Ultimate compromise?

nook color

This is the future of... something.

As was widely expected, Barnes & Noble introduced a new version of their nook ereader today. This is a big, big thing, and is either the first in a long line of successful products from B&N, or a last useless stab at a market they’ve been doomed in from the start.

People are ogling over this new read in the stores feature, and rightfully so. B&N (on selected titles) will let you preview an entire book (as long as you can do it in an hour, per day) wherever you want (as long as “where you want” is inside a Barnes & Noble store; sort of an “any color so long as it’s black” thing).

Also people are lukewarm over the lending thing (just once, and only for 14 days).

More exciting is the fact that it runs Android, so it can do some app stuff. Like play games and work on Microsoft Office files, which is pretty sweet. And it’s only a matter of time now until some enterprising hackers turn it into an almost full-fledged tablet computer, which is pretty kick-ass.

One of the most exciting things to me is the ability to change the font. Not just the size, but the typeface and color, too. Even the background color of the page. Which might be really useful when you find out the single most important change made in this new nook: a farewell to e-ink screens.

Okay, so it’s not technically a goodbye, since BN still offers the original nook, which sports the e-ink technology. But is this the beginning of the end for e-ink on ereaders?

BN, of course, is touting the nook color’s new screen as a great feature, and when you break down the specs, it certainly seems like it. It’s full-color IPS, capable of video playback, and is a touchscreen. All a huge change from the older, grayscale, passive e-ink display. One must think this is a direct result of the success of the iPad. When the iPad launched, some folks decried its uselessness as an ereader because of the glossy display. But seeing as it’s sold 7 million units in a few months’ time, everything points to a resounding success by Apple in that department. But the nook color isn’t a full-fledged tablet computer. Not really. It’s central purpose is as a reading device, so how’s the color screen going to fly? Is it a tacit admission that e-ink just doesn’t cut it? That consumers don’t want something as blase as a grayscale screen? Is it supposed to be a super-awesome ereader, or is it really a crippled tablet?

BN is pushing magazines and also just announced its nook kids program, which brings interactive kids books to the nook platform. This (and the glossy nature of most magazines) seems fitting for a color screen. Like Apple did with its App Store, BN recognizes the potential for content to push sales of hardware, and is banking on people wanting to read magazines in their full-color glory.

But why the move away from e-ink? Is it because the tech isn’t ready? There have been several reports of color/touchscreen/stylus e-ink displays being tested and even in production. The tech is pretty well there (and I hope it becomes foldable soon). E-ink is significantly more power-friendly than even the best IPS screens, along with being much, much easier to read in a broader range of conditions. But people like this guy consider e-ink doomed. I’m not yet convinced. Yes, LCDs are a mature technology, but they simply don’t replicate the easy reading experience of e-ink or other technologies. And there are enough people (you know, people who read books) who want that experience that the demand needs to be met.

When Amazon first launched the Kindle, their “top design objective was to make Kindle disappear—just like a physical book—so you can get lost in your reading, not the technology,” according to its product page. They wanted the device itself to fall into the background so all you see is the words, the text, the book. BN’s new nook color wants to do exactly the opposite. It wants to be the focus. It wants you to see it. It wants you to touch it, to interact with it.

These are two very different approaches. So far Amazon’s has worked exceptionally well. Does BN now have the inside track to catch up? Has Amazon missed the boat on this, and going to fade into memory as a quaint, useful device that helped bridge the gap between physical books and the real ereaders of the future? Or is the nook color a shot in the dark, some kind of “do everything moderately well instead of succeeding at one thing” sort of product?

Is this the future? The ultimate compromise? Or just a compromise?


  • Marcus says:

    Maybe it’s weird to comment on my own post (no, I’m not desperate), but it occurs to me that the nook color could be useful for, you know, color books. Aside from the kids books and magazines, there are also cookbooks and travel books among the notable other colorized texts. I’m not sure that cookbooks and ereaders are going to mesh super well, unless you’re the type who can memorize a recipe, just likes browsing cookbooks, or never, ever spills while making something. But travel books, that’s a great reason to have a color ereader, especially if you’re going on a multi-destination trip. But that’s not really a huge target market; the nook still has to be a mass-user device in order to succeed.

  • amaris says:

    For a second, I thought you wrote “coloring books” in your comment and was, well, conflicted.

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