Barnes & Noble, the country's largest brick-and-mortar bookstore, is set to announce the Nook Tablet, released to compete with Amazon's soon-to-be-released Kindle Fire in time for the holidays. If the business model from previous versions of the Nook hold true, the devices can be pre-ordered after an official announcement from Barnes & Noble later this morning, although various reports list the actual release of the device as between November 15 and 18.
UPDATE: Barnes & Noble CEO William Lynch, at the official launch event this morning, told reporters that the Nook Tablet will have the "largest collection of Marvel graphic novels" of any tablet, according to Mashable. When contacted, a representative for Marvel said that the company would make a statement later in the day to address the claim.
UPDATE #2: The aforementioned statement is addressed here.
Graphicly announced today that a half-dozen new titles from various publishers would be made available starting today for the Nook Color and Nook Tablet. These include titles from Top Cow and Zenescope as well as Boom! Studios's Die Hard: Year One by Howard Chaykin.
According to published reports, the tablet will come loaded with a 1.2 Ghz, dual core processor and will support video streaming from both Hulu Plus and Netflix, which will come pre-loaded on the device. In all other respects it will resemble the existing Nook Color (albeit lighter and slimmer, and supporting HD graphics), including the price point, which will remain at $249 for the top of Barnes & Noble's line, with Nook Color being reduced to $199 and the black-and-white, e-ink "simple touch" Nook reportedly going down to $99.
Compared to the much-touted Amazon Kindle Fire, the Nook Tablet will be about $50 more expensive (with the Nook Color matching Amazon's price), with that cost being justified by a somewhat faster processor, double the storage space and nearly double the RAM of the Fire. The battery life seems roughly comparable across the board. Barnes & Noble announced today that the Nook Tablet would support cloud storage provided by Barnes & Noble, although with the larger hard drive and no music or video for sale on Barnes & Noble's site, it's difficult to imagine people needing much more than will be available onboard the Nook Tablet. The company also announced a unique new feature, a built-in microphone that will allow parents to record custom audio tracks for Nook's interactive children's books, so that it can be the reader's own voice instead of the generic, provided reader who reads the book to their children.
While Nook Tablet will support Hulu and Netflix, two of the most popular video services in the US, you presumably won't be able to stream your Amazon purchases to the device, which means that the movies and music you've got stored on Amazon's cloud will remain exclusive to the Kindle Fire. This is an approach similar to the one Apple has taken by not making an iTunes app available to non-iPad tablet devices.
The recently-announced Kobo Vox tablet looks to be nearly identical, from a purely technical standpoint, to the Fire but after Kobo's longtime partner Borders evaporated earlier this year it doesn't have much in the way of retail support and its $200 price tag is unlikely to make it a player. With the loyal customer bases at both Amazon and Barnes & Noble, who have some loyalty to the Kindle and Nook brand names, it seems likely that any competitor will have to come in with a very impressive tablet or a very low price in order to be a real player. just cloning the existing devices but without access to the Amazon/Barnes & Noble ebook stores seems like a strategy destined to fail.
One thing the Kobo Vox does have, which neither Amazon nor Barnes & Noble have embraced yet, is a full and unadulterated Android operating system. The devices are available now, so soon we should be able to find out whether (as seems likely) the Kobo Vox could be the first dedicated e-reader to support the Comixology app. Both Amazon and Barnes & Noble sell graphic novels in both physical and digital forms, but neither has yet entered an agreement with Comixology, the widely-used app for mainstream, American comic book sales. Theresa Horner, Barnes & Noble’s Vice President of Digital Content, told ComicBook.com that they are currently striving to make the reading experience on the Nook as uniform as possible, and that at present that approach doesn't include pursuing app-driven solutions for comics reading. Graphicly offers ebook versions of collected editions on the Nook Color, including many of Image's top sellers, but the Graphicly app itself (which supports day-and-date digital releases of single-issue comics) is not presently supported.
Broad app market support has eluded the Nook Color so far and there haven't been any indications among the technical specs for the Kindle Fire and the Nook Tablet (yet, at least) that they'll change that strategy right away. One likely reason? If you open up your app support, you open up your hardware to be used by your competition. Imagine readers who buy a Kobo Vox becuase it's available two weeks sooner, but then proceed to buy all of their ebooks from Amazon and read them using the Android-friendly Kindle app, which presumably can be installed on the Vox's Android Gingerbread OS.
The decision to include Netflix and Hulu on the Nook Tablet is an interesting one; with Amazon generating a lot of revenue by selling and renting streaming video, Barnes & Noble's lack of any such support has been conspicuous. Apparently the bookseller has elected to focus on...well, selling books...and that while they want their device to be competitive in this market, it was easier and more cost-effective to jump into bed with folks who have a successful track record (the last six months notwithstanding in Netflix's case) than to start from scratch themselves. The timing is also interesting in that Netflix recently began providing service in the UK, so Barnes & Noble may be able to get quite a lot more mileage out of this partnership worldwide than they would have been able to had a similar feature been rolled out with the Nook Color launch last year.
The Fire has stirred the comics industry and the publishing world by sparking a feud between DC Comics and brick-and-mortar bookstores. 100 of DC's most popular trade paperback collections will be made available digitally, exclusively, through the Amazon Kindle Fire and in response both Barnes & Noble and another brick-and-mortar retailer, Books-A-Million, have removed the offending titles from their store shelves and issued stern statements indicting DC and Amazon for trying to shape the ebook market. The exclusivity period is reportedly only four months, and Horner told us that Barnes & Noble is "still exploring [their] relationship with DC and hopes to offer as wide a variety of digital products as possible," so whether Barnes & Noble stores (or the Nook Tablet) may be stocking those DC books by spring is anybody's guess.