Blog Post

Is the NOOKcolor Actually the iPad’s Greatest Threat?

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 (s aapl). 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 (s bks), 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 (s goog) 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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28 Responses to “Is the NOOKcolor Actually the iPad’s Greatest Threat?”

  1. I love the fact that the negative comments here are split between people who are lambasting the Nook color without having used it, and people who are lambasting the article’s author for speculating about the Nook color without having used it.

    You folks cutting down the Nook Color based on assumptions about performance would do well to take note that the hardware specs are similar to those of Android phones that people adore.

    You folks assuming that it’s easy to tweak performance of a raft of demo models so they look better on product release videos need to spend a little more time working on a software development team.

    • Actually, most of the negative comments (or rather, “comments”, as I couldn’t find any positive ones) are split between people voicing the opinion that the interface responsiveness is only so-so and the scrolling is _objectively_ poor, and people pointing out the hilarity of the article’s author for pushing out such a sensationalist piece of nonsense with nothing to back his premise up (i.e. that it’s some kind of threat to Apple) and with no more information or insight than could be gleaned by reading the press release and watching the Engadget video.

  2. I think you fell for the feature list, which always sounds great on paper. Unless this thing is just a prototype, the videos of the Nook Color show a horrible user experience; slow, unresponsive, laggy, ugh… Along these lines, it’s not much better than the earlier Nook.

  3. James Gowan

    “You get what you pay for”.

    This has served me well over the years. I make informed decisions based on a lot of research and hands-on time with a potential bit of kit. If it’s a game, I rent it first. Same with DVDs. I want to know if my investment is going to pay off for the long haul.

    IF you’re right and the NOOKcolor turns out great — good for you. Really. I mean it. You’ll be a genius in your mom’s eyes and what more is there than that?! However, if it turns out to be a lemon or just so-so, you’ll either have buyer’s remorse or be constantly justifying the purchase to yourself (it’s not so bad, it’s pretty good for the money, etc.)

    Have you used an iPad? To me, the fluidity of the device, the build of the device and the scope of the use that you can get out of it TODAY, it’s a no-brainer. To me, anything less than the best is for people who have money burning a hole in their pocket. Relax, save your money and get your mom the best.

  4. The short answer = no. The long answer = can we all just WAIT until one of these devices, theoretical or real, actually makes any kind of dent in iPad sales? I’m not saying it won’t happen, but this constant jumping onto every passing tablet bandwagon, whether the device has even been or will ever be released, is insane. It’s like sports writers who keep desperately hoping the 12 year-old they’ve anointed magically becomes better than Jordan.

  5. stevenjklein

    Mr. Etherington:

    Are you comments based on any personal experience with the devices about which you write?

    Do you think one can fairly compare the performance of competing devices by looking at spec sheets and press releases?

  6. “It also supposedly works indoors and out”


    “I’ve never actually used one of these, and I’m just phoning in this review by re-hashing the press release.”

    Good work. Take the rest of the day off.

  7. Hamranhansenhansen

    iPad is a mobile PC, and Nook Color is not. The fact that iPad and Nook Color both have touch screens and batteries does not make them the same class of device. iPad compares to notebook PC’s, Nook Color compares to iPod touch. It plays music, reads books, surfs the Web, and even has a similar number of pixels as iPod touch. You hold them in one hand, you put them in a pocket. You will also get more than 2x the use out of iPad, which also has 10x the speed, and also has 10,000x more apps. Walt Mossberg’s initial review of iPad noted that iPad replaced 80% of his PC use, and that was when iPad had 10% of its current app catalog. Is Nook Color going to replace 80% of your PC use? No.

    When notebook PC’s were too expensive to sell to consumers, there were “word processors” that attempted to pass themselves off as notebook PC’s. That is what we’re seeing in mobile PC’s right now. Very limited devices pretending to be iPads, and preying upon the naiveté of consumers in this new class of device. So you have to be suspicious of any “iPad competitor” that does not have a PC class screen, PC class operating system, and PC class applications. Those are the 3 most important features of iPad. Nook Color has zero of those features.

    Anyone who is considering either an iPad or Nook Color or iPod touch owes it to themselves to spend 1 hour using each of them before they buy. They are all 3 very, very different experiences.

    • “iPad is a mobile PC…”

      Is it heck. The iPad is an iPhone on steroids, locked down in the same manner. Now dont get me wrong, the hardware is impressive and for some people it is no doubt a dream device. But lets not kid our selves… it does not/cannot replace a general purpose, versatile computer running an unrestricted OS (Win, Lin, OSX, etc).

      • Lets see….its personal…and its a computer…and its mobile. Ding. Problem solved.

        Seriously though, Apple has never claimed that the iPad is a replacement for a general purpose computer. Clearly from their lineup they don’t intend it as such.

        You’re completely wrong however in your conclusion that it’s “an iPhone on steriods”. It is nothing of the sort. Statements like that only seem to come from someone that hasn’t actually used an iPad.

      • stevenjklein

        So you say the iPad isn’t a PC? What defines a PC? Here’s what Wikipedia says: “A personal computer (PC) is any general-purpose computer whose size, capabilities, and original sales price make it useful for individuals, and which is intended to be operated directly by an end user with no intervening computer operator. ”

        By that definition, the iPad is unquestionably a PC. It has an operating system, input and output hardware, and can run hundreds of thousands of different apps.

        How is that not a PC?

      • pellucid

        There are many for whom it is absolutely a replacement for a computer. Commenters on tech forums always underestimate the simplicity of many users.

        Does it do internet; e-mail; facebook; music; movies?

        Yes? Then as far as they’re concerned it’s a computer.

  8. godofbiscuits

    You seriously think that thing is going to play movies?

    Even for beta, the UI was pathetically slow. For a demo of a beta, they could have done some quick, temporary tweaks to make the UI perform better for public viewing, so there’s not much hope that the final 1.0 is going to do much better than what the video showed.

    And watching movies on such a clearly underpowered devices? Are you high?

    Maybe if you sold it as nostaligia, made the user turn a virtual crank and called it a nook-alodean you might be able to hide the 8-12fps you’ll be lucky to get out of that thing.

    But then, nickelodeans were black and white, weren’t they.

    O Irony, how I love you.

    Seriously. Movie-watching?

  9. On a scale from sundial to wristwatch, the Nook is the hourglass to the the iPad’s wristwatch. We’ll all have forgotten about it in a few months’ time, and no one will care enough to turn that hourglass over for Barnes & Noble once the sand settles.

  10. Mister Snitch

    “I do think it’ll cut into its potential market share significantly”

    B&N versus the most successful high-tech consumer electronics company in history. This buggy, me-too, half-baked thing will be gone inside a year. What a clueless review.

  11. Sometimes I think you’re writing just to be comical.

    Did you actual watch the video of the nook in use? The thing is TERRIBLE.

    Like so many people think: just cause it has decent specs it’s going to be successful.

  12. Cyndy Aleo

    This is a last-ditch effort from a dying company that probably won’t go that far.

    If Bezos even announced a color Kindle with MP3 storage and fuller web browsing, this article wouldn’t even be necessary. Kindle owns the e-reader. Apple owns the tablet. I really don’t think most of the current iPad buyers are casual users; they are the usual Apple early adopter crowd, for the most part.

    I have an all-Apple house, but I don’t buy any first-gen Apple products, because second-gen is always better. The rest of my family? Own Kindles. In my immediate family alone, there are four Kindle owners. They just want to read books. They don’t care about viewing pictures or browsing the web or playing Angry Birds, because they can do that on their phones. They also like the price point of the Kindle, which is $100 less if you don’t care about 3G.

    Nook right now is in a weird no-man’s land between the two, and I don’t think either faction is going to jump. It’s not like someone out there is contemplating an iPad, if only it didn’t have so many features and cost less… either they want an iPad or they don’t. Or they want a dedicated e-reader or they don’t.

    Apps might make a difference, but there’s never going to be a “Kindle app for Nook” unless hell freezes over, so those with an investment in Kindle books are already locked in and color isn’t going to change their minds. And if it’s apps they want, let’s face it; Amazon has the developer power, the market share, and the storefront to do it. However, even with Apps, you are never going to see the cross-functionality of e-reader apps you have on iOS or Android-based tablets. Again, the iPad frees users from the lock-in of the dedicated e-reader.

    I do think this might push Amazon to offer a color version, however. Countdown to announcement in 3… 2… 1…

    • Jennifer

      What a lot of the general public fails to realize is that with Kindle, you’re generally wed to Amazon’s bookstore. I have a Nook (that I found easy to use) and I can download and read books from B&N, Borders, Smashwords, baen books, and I can borrow ebooks from the public library (which is a monster all by itself, because public libraries’ ebook selections are growing and allowing reciprocal borrowing across county and state borders, but I digress). The Nook isn’t limited and that’s a wonderful thing.
      There’s also the touch screen. Sure, some people don’t like it. But it can be a useful tool for people with diseases like MS or Parkinson’s, or even severe arthritis. With the Nook color, the need for buttons is eliminated completely, which is even better for those folks.
      So I guess the point of my post is that I disagree. I don’t think that the Nook is in some weird no-man’s land. I think it’s bridging a gap people are looking to fill. Let’s also not forget that B&N isn’t doing away with the classic Nook, they plan to carry both, because not everyone, myself included, wants to read on an LCD screen. :)

      • Cyndy Aleo

        Problem is, the Nook could be the best thing since sliced bread and it wouldn’t really make a difference. As Jason noted above, it’s not really user-friendly, does less than the iPad while costing more than the Kindle, and has some other key factors like low battery life ( of 8 hours with Wi-Fi off compared to 30 hours!! on Kindle and 10 hours on iPad with Wi-Fi on. As for platform lock-in, iPad is the only vendor-agnostic of the bunch. Because of Amazon’s lock-in, Nook is really only a choice for those who don’t already have another e-reader. Who would switch to something that can’t read the content they’ve already purchased? If anything (since I don’t have anything to read books on other than my iPhone and my laptop), I’d go with the iPad. Sure, it’s more money, but Kindle v. Nook v. Kobo v. whatever is like watching Blu-ray vs. HD-DVD all over again, and I don’t want to get stuck with the thing that no longer gets supported.

      • So the Nook is like Android. Not limited to one store, but the interface is horrible and sometimes the touch screen doesn’t work right. Oh, and there’s no Apple logo on it. Sign me up!

  13. Jason Kichline

    Have you ever used a Nook? I bought one for my mom for her birthday. It was terrible and unusable. She tried to learn to use it and felt so bad that she couldn’t figure it out. The instructions are a joke (literally, written by Dave Barry). I tried to figure it out and couldn’t. I had to take it back and then get lambasted for doing that. It is horrible.

    I don’t know if this one will be any better, but I have my doubts. You get what you pay for, and when I can give my iPhone to my 90-year-old grandmother to see pictures of her great grandson, and she can use it without instruction, or give my iPad to my 3-month old son and he can use it… That’s hard to compete with. I’m not trying to be a fanboy, but that’s the truth in the market.