Lighted Nook leaving Kindle in the dark?

In a nutshell: Yes and No.

Yes, we know that doesn’t help. Let us explain.

Please Note: This post is a collaboration between Rajesh and Switch. Rajesh is one of 4 (yes, 4) new bloggers who’ll be joining Meaghan and Switch in writing for the blog.

Yes, Lighted Nook is leaving Kindle in the Dark

People who clamored about how you can’t read on a Kindle in the dark (while waxing poetic about how paper books are so perfect for reading) fell into three camps –

  1. Those who really did need an eReader with a light.
  2. Those who would never ever buy an eReader (because People magazine is so much better in Color LCD with EyeDeath technology).
  3. Those who had no idea what an eReader was but were inordinately afraid of the dark.

Nook with GlowLight AKA Lighted Nook suits the first group perfectly. The second group will now find something else to complain about (the textured back is not made of crocodile skin and the wireless ebook transfer process isn’t carbon neutral). The third group is trying to decide between a flashlight, a box of matches, a potassium crucifix dipped in garlic oil, and a lighted eReader (Please, go with the crucifix – it can double as a bookmark).

Lighted Nook has a Real, Tangible Benefit

Dark Double Retina Display Technology (Trademarked) lets you see in the Dark. It’s amazing. It’s as if someone went back in the past and invented the lightbulb – except it’s fit into an eReader screen. The technology is so forward-thinking it’s not a backlight. No Sir. It’s a front-light.

You can’t really argue that this isn’t an advantage. Dark Double Retina Display is the best thing since sliced bread and the wheel (except perhaps for fried ice cream).

On a more serious note, we are talking about a very illuminating and clearly thought out feature. Advantages of the GlowLight technology (for the Nook Simple Touch) include:

  1. Soft glow on the screen. Optimized for low-light/no-light reading.
  2. Can be switched on to read e-books during the night and switched off during the day.
  3. Brightness adjustment options.
  4. Even illumination of the screen.
  5. Warm feel to the eyes – Less tiring for the eyes.
  6. Even with GlowLight turned on, the battery is supposed to last for one month (when the Nook is used for half an hour everyday).
  7. Can also be used when there is insufficient light during the day, to improve the reading experience. Note: This is an underrated feature.
  8. The glow is created by using a front light, instead of the back-lit screens used in tablets/LCD monitors. This is better for extended reading sessions.

Of course, true hipsters will frown that there isn’t an actual 1918 light switch fixture on the side of the device and there is no animated lamp shade that flutters up the length of the screen when you turn the front light on. However, we’re sure our friends in Hipster Land are working hard and trying to start a Kickstarter Project for ‘Completely Useless, Perfectly Wonderlicious, Genuinely Vintage Light Switch Fixture for Things You can Pretend to Read Proust On’.

Too much meandering. The crux is that –

  1. Lighted Nook has a good, solid feature.
  2. Kindle does not have the aforementioned good, solid feature.

Amazon Damage Control

Taking a leaf from its last year’s ‘Library Book Support’ announcement i.e. the ‘Announce it Before You Have It’ strategy, Amazon has already announced (via its PR Department at Reuters) –

  1. Lighted Kindle will be arriving.
  2. It will be arriving in July.
  3. A New Kindle Fire Tablet will be arriving.

We’ll see why this is important later.

So, Amazon obviously recognizes this is an important feature. It actually had its extended PR department release a controlled leak to fight off the lighted Nook.

Coming Back to Tangible Benefits

Just think of the possible applications of this technology. You can not only use the Nook during bedtime (without disturbing your family members by switching on the lights), but you can also read your favorite books during power cuts. You can keep reading your books while sitting on the back seat of a car or taxi, even when there is no illumination. You can sit down in your balcony, terrace or garden and read your books while occasionally gazing at the moon. All paranormal romance fans – this is NOT going to turn you into an empath werewolf being courted by Alien Princes and Bodybuilding Shapeshifters who moonlight on General Hospital. Just an FYI.

Amazon’s equivalent is the lighted Kindle Cover. It’s a rather inelegant solution though it works very well if you aren’t fussy.

  1. You have to carry the case around.
  2. The Case costs a bit. $59 or so.
  3. The lighting isn’t even.
  4. There are no animated lamp shades (and no skeuomorphism either).
  5. Kindle+Cover doesn’t sound as cool as – My eReader glows in the dark, like the trees in Prypiat.

Crux: The in-built light is a very cool feature.

It’s a tangible benefit and it gives the Nook an edge over the Kindle.

Please Note: Clip-on lights are just a terrible solution.

Manufactures provide clip on lights for Kindle but there are certain limitations. The clip on lights need to be attached and detached frequently. They add additional weight and cost to the e-reader. They have their own batteries that need to be recharged/replaced and there may be some reflection on the screen and glare on the eyes. Given a choice, people will probably prefer to go with a reader that is optimized to be used during the dark.

No, Lighted Nook is not going to affect Kindle sales very much at all

If the lighted Nook has a clear, tangible advantage, then why will it not affect Kindle sales much?

Quite a few reasons:

  1. Amazon has already leaked news of a lighted Kindle arriving in July.
  2. Amazon has got its customers locked into its ecosystem. Who’s going to leave all those paid and free books behind?
  3. Kindle Lighted Covers and Clip-on lights are a decent workaround until the Glow in the Dark Kindle arrives.
  4. Lack of Awareness – Not very many people know about the lighted Nook. They should have named it Dark Double Retina Technology or something catchy and outrageous. GlowLight? That sounds like something the Care Bears use alongside scented Tibetan candles.
  5. Lack of Awareness of the Benefits – It’s very easy for users to misunderstand the benefits and convenience. Things like ‘even lighting’ and ‘built into the ereader’ are not very easy to explain.
  6. Higher Price. At $139, Nook with GlowLight is quite a bit more expensive than the $79 and $99 Kindles.

The Nook’s GlowLight technology has a few limitations as well. The battery life will be less. Reading in the dark will cause some eye strain (only way to avoid that is to read during the day). Small imperfections on the screen (like fingerprints, dust) will seem like ants and spiders crawling across your screen.

The advantages provided by the lighted Nook easily outweigh the disadvantages. With GlowLight, people can read on their eReaders any time. However, the fact that users know a lighted Kindle is around the corner and the fact that they are locked into the Kindle and/or the Amazon ecosystem means that the impact will not be as strong as it would otherwise have been.

Barnes & Noble has made a good, positive move and yet again Amazon has to counter. My prediction is that Amazon has quite a few tricks up its sleeve with the Kindle Lighted Touch – one of which will be bringing it in at a price much lower than $139.

Dangers of assuming Amazon will destroy B&N

A long time ago I’d joked about the ridiculousness of B&N thinking their new CEO William Lynch could hold a candle to someone like Jeff Bezos who has a very proven track record.

Amazon may very well still destroy B&N – However, B&N has been the more impressive technology company when it comes to eReaders and Tablets. Read on if you find that hard to believe.

I owe William Lynch an apology. He and B&N have done a lot of things that everyone thought Amazon would do first.

B&N’s ability to compete with Amazon

This is some of the stuff B&N pulled off in the last year –

  1. Released a Reading Tablet a year before Amazon.
  2. Released a touch-screen eReader months before Amazon. Almost eliminated the page-turn problem.
  3. Turned Nook Color into the #2 selling Tablet after iPad. You can argue technicalities, but the bottom line is that Nook Color has sold more than any other non-iPad tablet.
  4. Showed that there is a market for non-iPad Tablets. This is a HUGE thing. It has given everyone else hope and will lead to the end of the iPad’s domination in Tablets. The biggest lesson it has taught everyone is – Don’t compete on your enemy’s strengths. A lesson that Amazon has learnt very well.
  5. Released a Nook Tablet that pulls off some impressive things – 1 GHz dual-core processor, 1 GB RAM, HD support, IPS screen, 16 GB memory. That’s a LOT of goodness for $249 – Tablets and smartphones with comparable specifications retail for $400 to $500.
  6. Built up a very interesting Nook Color App Store. 1,100 Apps aimed at Tablets.
  7. Added Email support and lots of other features to Nook Color and morphed it from a Reading Tablet to an almost full-fledged Tablet.

These are all things that no narrow-minded person expects a bookseller to be able to do. Glad to learn from that mistake.

Of course, the two most impressive things are –

  1. It Stayed Alive.
  2. It Built the Nook division into a $2 billion a year business.

B&N could just spin-off Nook into a separate company – Suddenly it’d be a company with a very good chance at surviving and thriving. It could also transform itself into a store that sells everything. It has options and it’s in a position of power.

The Main Stream Press are counting out B&N

Reading through people’s thoughts on Kindle Fire vs Nook Tablet, it’s hard not to notice two interesting assumptions –

  1. Kindle Fire is $50 cheaper and it will destroy the Nook Tablet.
  2. B&N is a bookseller that can’t compete with a software company like Amazon.

The first is an interesting assumption. If it’s the iPad, then the $500 price doesn’t matter because it has better features. If it’s the Nook Tablet, then a $50 higher price will kill it – because price matters so much.

It almost seems that the Press is married to two stories –

  1. iPad’s glory will continue to increase forever – until people use it instead of paper plates and credit cards and kitchen towels.
  2. Kindle’s glory will continue to increase forever – until Amazon is selling Prime subscriptions for pet kittens that come with one free baby mouse a quarter.

The truth is that the Press is constantly wrong – it was wrong about the Kindle, it was wrong about the Nook Color, and it’s likely to be wrong about the death of the Nook Tablet.

$50 is not going to destroy Nook Tablet

Firstly, we have a few million Nook Color owners.

Secondly, we have a few million tech-savvy people who want a powerful Tablet they can hack and run Android on. For them, things like 1 GB RAM mean a lot more than saving $50. They know exactly how valuable that 1 GB is going to be by end 2012.

Thirdly, we have a TON of people for whom $250 is not a big deal but $500 is a big deal. These people will have Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet as options – but not the iPad. Perhaps 75% choose Kindle Fire – that still leaves 25%.

Fourthly, we have lots of small groups that will pick Nook Tablet – people who want/need an SD Card slot, people who prefer the Nook Tablet’s screen, people who love B&N or are B&N members, people who MUST see the device in person, people who prefer the Nook Tablet’s design, and so forth.

There will be millions of Nook Tablets sold.

Nook Color is now at $199

One very important factor is that B&N has now priced Nook Color at $199.

Nook Color is a very solid and compelling device. It’s also battle-tested. While Amazon’s ecosystem gives Kindle Fire an advantage overall (though I haven’t done an in-depth analysis), there are lots of people who will find things like ePub support and expandable memory more compelling.

Neither company is making Space Rockets

There’s a pretty strong bias against B&N. The assumption that because it started off as a bookseller, it couldn’t possibly compete with a company that started off making a website to sell books.

It’s delicious irony.

Tech journalists love to spout nonsense – It’s really, really tough to do hardware. It’s really, really tough to do software.

It’s not. There wouldn’t be 5,000 different companies doing it if it were that difficult.

We aren’t building a rocket or mapping the human genome. We are taking things that have been done thousands of times and refining them a bit. The real problem is that most companies do a shoddy job. They try to provide $10 of value and charge $100.

The tech media says – B&N can’t compete with Amazon.

Let’s add some facts to that statement and see how ridiculous the complete assertion seems:

B&N built a Reading Tablet and shipped it 1 year before Kindle Fire. B&N proved there’s a non-iPad Tablet market. It sold a few million Nook Colors. B&N shipped a touch eReader before Amazon did. B&N has around 20% of the ebook and eReader market.

B&N can’t compete with Amazon.

Dear Tech Journalists,

You are absolutely right. Apart from a few little things like releasing Nook Color last year, building Nook into a $2 billion a year business, and releasing a very impressive Nook Tablet, B&N has shown zero ability to be able to compete with Amazon.

Quite frankly, the tech journalists are just upset that Nook Color was obstinate enough to survive.

There is no purity and there can be no clean endings

What are Amazon’s aims with eReaders and Tablets – expand, sell other things, sell digital products, sell kitchen sinks, sell books, create more Amazon customers, prevent Google from being the middle-man, prevent Apple from becoming the dominant tech religion, profit at some later point of time, grow Amazon, annoy WalMart, beat WalMart with a stick, poke Google in the eye, show Google how to make actual money from Android.

You know what’s missing – purity.

B&N’s aims are pretty convoluted too – survive, offset the decline of brick and mortar stores, compete with Amazon, show Amazon it can compete, evolve, sell books, sell rugs, capture children and families as customers, make fun of Borders, morph into a monster, survive in the digital age.

Again, the purity is missing.

We don’t have any company that is aiming to make the best possible Tablet, with no compromises. If there were, it would wipe out everyone else. Perhaps itself too.

Since there is no purity, there is not going to be a clean-cut winner.

Let’s see why –

  1. Amazon wants to sell other things so it builds a Tablet + mini Amazon Store.
  2. It bundles Prime.
  3. It uses a closed ecosystem.
  4. It focuses on selling other things when it constructs the UI and design. Ratio of Time spent on buying movies UI vs Transferring files to PC UI = 10:1.
  5. It closes off certain formats and certain features. Limited storage has more to do with pushing people to buying Amazon content than saving price. Do we really think Amazon was super concerned about the extra $5 to go from 8 GB to 16 GB?

At every step, it loses a small subset of customers looking to buy a Tablet.

It’s the same with Nook Tablet – However, it is making other cuts. So it’s losing other subsets of Tablet customers.

Because each and every Tablet maker has multiple goals and is lacking purity, we will have a market with multiple winners.

Amazon only knows two directions to attack in

Another factor in B&N’s favor is that Amazon seems to be wedded to two things –

  1. Very Strong Ecosystem.
  2. Very Cheap Device.

There are lots of things it isn’t even attempting i.e.

  1. Aesthetics. It could try to steal away Jonathan Ive – give him a chance to get all the credit and live in England. Let’s admit it – He could design the most magnificent TV ever and people would just say it’s Steve Jobs’ last gift. Jonathan Ive has a chance to show that he was the real genius behind the designs. If he goes to Microsoft or Google or Amazon and designs the next big device, then he becomes the real design genius. Do it in a company other than Apple and everyone will know who’s the man behind the magic. Right now, he’ll be forgotten in all the idol-worship. It’s sad in some ways. All these amazingly talented people like Steve Wozniak and Jonathan Ive and no one will ever remember them because one person will get all the credit.
  2. Validation. Lots and lots of kids who want to show they’re cool. It’s hard to understand that everything you need is inside of you. Let them ease their journey to self-validation by sporting the SuperValidatingKindle_Status++.
  3. Religious stuff. The current crop of technology people seem to be almost feudal in their need to have some Tech Overlord they can bow down to. Provide it.
  4. Social Connections between Readers. Social does not mean Book advertisements on Twitter and Facebook.
  5. Making a Tablet that will be the very best Tablet – even without the ecosystem.

Apart from a golden stretch with the Kindle 3, Amazon has never had the best eReader. It’s always the website and ecosystem that have been the difference makers. It’s the same with Kindle Fire. Silk Browser and Amazon Prime are the difference makers.

It’s as if Amazon has decided to completely ignore Maslow’s Needs Hierarchy and focus only on what it currently knows best – the Cloud and the Website and Scale and Low Prices. Not a bad strategy to focus on its core competencies – but it leaves a lot of opportunities for Amazon’s competitors. Can B&N take advantage of those opportunities?

Well, the solid technology in the Nook Tablet suggests it can.

We have already passed the Inflection Point

We passed the inflection point for B&N’s death with the launch of the Nook Color. Mr. Leonard Riggio must have seen those 700,000 Nook Colors being sold every month and felt Tiger Blood coursing through his veins.

We’re talking about a company that everyone claims is dying and it’s built a completely new business that’s worth $2 billion a year. You know what company would love to be able to do that – Google.

There are very few companies that can build multiple billion dollar businesses. Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, … and a few more. It’s not a long list.

B&N has done it. It’s at around 20% in eReaders and perhaps at 10% to 20% in Tablets. It’s tasted blood. Right now, we are seeing the beginnings of a very long climb up. B&N went through its death rattle and survived. This fact is lost on everyone because people mis-understand inflection points.

If a company has 20% of the eReader market, and has one of only two viable competitors to the iPad – it’s neither dead nor endangered.

Look at the $99 Nook Touch. The $199 Nook Color. The $249 Nook Tablet. These aren’t the product offerings of a company that is on its deathbed. These are products from a company that has survived and is reborn.

Amazon is going to regret not buying B&N. It had a chance to snap up the only credible threat to the Kindle, and it didn’t. Now it is faced with a company that is a threat to both Kindle and Kindle Fire. Amazon is going to have a lot of opportunities to think back to when B&N was almost dead and was available for a billion dollars or so. Instead of buying Zappos and its ‘feel good and sell shoes for no profit’ strategy, Amazon should have bought B&N. You probably couldn’t write a Mother Teresa meets Dalai Lama book about it, but you’d have one heck of a business.

Have we reached the point of effective equality between all eReaders?

AKA

Is ‘Kindle vs Nook – Which Should I Get?’ now better written as ‘Kindle or Nook – It Doesn’t Matter’.

Seriously, let’s take a look at whether there’s any difference at all between getting a Kindle or a Nook 2. In particular, would you buy one and later regret it? If you wouldn’t regret either purchase – then it effectively implies that the two eReaders are now pretty much equal.

In the past Kindle vs Nook was not an easy choice

In Nov 2009, Kindle vs Nook was a tough decision

When Nook 1 was first announced, it had the following main advantages over the incumbent Kindle 2 – PDF support, ebook lending (even if it was/is just a token feature), library book support, replaceable battery, LCD touch-screen at the bottom, millions of free books from Google (although you could convert these for Kindle), ePub support, Chess and Sudoku, slightly better screen contrast, memory card slot, both WiFi and 3G.

Kindle 2 had significant advantages of its own – lower book prices, text to speech, free 3G Internet, faster speed, ease of use, better battery life (significantly better), second generation device (most of the bugs and issues had been worked out).

There were significant pros and cons to choosing Kindle over Nook (or vice versa).

In July 2010, Kindle 3 vs Nook tilted towards Kindle – but there were still consequences

In early 2010 the Agency Model eroded one of the Kindle’s biggest advantages. This made the Kindle vs Nook decision even tougher. But then Kindle 3 tilted things in favor of the Kindle.

When Kindle 3 was first announced it had the following main advantages over the Nook 1 – eInk Pearl screen, text to speech, free 3G internet browsing, slightly better PDF support, better browser, ease of use, light weight, compactness, battery life of a month, social features, being the third version of the Kindle (most issues were worked out). 

Because it was a third generation eReader, Kindle 3 easily outpaced Nook 1. However, you made significant sacrifices – no pretend-lending, no support for library books, no memory card, no replaceable battery, no ePub support, no color touchscreen at the bottom. 

In 2010, it was quite possible to pick one out of Kindle or Nook and later regret it.

In 2011, Nook 2 has made Kindle vs Nook a non-question

The features are so similar that, in combination with the Agency Model, it’s almost impossible to go wrong. All the biggest things – library book lending, pretend-lending (not a big feature but perceived as such, especially if you don’t have it), book prices, eInk Pearl screen, ease of use, speed, compactness, long battery life, light weight, availability of free books – are almost perfectly balanced.

Are you really going to regret it if you get a Kindle?

Let’s say you get a Kindle 3. The things you might possibly regret are now gone.

  1. Library Book Support – Arriving this year. 
  2. Pretend-Lending – Available. 
  3. WiFi support – Kindle 3 has it. 
  4. Replaceable battery – Nook 3 doesn’t have one. 
  5. Color touch-screen – Nook 3 doesn’t have it. It does have a touch screen, but seeing book covers in color is gone.

It’s hard to get upset about not having ePub support when the biggest reason for needing ePub support (library book support) is gone. Additionally, the Agency Model means that Amazon will have the same price as every other store for most books.

Are you really going to regret it if you get a Nook 2?

Nook 2 has closed the gap so well it’s in danger of becoming a clone.

  1. eInk Pearl screen – check.
  2. Great battery life – check.
  3. No color screen – check.
  4. Focus on ease of use – check.
  5. Light and Compact – check.
  6. Social features – check.
  7. Black Casing + WiFi – check.
  8. Faster processor so sluggishness is gone – check.

Kindle 3 and Nook 2 both have the same screen and a focus on reading. They both have the same books at the same prices. Kindle vs Nook is no longer a difficult decision. It isn’t even much of a decision any more.

Whether you get Kindle and get x months of battery life at x’ hours per day, or you get the Nook 2 and get y months of battery life at y’ hours per day – It’s still incredible battery life and it’s not really different.

That’s how ridiculous the contest has become – the companies are competing on something (battery life) that isn’t really a differentiator any more. Amazon can’t claim eInk Pearl, and B&N can’t claim support for library books, so it devolves into an argument over which device’s battery life is longer when measured in peculiar ways.

When it comes to reading on eReaders, we might be running out of genuine differentiators

Few of the participants in the eBook ecosystem have any interest in favoring Amazon over B&N or B&N over Amazon.

  1. eInk/PVI, the eInk Pearl screen maker, will sell both the same technology.
  2. Foxconn will make both Kindles and Nooks.
  3. Publishers will sell both the same books, and at the same prices, and with the Agency Model restrictions – effectively killing the biggest possible differentiator.
  4. Stores like WalMart and BestBuy will sell both.
  5. Google will offer up free books to both, as will Internet Archive and Gutenberg and Many Books. Not to mention – all public domain books are free for anyone to use, and hence can’t really be a differentiator.
  6. Indie Authors and Authors will, for the most part, sell to both. Example: Amanda Hocking declining a deal from Amazon because Amazon wanted a Kindle exclusive.
  7. Even some Kindle owners are buying Nook Colors (out of curiosity) and Nook 2s (because they want an ePub reader).

There is very, very little opportunity to differentiate. Amazon is left with its website and its Cloud. B&N is left with its stores and the fact that everyone is scared of Amazon. Those just don’t seem enough to get a clear lead.