With Apple's iPad and Amazon.com's Kindle getting most of the e-reader attention, Barnes & Noble is now releasing a major update to its nook e-reader. On Friday, the largest U.S. bookstore chain announced it will offer several new nook features, including in-store e-browsing, chess and sudoku, and a basic web browser.
The new features are part of the revised nook software, now in version 1.3. Other enhancements include faster page turns, device performance optimization, better Wi-Fi connectivity, better screen navigation, and an updated home screen. The newest update is larger than the two previous ones.
When the nook is used in a Barnes & Noble store, it automatically connects to the free Wi-Fi. With the update, users can now click on the Shop button and use the Read in Store feature, currently in beta, to browse through many of the e-books in the company's eBookstore, which has more than a million titles. The number of titles that will be available for in-store reading has not been announced.
Any available e-book can be read in the store for up to an hour per day, and the newspapers and magazines will be available for up to 20 minutes daily. Barnes & Noble said it will soon add major daily newspapers and magazines to the eBookstore.
The chain is obviously trying to leverage its 723 brick-and-mortar stores in the race for e-book readers. In addition to the new Read in Store feature, nooksters can also access free, exclusive content from authors, as well as special discounts, while in the store.
When it first launched at the end of last year, the nook was heavily criticized by many reviewers as being slow and clunky. The new update, as well as a major TV ad campaign, are among the company's efforts to get back into the e-reader race.
At Launch, 'A Mess'
For example, at the time of the launch David Pogue of The New York Times wrote that each of the nook's "vaunted distinctions come fraught with buzz-kill footnotes." Barnes & Noble was touting its two screens, one for navigation and one for reading, but Pogue said the small color touchscreen felt "disconnected" from the larger black-and-white screen above, the touchscreen was "balky and nonresponsive," and it took almost three seconds to turn a page.
He also pointed out that there was no notification or log-in capability to identify a Wi-Fi spot, and that his test device locked up twice and crashed twice. In short, he wrote, the nook was "a mess."
Current Analysis' Avi Greengart said he likes the new ad campaign, because it is "emotional and not gadget-oriented." He pointed out that, at this point, the campaign is emphasizing brand association, to the effect of "you've been with Barnes & Noble for your books, so why not continue with your e-books?"
Greengart noted that, with the e-reader space growing rapidly, Barnes & Noble is trying to build on its customer base, its large e-book inventory, and its brick-and-mortar stores. "Anyone can take a six-inch E Ink screen and put it into a plastic case," he said. A key difference among e-readers, he said, is "the buying experience."