sally will value, and Harry will find probably irrelevant, include -

  1. Readability in sunlight and bright light.
  2. Portability.
  3. Stability and steadiness.
  4. 3G support to get books anywhere.
  5. Free 3G Internet.
  6. Resistance to water and sand.
  7. A tracking feature in case the eReader gets lost.

If Harry met Sally, and they started having a rather inappropriate conversation in a cafe, about the value for money each eReader provides, they would find themselves quite lost.

For Harry, the ability to read in sunlight is completely worthless. Yet, he hears her say – This feature is priceless. He’s almost embarrassed Sally would claim such a thing in public.

For Sally, reading at night doesn’t really have any value. For her, an eReader that is great for reading at night, is providing zero additional value over one that can’t be read without external light.

So, we just took an intangible, hard to quantify thing like value for money, and added a little twist – Not only is it hard to quantify, the method of quantification varies from person to person.

What value for money does Kindle provide?

Well, these are all things that might or might not classify as value for you -

  1. You get an eReader with some good technology – the new eInk Pearl screen, fast page turns, etc.
  2. Portability, Compactness, and Lightness.
  3. Ability to carry thousands of books in one device.
  4. Ability to change the font size, and to have the book read to you.
  5. Ability to read in bright sunlight.
  6. Free 3G store browsing and 60 second book downloads in the US, and in 100 countries around the world.
  7. The Best eBook Store.
  8. Millions of public domain books for free from Internet Archive. 20,000 or so from Kindle Store.
  9. Free Internet browsing in the US and, for US Kindle owners, in 100+ countries around the world.
  10. Free Kindle Reading Apps so you can read your ebooks on a range of devices.
  11. WhisperNet services that sync your place in a book across all devices you read on.
  12. An experience very similar to reading a paper book.

There are definitely other features that add value – incredible battery life, customer service, a good return policy, liberal return policy on ebooks, and so forth.

Amazon does a very good job of taking 3 domains – the eReader, the eBook Store, infrastructure and supporting services – and delivering good, solid value across all three. It’s now exploring a fourth domain with the Kindle App store - Kindle apps might end up providing a lot of value for money too.

What value for money does Nook Color provide?

Nook Color also has quite a few value-add things going for it -

  1. It’s a reading-focused tablet, and is also pretty good for a few other things – surfing the net, looking at photos, reading magazines, children’s books, etc.
  2. Nook Color has a color touchscreen with resolution as good as the Kindle’s (i.e. much better than iPad’s screen resolution), and is IPS LCD. It’s a quality screen to get in a $249 device.
  3. It has a decent store to back it up.
  4. It has access to a lot of free public domain books – Google Books, Internet Archive, etc.
  5. It supports ePub and thus you can get books from any eBook store – except Kindle Store.
  6. Support for ePub also lets you use library books.
  7. It can be rooted to run as an Android Tablet. You can also set it up such that you can choose between operating systems – Your choice of Reading Tablet or Android Tablet.
  8. B&N has begun to catch up with Amazon in terms of providing reading apps for other devices, and services such as syncing.
  9. B&N provides a bunch of in-store benefits – real people to talk to in person, read any book for free for up to an hour per day, offers.
  10. Nook Color has a lending feature. It even has a LendMe app which lets you check what books your friends have available for lending.
  11. Nook Color has a very good music player that lets you create playlists and play music exactly how you want to.
  12. A LCD screen means benefits like reading at night, instantaneous page turns, and no ghosting.

On top of these, Nook Color provides additional benefits – password protection on purchases, Pandora music streaming in the US, a photo gallery app, and so forth.

Nook Color does a very good job on two critical dimensions - device and store. It’s beginning to add value in a third critical dimension – infrastructure and support services. Like Amazon, it’s trying to add value via a fourth dimension – apps. The Nook App Store hasn’t launched yet, so it’s a little behind Kindle in this area.

The competition to provide more value for money

The Kindle and the Nook Color are very different devices, that are trying to cater to two intersecting groups of customers.

The Kindle aims to be everyone’s reading device. It is, however, focused on reading.

The Kindle provides a lot of value to travellers, people who read a lot, people who read in long stretches, people who read everywhere, those without WiFi at home, those who like audiobooks or have low vision, it’s great for people with arthritis or weak hands. It’s a long, long list - you’ll have to figure out whether the value Kindle provides, is what you value.

Nook Color aims to be a reading tablet. A device that is great for reading, and can also be used for other things. It wants to expand reading from just books to websites, children’s books, magazines, and newspapers.

It’s perfect for people who like reading at night, or for those who have WiFi at home. It’s also great to have as your reading Tablet, provided you don’t care much about having 100,000 non-reading related apps. Nook Color is probably going to focus on reading, magazines, the Internet, and reading related apps.

The most pivotal customers might be those at the intersection of the Kindle and Nook Color’s target markets. People who read 1 or 2 books a month.

Kindle is trying, with the Kindle App Store and social features and reading apps, to become more of a Reading Plus Plus device. Nook Color is trying, with the help of its focus on reading related apps, to become more reading-oriented and less Tablet-oriented. B&N is trying to leverage software and apps to overcome the hardware advantages Kindle has for reading. At the same time, it’s leveraging the hardware advantages the Nook Color has to expand into all types of reading.

Readers who read 1 or 2 books a month will, in all likelihood, decide the future of eReaders. If they think Kindle provides more value for money, and pick it, then Kindle wins the eReader Wars. If not, the Reading Tablet gambit will have worked spectacularly.


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