Just when you thought it was safe to go into your big box retailers and buy an “e-reader” after parsing the maze of options, two new choices loom: a new tablet from Amazon and a new something from Barnes and Noble. Barnes and Noble’s new device is fact; Amazon’s is speculation built on the usual stream of social media rumors, half-truths and what passes for actual reporting.
First, Amazon: The Seattle-based company is likely to come out with some sort of tablet device which no doubt will be color, and support both support web browser and video. It will be touch screen because in Feb. 2010 Amazon bought Touchco, a company specializing in touch screen design. It will support Android, but like Barnes and Noble, it will have its own implementation of the OS for its devices and sell resulting apps in its marketplace. A new device for Amazon makes sense given its vast products and services in the publishing and entertainment sectors.
A new tablet device for Amazon mostly threatens Apple’s role in the publishing space. Amazon has more publisher relationships, a larger global publishing footprint, a self publishing unit, and exclusive deals with some high profile authors and book buying data from millions of shoppers. Amazon’s role in the newspaper and magazine industries are a bit more opaque; the company delivers text versions of both media but could be positioned to quickly upgrade those relationships.
A new media tablet from Amazon threatens Google’s position as an embryonic e-book force (does it force Google to go the device route?) and perhaps even Netflix. Amazon’s streaming movie services will greatly benefit from being baked into a branded device. And tuck this into your pocket: if Amazon’s new device has a built in camera, imagine the bar code/NFC shopping apps that could be part of the device’s core features. Here’s a scenario: you are in Wal-Mart, find a HDTV you want to buy; you snap a picture of the device or scan the barcode and Amazon will give you comparison price and allow you to buy it from them in One Click.
As for Barnes and Noble, in a meeting with investor analysts on May 4, “Barnes & Noble, Inc. … indicated it expects to make an announcement on May 24, 2011 regarding the launch of a new eReader device,” Barnes & Noble said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. With a recent upgrade to Android 2.2 on its Nook Color, what could be in store?
Here’s a SWAG with some degree of logic: Barnes and Noble might be the first to come out with a device using the Mirasol screen technology from Qualcomm. Qualcomm said earlier this year that it would have a device in the marketplace in 2011. A Mirasol device, which uses Interferometric Modulator (IMOD) element is a simple MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical system) device that is composed of two conductive plates. The net result is color which uses less power in a non-reflective display. In short, a color screen which supports browser and video with an e-paper like “easy on the eyes” experience. A Mirasol device could be positioned between the Nook Color and the Nook B&W (call it the E-Nook?) and offer the reading experience of the black and white with the ability to offer enhanced books and magazines. Pricing? Good question.
Amazon and Barnes and Noble’s new device plans raise the issue of the fate of its existing black and white line of e-readers. Two things make sense: one is that the price drops to around the $50 mark and is marketed to those whose only aim is to read trade fiction and the like (perhaps an older demographic). Second, is they are given away by book publishers to customers who sign up for book clubs that carry a monthly purchase commitment. (Bertelsmann, take note).
The e-reading space is one in which speculation has become a blood sport. Microsoft, Sony and other consumer electronics companies will be watching this space. If my speculation is on the money, see you at the race track.