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Barnes & Noble launches Nook Tablet

The U.S. bookseller takes on Amazon in the tablet market

Barnes & Noble launched its widely expected tablet Monday, taking on the soon-to-be released tablet from book-selling rival Amazon with a machine that has slightly better specs.

"With the Nook Tablet we are delivering the best media device ever created in a portable form factor," said Barns & Noble CEO William Lynch at a launch event at the company's Union Square bookstore in New York.

Lynch touted the tablet's screen resolution and battery life as key selling points.

The tablet will serve as an e-reader and can stream HD movies and music. The company has signed partnerships with Zulu and NetFlix to provide video content. Users will be able to read magazines, interactive children's books, comic books and use apps from the Barnes & Noble Nook Store. The display is a proprietary design called "VividView," which Lynch said has a clearer display and wider viewing angle than other tablets.

As for battery life, Lynch said that a user would be able to watch movies, either on disk or streaming, for 8 hours. That would mean five full-length HD moves on a flight between New York and Rome, for instance. For reading, the battery will last as long as 11 hours.

The tablet will be available "by the end of next week" at Barnes & Noble stores, other retailers and by mail. Users will be able to save data on the Nook Cloud, and Barnes & Noble will offer free Wi-Fi at all its stores through AT&T.

Lynch took time in the presentation to compare the new tablet with the Kindle Fire, which he disparaged. "The Kindle Fire is deficient for a media tablet," he said. The Kindle Fire's 512MB of RAM does not provide enough room to play a game app while reading a magazine or running another app, he said. Its 8G bytes of storage is not enough to hold media for those situations where the user is not connected to the Internet. "You're not always going to be connected to the cloud," he said.

The Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet will cost US$249. The company will drop the price of the previous edition of the Nook, the Nook Color e-reader/tablet, to $199.

The Nook is a 7-inch tablet, weighing 14.1 ounces. It features a 1024 x 600 touch screen. It will come with 1GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage and a 32GB expandable SD card. Processor-wise, the unit will feature a 1GHz dual-core OMAP4 chip.

With their latest releases, both Barnes & Noble and Amazon, whose Kindle Fire is due out on Nov. 15 priced at $199, are competing not only in the market for e-readers but general purpose tablets. The tablet market is currently dominated by Apple's iPad. IDC in September said tablet shipments this year would reach 62.5 million units.

Barnes & Noble introduced the Nook Color primarily as an e-reader in October of last year. Although Barnes & Noble expressed no intent on expanding Nook as a full-fledged general use tablet, modders soon rooted the device and loaded customized Android versions to run third-party applications.

Recognizing Nook Color's tablet potential, Barnes & Noble in April issued a software update that officially got the device Flash support, games such as Angry Birds, built-in email, multimedia e-book features and new social networking and Web tools. The April update to Android 2.2, code-named Froyo, also provided performance improvements.

Nook products are becoming more important for Barnes & Noble as e-book sales grow and the company scales back retail store operations. Barnes & Noble in September said that while retail store sales represented a bulk of the company's business, consumer spending was trending toward digital content, which was defining the company's direction.

In June, Barnes & Noble said it was selling three times as many digital books through its website compared to physical books. As of September, the company had 1,300 retail stores, which were a "major competitive asset" in boosting digital content and device sales.

Barnes & Noble's Nook products also include the Nook Simple Touch Reader, which is priced starting at $139, and the original Nook, which started at $89. Barnes & Noble offers 2 million e-books for download, according to the company's website.

Barnes & Noble's top e-reader competitor is Amazon, which offers Kindle e-readers. E-reader shipments totaled 5.4 million units during the second quarter this year, growing by 167 percent compared to the same quarter last year. Amazon was the top e-reader vendor with a 51.7 percent market share, while Barnes & Noble held a 21.2 percent share in the second quarter. IDC expects worldwide e-reader shipments to total 27 million units this year.

(Agam Shah in New York contributed to this report.)

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com


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