Barnes & Noble is set to take on Amazon and Apple with two new versions of its Nook tablet unveiled today, joining an already crowded marketplace.
The new devices are a Nook HD tablet with a 7-inch screen, starting at $199, and a Nook HD+ with a new 9-inch screen, starting at $269.
In addition to new HD screens and a lighter body, Barnes & Noble is also increasing the services the Nook offers, adding a video purchase and rental service, allowing users to maintain different “profiles” and making it easier to browse titles in its book and magazine stores.
New York-based Barnes & Noble, the largest traditional U.S. bookseller, has invested heavily in its Nook e-reader and e-books.
Barnes and Noble CEO William Lynch unveils the new NOOK HD plus, left, and NOOK HD in New York
Barnes & Noble will continue to sell its smaller black-and-white e-reader, called the Nook Simple Touch, for $99, and a backlit Nook Simple Touch for $139.
The Nook HD runs on Google’s Android 4.0 system and includes Barnes & Noble’s own app store and browser. It is an upgrade to the hardware and services offered by its previous tablets, the Nook Tablet and Nook Color, which Barnes & Noble is phasing out.
However, Barnes & Noble faces a tough battle.
Seven out of every 10 tablets sold in the second quarter were iPads, according to IHS iSuppli.
Amazon.com has a 4.2% share of the tablet market, while Barnes & Noble has a 1.9%, according to iSuppli.
However, experts say the bookseller is in with a chance.
“If the decision the consumer is making is whether to buy based on hardware, these new Nooks will beat out Amazon,” said Forrester analyst James McQuivey.
“But that’s not the decision every consumer is going to make – hardware is only as good as the services the hardware enables.”
So far, Amazon offers more services, James McQuivey said, with a bigger app store, and more extensive video library, not to mention Amazon’s vast product offerings and its Amazon Prime free-shipping service.
In an attempt to measure up, Barnes & Noble is launching a video service that lets users buy and watch movies and TV shows on their mobile devices and televisions.
The offerings will come from major studios including HBO, Sony Pictures, Viacom and Warner Brothers. Scrapbook and catalog browsing features have also been added.
One wild card working in Barnes & Noble’s favor this holiday: Wal-Mart and Target, increasingly threatened by Amazon’s online retail operations, won’t carry the Kindle. The retailers will sell Barnes & Noble’s Nooks, as well as other tablets like the iPad.
“This is going to be a lot of fun to watch over the next year,” James McQuivey said.
The new Nooks are available for pre-order online and in stores beginning on Wednesday and will begin shipping in late October and begin arriving in stores in early November.
Amazon has announced the launch of Kindle Touch, its touchscreen version of iKindle e-reader, in the UK, Germany, France, Spain and Italy.
The Kindle Touch will be available for delivery from 27 April, five months after it went on sale in the US. Unlike in America, there will not be a discounted version with adverts.
Kindle Touch aims to challenge touch-based e-readers from Kobo and Sony.
Amazon had no update on a European release date for its bestselling Kindle Fire Android-based tablet.
Kindle Touch is being sold in UK for £109 with wi-fi, and £169 with both wi-fi and 3G connectivity, with no monthly fee. Both options allow books to be bought “on the go” from Amazon.
The device also contains an “experimental” web browser, but it only works with a wi-fi signal.
The e-reader is 70 grams (2.5 ounces) heavier and slightly larger than the basic Kindle model, which is sold for £89.
However, it also offers an “x-ray” feature – exclusive to the device – which lets users to find related passages in a book as well as more detailed information from Wikipedia and Amazon’s community-written book encyclopaedia “Shelfari”.
The latest version of its operating system will allow books to be read in both portrait and landscape mode. US-owners had previously been restricted to holding the device vertically and had pressed Amazon to make both options available.
Amazon has announced the launch of Kindle Touch, its touchscreen version of iKindle e-reader, in the UK, Germany, France, Spain and Italy
Amazon said UK readers will have access to more than one million books including the Harry Potter series, which has just become available to the firm and its rivals.
“We launched our first Kindle here 18 months ago and it very quickly became successful with 500,000 titles,” said Jorrit Van der Meulen, Amazon’s European vice president of Kindle.
“It is the best-selling e-reader in the world, but the comments that we got back… were ‘we wish it had touch’, and so we’re excited now to bring this to the UK market as well.”
Jorrit Van der Meulen would not explain the reason for the gap in launch dates. He also confirmed that European users would not be able to lend books to each other or borrow titles from public libraries as they can in the US.
When asked about the Kindle Fire – which shipped on 14 November in the US – he said: “We generally don’t talk about upcoming products or future plans.”
Gadget site, Pocket-Lint’s editor was not convinced many users would want to pay a premium over the entry-point Kindle, which uses push-buttons to change pages.
“The basic version sold like hot cakes at Christmas and it is likely to remain the market leader,” said the site’s founder Stuart Miles.
“You don’t really need to touch a book to make the pages turn when a button does the same, and for another £20 that’s basically all you are getting.”
In the US, the Kindle Touch faces competition from the Nook Simple Touch, which is sold ad-free at a cheaper price, and the Nook Color which can screen movies and television shows.
There had been rumours that the rival e-readers might soon launch in the UK after their maker – Barnes & Noble bookstores – sponsored an event for developers in London earlier this month.
However, the firm’s senior vice president of communications, Mary Ellen-Keating, said: “We have nothing to announce at this time.”