Is the NOOKcolor Actually the iPad’s Greatest Threat?

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How much would you pay for the ability to watch videos, listen to music and browse the web on the go? $500? That’s the price of entry for the iPad. For $229, you can have an iPod touch with a 3.5-inch display. For $249, though, you can get a 7-inch display and the ability to do all those things. How?

The Barnes & Noble NOOKcolor, that’s how. The new e-reader from the book seller does away with the black and white e-ink display of the original NOOK, instead giving it a 7-inch IPS touchscreen with a resolution of 1024×600. It also supposedly works indoors and out, and has 8GB of built-in memory, with expansion of up to 32GB possible via microSD. It plays MP4 video, MP3 and AAC audio, and has a speaker (mono) and a 3.5 mm stereo headphone jack.

At $249, it’s not really so much an expensive e-reader as it is a cheap tablet. Sure, there’s no app marketplace yet, but it does boast NOOK extras, which include games and Pandora internet radio, and there’s always the possibility of an app store down the road if the device becomes popular. It is, after all, Android-based.

The device has tremendous potential in terms of being able to compete with other Android tablets coming to market, even without apps. The big reason being that it’s less than half the price, and there’s no contract you need to sign. There’s also a large category of buyers for whom apps might not be a priority, especially if the built-in browser works well.

But can the NOOKcolor play in the same arena as the iPad? I think it can, especially with the type of consumer for whom many think the iPad is perfect. Casual users who just want a device that lets them carry their media with them and access the web without worrying too much about using and managing apps won’t hesitate to take advantage of the steep price advantage the NOOKcolor has over the iPad.

Now, I’m not saying this Barnes & Noble e-reader will unseat the iPad from its place of tablet dominance. But I do think it’ll cut into its potential market share significantly, especially among older buyers, where the iPad is popular. I’m already considering getting one of these for my mother, because all she wants in a portable computer is the ability to look at photos, watch movies, listen to music and visit a news site or two once in a while.

The casual user is the ideal candidate for iPad ownership. Kudos to Barnes & Noble for identifying what it is that a user like that wants out of a tablet-type device, excising anything else, and keeping the price incredibly low. If apps really do come to this thing, as Barnes & Noble is promising, Apple will really have to sit up and take note.

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