Big Day in the eReader World

I missed it yesterday when Paul Biba at Teleread picked up on my ‘Kindle is not closed’ post from the weekend, which is gratifying and predictably brought out pushback in the form of comments including this one from Mitch Ratcliffe and a contrary response post from David Rothman. Some people agreed with me, some didn’t but in all the dissents they are talking about the Kindle store lacking openness. I agree with that but that’s not what I said. I very specifically was talking about the device, not the store or the upstream ecosystem. I stand by my post – the idea that one must purchase every book on the Kindle from Amazon is a misconception that needs clearing up. Less than 5% of the books on my Kindle were purchased from Amazon’s Kindle store.

Today came out with the news of the Barnes and Noble Nook e-reader. My very first reaction was “Really, B&N? You spend however much money to build, design, roll out and market this device and the best you can do on naming is ‘Nookie Reader’?” Like I tweeted within a minute of hearing the brand for the first time, that’s a name that is derision ready.

I’m looking forward to the point when the Nook is available for hands on fiddling at my local Barnes and Noble. My initial thoughts on reading the specs and looking at the feature comparison chart is that not a lot of the differences on their matter to me. Having wifi sounds great at first thought, but I’ve never once failed to get a Whispernet connection so what is the advantage there unless it is filling in gaps and jankiness in the AT&T data connection? When I turn on wireless on the Kindle, the job gets done. What would be different if that was wifi rather than Whispernet? The sharing sounds great, just like the Zune sharing does on paper. How many Zune users ever find themselves in the room with another Zune user? Very seldom have I seen other Kindles when I use mine, and that has a 2 year headstart in market share. If the Kindle had this functionality, I wouldn’t have used it once in the 7 months I have owned mine. The first time someone I know gets a Nook file shared with them I’ll care about this feature, until then it’s purely a theoretical curiosity.

The SD card expansion up to 16 GB seems useful, particularly if one wanted to put lots of graphic heavy books on there. The lower screen LCD touchscreen seems to make sense for browsing the library but other than that, what is it other than a battery drain? Swiping a touchscreen to change a page is not easier than clicking a button. The only reason that would seem to matter is if everyone’s iPhone muscle memory tells them to do that. The two worst parts of the Kindle 2 I have are the library management and the off-whiteness of the screen background. It looks like the Nook screen is the same one as the Kindle, so that’s a wash and the library management looks better. Being able to read PDF natively (without a conversion step) on the Nook is better than what I have, although it is available on the Kindle DX.

Overall this doesn’t look like the predictably named “Kindle Killer”. It looks like a rough Kindle equivalent with slightly different affordances. I am delighted that it exists though, because it will put pressure on Amazon in all the aspects I want them to have some pressure. I want to see them improve the sucky bookshelf management in some future system update. The contrast of the screen is what it is on the model I have. It’s acceptable but any device I buy in the future needs to be better. I probably would never buy a future one until the color e-ink technology comes along.

Whenever they hit the brick and mortar Barnes and Noble stores, I’ll play with a Nook. Anyone who wants to make a bet with me on when the Nook install base exceeds that of the Kindle, you set the line and I’ll take the over/under action. Chances are for any line you set, I’ll take the over.