Lest you think that Apple's iPad has totally frozen the evolution of e-book readers, Barnes & Noble has announced a Wi-Fi version of its nook -- and lowered the price of the 3G version. The Wi-Fi model will list for $149, and the 3G's price drops to $199 from its original price of $259.
The company said the new price for the 3G unit is "the market's first under-$200 dedicated full-feature e-book reader that offers both free 3G wireless and Wi-Fi connectivity." The new Wi-Fi-only nook resembles the 3G in features, except it weighs about half an ounce less.
'Extra Extra Large' Font
Also new for Barnes & Noble's e-readers is its latest 1.4 software update for the devices, which includes free use of AT&T's nationwide Wi-Fi network, available in thousands of restaurants, hotels and other locations. The update also includes a new "extra extra large" font size and a Go-To Page feature in which users can immediately jump to a specific page.
Barnes & Noble, the largest U.S. bookseller, is still trying to overcome the nook's widely panned launch.
At the time of the launch, David Pogue wrote in The New York Times that "every one of the nook's vaunted distinctions come fraught with buzz-kill footnotes." Barnes & Noble touted its two screens, one for navigation and one for reading, but Pogue said the small color touchscreen feels "disconnected" from the larger black-and-white screen above, the touchscreen is "balky and non-responsive," and it took almost three seconds to turn a page.
He also pointed out that his test device locked up twice and crashed twice. In short, he wrote, the nook is "a mess."
'Tapping into New Segment'
With each software update and new model release, the company is trying to correct the bugs and turn the focus to its strengths. One strength is leveraging its 723 brick-and-mortar stores.
When the nook is used in a Barnes & Noble store, it automatically connects to free Wi-Fi. Users can click on the Shop button and use the Read in Store feature to browse through many of the e-books in the company's eBookstore, which has more than a million titles. Any available e-book can be read in the store for up to an hour per day, and newspapers and magazines are available for up to 20 minutes daily. Users can also access free, exclusive content from authors, as well as special discounts, while in the store.
The company has also begun to emphasize several services, including a user lending option, where a reader can "lend" an e-book to another e-reader for up to two weeks. In the previous software update, version 1.3, the company also added in-store e-browsing, games such as chess and Sudoku, a basic web browser, faster page turns, and better performance and navigation.
Ross Rubin, director of industry analysis for consumer technology at the NPD Group, noted that "one of the things that differentiates dedicated e-readers has been the price." He said that, by lowering the Wi-Fi-only nook to $149, Barnes & Noble is "tapping into a new segment of potential buyers who have been holding back because of the price."