Peter Kafka

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Barnes & Noble Rolls Out New Nook in New York

Score one for the Web: Last week, it got all the details of today’s Nook tablet launch correct, via leaked documents. The big ones: The new device will sell for $249; it will boast a faster processor and more memory than Amazon’s Kindle Fire, but will cost $50 more. Explaining why the machine commands that premium may prove a challenge for the bookseller, but we’ll have more on that later.


Welcome to the Barnes & Noble at New York’s Union Square, where the bookseller is scheduled to roll out the new Nook, its answer to Amazon’s Kindle Fire (and every other tablet in a market dominated by the iPad).

Thanks to last week’s Web leaks, we know — or we think we know — all the relevant specs and prices, so a lot of my interest in this morning’s event will come from the way Barnes & Noble positions its $249 machine against the competition. And what it says — or doesn’t say — about its lack of an Amazon-style cloud platform.


9:52 am: Good morning, all. I’ll be vamping here for a few minutes before the event kicks off at 10 am. So if you need coffee, etc., please take a couple minutes to prep.

9:55 am: Gotta confess I can’t identify the preshow music they’re playing. Basically the male analog of Adele, I guess.

Consulting SoundHound … (McRib is back, btw).

No luck so far. Trying again.

Okay. So … “The Temper Trap”? News to me.

9:59 am: Dimming those lights.

A little more uptempo now, with a backbeat.

10 am: Tragedy of the commons here with the Wi-Fi, so please bear with me if this is a little pokier than it ought to be.

10 am: Here’s B&N CEO William Lynch.

Superlatives for B&N, claims 20 percent of e-book (titles) market.

Reminding us how smart and pioneering B&N is. Remember when we introduced the Nook Color? That was awesome.

Nook Color is “No. 2 selling tablet in the U.S., behind only the iPad.”

Image courtesy of The VergePhoto courtesy of The Verge

Really. The Nook Tablet will hurt your ears, if this intro is indicative.

(Ugh. AT&T/B&N free Wi-Fi is sluggoslow.)

Image courtesy of The VergePhoto courtesy of The Verge

10:05 am: Okay, let’s try the intro again.

10:06 am: Running through specs you’ve already read about. “Ripping” 1GHz processor, etc.

10:07 am: “Free Wi-Fi.” But of course every tablet has “free Wi-Fi.”

“Revolutionary” battery life. “Up to nine hours of video … five HD movies on a single charge.” Weighs less than a pound. “Half the battery size of the iPad. Incredible.”

Plays up Netflix connection — recommendations “pushed right to your tablet.”

More content superlatives: Largest, biggest, bestest collection of magazines, comics, etc. “Unrivaled portable content machine.”

10:10 am: “Read and Record” feature — built-in microphone lets you “record favorite reading of any interactive children’s book.” “Winnie the Pooh” demo. Hrm. Flash poll of one dad with two kids finds this sorta interesting.

And there’s a newsstand! Interactive magazine selection includes Time Inc. (not yet available on Kindle Fire).

Image courtesy of The VergePhoto courtesy of The Verge

10:12 am: Apps: Angry Birds, Fandango, Smurfs, Pandora, Pulse, Epicurious, etc. — supposedly designed for seven-inch screen.

10:13 am: No cloud? “People aren’t always connected to the cloud,” and they want to store stuff on machine — hence 16GB capacity. But! We do have a Nook Cloud service.

But let’s remind you that many Cloud services are unreliable. Except for ours, of course. So: Cloud is not important except we have a Cloud except Clouds are often not great.

10:15 am: Face-off versus unnamed Kindle Fire. Ah. There, he said “Kindle Fire.” Nook has better screen, more memory, etc. “Kindle Fire is deficient” media tablet.

10:16 am: And here again are B&N’s mixed feelings about the cloud: “Cloud is important, but people don’t always want to be connected to Wi-Fi to get their content.”

Lynch reminds us that the Kindle Fire is in many ways the same machine as the BlackBerry Playbook. Nook is “hand-designed.”

More face slaps for the Fire: Don’t try playing golf game and consuming media at the same time! Things will get “choppy.”

By the way, did we mention that Amazon doesn’t have stores? We have stores. Where are you going to get support for the Kindle — “Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle”?

10:26 am: Peter’s having some Wi-Fi connectivity problems at the moment.

Nook Digital Product President Jamie Iannone is on stage talking about the Nook Color and the Nook Simple Touch product updates.

Image courtesy of The VergePhoto courtesy of The Verge

10:30 am: Sorry, folks, tech problems on my end. What you missed was an extended point-by-point comparison of Nook versus Fire.

Followed by point-by-point comparison of other Nook models versus other Kindles.

Key takeaway: Kindle with ads will cost a premium. Also, very important: We’re going to be able to go play with the Nooks now.

And … we’re done.

Q&A coming up.

10:34 am: B&N now handing out promotional bookbags with endorsements from: Dean Koontz, Danielle Steel, Mike Lupica, Stephen King, and …

Jane Lynch!

Media Q&A now:

10:35 am: Hey, what’s up with downloads versus streaming? Seems like lots of stuff you talked about in promo was streaming.

10:36 am: Hrm. Lynch talking about “sideloading.” That doesn’t seem promising. Then he mentions that apps like Netflix, etc., are streaming. “Netflix integration is really, really cool.”

So, again: Nook isn’t a streaming-dependent device like Kindle Fire, unless you want to watch movies like Netflix, and you’ll want to stream those. (See the problem here?)

10:37 am: Question about HD capacity. Missed it.

10:37 am: Question about extra $50 versus Kindle Fire. “Is it aiming at the same consumer as the Kindle Fire?” Who is target audience?

(BTW, Mashable’s Lance Ulanoff is dying to ask a question here. He’s really quite agitated about not getting his hand on a microphone.)

Lynch: We pioneered a lot of stuff with reading. “All of those things will be better on our device.” When it comes to other media, “the Kindle Fire is a vending machine for Amazon services. They’ve said it themselves.” We’ve chosen to be much more open. “We’re going to partner with the world’s most popular media services,” like Netflix (which will be available on Kindle) and Pandora (ditto, I believe — will double-check).

10:41 am: Okay, sorry about repeated tech problems. Back to liveblog: No Bluetooth in Nook. Lynch getting some mildly aggressive questions from tech press here, about Nook specs versus rivals.

10:42 am: Iannone plays up ability to “watch Flash videos on YouTube.”

(UPDATE: Lance has a mike! He’s coiled, ready to strike. Exciting!)

Okay, here’s Lance: Which version of Android are you running? And do consumers have full access to Android marketplace?

Lynch: It’s Gingerbread, and the “answer is no — we do not provide full access to the marketplace.”

10:45 am: More defense of the $50 price gap. Lynch is prepared to roll this off his tongue. “We feel very comfortable” with comparison. “We’re trying to lead, not follow, here.”

10:47 am: Q: How will you grow market share?

A: “Hopefully you’ve seen some of what we have planned today.” Did I mention that our base e-reader is better than Kindle’s base e-reader?

Q: (Translating a bit) When will all this be profitable for you?

A: Lynch: This is a revolution in paid digital content. “If you look at our model, last year our gross margins at were low single digits … last quarter, gross margins were 21 percent. We’re exhibiting the scaling model … Nook will be $1.87 billion in revenue” this year. Was a power point two years ago.

10:50 am: Q: You’re outsourcing so much of your digital media business to outsiders. What up with that?

A: [Basically] a $65 billion to $70 billion market for digitized print media. “We’re not going to launch something where we don’t think we can add material value just to get into the game.”

10:52 am: Q: Will Nook tablet support all codecs that Gingerbread supports?

A: Iannone: Yes.

(Meanwhile — just double-checked — Kindle Fire will indeed also feature Pandora, one of the four big media apps they played up at launch.

10:53 am: Q: About opening up access to full app store.

A: Lynch: Not anytime soon. Our top developers were making a ton of money. “We’re scaling that — we’re adding several hundred a month … we’re looking at it.”

Okay folks, that’s it for Q&A.

Thanks for your patience, thanks to The Verge for sharing photos with us, and thanks to Adam Tow for tech support from San Francisco.

I’m off to touch and feel a Nook now; will post more on that later.

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