Sept. 26, 2012 -- Back in 2010, Barnes & Noble released the Nook Color -- a $250, 7-inch tablet, meant for reading but also looking at color-rich content like magazines.
Today Barnes & Noble is announcing two new products -- the 7-inch, $199 Nook HD and 9-inch, $269 Nook HD+ -- to try and hold on to the market it pioneered. And it's not afraid to take hits at the competition to get back what it once started.
"We did create the category. We are going to do reading better than anyone else -- with the weight of the product, the ergonomics, and the screen -- this display is unprecedented," Barnes & Noble's CEO, William Lynch, told ABC News. "We are competing with better content consumption specs and adding content types."
Hardware Focused on Consuming
Lynch and other executives showed off the product for ABC News earlier this week and were quick to point out just how the hardware stacks up against the competing tablets from Amazon, Google, and Apple.
"The Nook HD is the lightest, high-resolution 7-inch tablet. It's 20 percent lighter than the Kindle Fire HD," Jonathan Shar, Barnes & Noble's GM of digital content, told ABC News. And indeed, the tablet is very light. It weighs 315 grams, versus the 395-gram Kindle Fire HD and the 340-gram Nexus 7. It's also easier to hold than the Fire: it is half an inch narrower.
But the display is the real differentiator. It has a 1440 x 900-resolution screen, while the Kindle and the Nexus have 1280 x 800-resolution panels. Everything did appear very crisp on the tablet, especially the new HD magazines and video.
Barnes & Noble isn't afraid to go up against Apple too. "Nook HD+ is the lightest and lowest cost full-HD tablet, which is 20 percent lighter than the iPad and nearly half the cost," Shar said. The HD+, which weighs 515 grams, has a larger 9-inch screen with a 1920 x 1080-resolution. (The iPad has a 9.7-inch screen and weighs 652 grams.) The 16GB version will retail for $269; the 7-inch version starts at $199 with 8GB of storage.
Both the tablets have fast dual-core processors, 1GB of RAM, and microSD slots for expanding storage capacity. There's no camera on either of these tablets. To that Lynch said, "Who doesn't have an iPhone or Android phone with a much better megapixel camera all the time?"
Software to Complement
But Lynch maintains that hardware is only one part of the piece. The company is still using Android 4.0 for its underlying software, but it designed a very basic interface with a carousel feature to mask Google's operating system. It is pushing its content apps above all else. It said it considers these "content consumption" tablets.
"The top four things people do on these tablets is reading, social, web browsing, and email, and we have nailed all those," Lynch said. "Do you need a GPS with maps on it? Who doesn't have a smartphone for that?"
Barnes & Noble has had a large catalog of reading material -- three million books and hundreds of magazines -- to choose from, but it is also launching Nook Video. The video service will launch concurrently with the new tablets in October and will include movies and TV shows from major studios. The tablets also support UltraViolet, a new standard that allows users to download video if they have previously bought a physical DVD or Blu-ray disc. Barnes & Noble wouldn't say how many video titles will be available to start.
Other new software features have been added as well, including a scrapbooking feature with catalogs and multiple user accounts, so you can share the tablet with the entire family or housemates. The tablet still relies on Barnes & Noble's Android app store, which has many of the essential Android apps but not as many as Google's Play Store or Apple's App Store for the iPad.
The Amazon and Apple Threat
In comparison to its biggest competition among online booksellers -- Amazon -- Barnes & Noble brags that the Nook HD is missing one feature that stands out on the Fire HD: ads.
"We don't have any advertising on this tablet. The only thing we will do is make recommendations about content; you won't see advertising on this tablet," Shar said.
Amazon currently ships its $199 Kindle Fire HD with its special offers or ads included on the lock screen and on the homepage. Customers can pay $15 to remove the ads.
Beyond Amazon there's likely another competitor entering the field for small tablets: Apple. According to rumors and multiple reports, a smaller, 7-inch version of the iPad (or iPad Mini) will be released in early November.
"Whenever Apple does anything in this space you pay attention. Still, I don't believe any company will have a better reading and entertainment tablet in the 7-inch category," Lynch said. "If they come, they come. We can't do anything about it, except keep elevating our game."