In New York today, Barnes and Noble announced the latest devices in the e-Book / tablet wars, aggressively taking on Amazon with the latest changes in their Nook lineup.
The most headline-grabbing device is the Nook Tablet, a 7 inch tablet computer. It is similar to Apple's iPad in being a touchscreen device centered around software programs called apps. However, while it is smaller and has less functionality than the iPad, it also retails at half the price of the bottom-end iPad, $249 versus $499.
The Nook Tablet's main competitor is Amazon's Kindle Fire, a $199 device that, like the newly announced Nook, goes on sale next week.
While the Nook Tablet is more expensive than the Kindle Fire, Barnes and Noble claims that the price difference between the Nook Tablet and the Kindle Fire is justified by the device's specifications.
When stacked up against the Fire, the Tablet offers double the RAM (1GB vs 500MB), which potentially means that, among other things, it processes graphics faster; double the media storage (16GB, expandable to 48GB vs 8GB), allowing users to store more movies, music, books and more on the device; and, Barnes and Noble claims, a better display that can be viewed from a wider angle than that of the Fire.
Like Amazon's device, it connects to the internet only via WiFi, offers internet browsing and email functionality, and supports thousands of apps such as Pandora and Angry Birds, that can be purchased on the device. Both companies offer large catalogues of e-books available for purchase.
Movie/TV streaming services Netflix and Hulu Plus come preloaded on Nook Tablet. The Nook Tablet also has a unique function called "Read and Record", where people can record themselves reading a book to accompany the on-screen text. This is aimed primarily at parents and grandparents of young children.
Perhaps its most conspicuous selling point over that of Amazon, however, is the fact that Barnes and Noble offers free wifi and free lifetime support for the devices inside of the majority of its 705 North American stores.
While the Kindle Fire offers many functions that the Nook Tablet does not, as an online-only company, Amazon has no way of offering similar in-person support for its devices.
At the event today, changes were also announced to the existing line up of Nook e-readers.
The Nook Color, one of Barnes and Noble's bestselling devices, has been updated with a better display, social reading functionality and new apps. The price of this device has been dropped from $249 to $199.
Finally, the Nook Simple Touch, a basic e-reader that uses E-Ink technology, now has an improved battery life and crisper text. At $99, it is $20 more than the cheapest Kindle, however that device comes with advertising pre-installed, whereas the Nook is ad-free.
Earlier this year, according to a report by Bloomberg, Amazon was dominating e-reader sales, with a market share of 67%, followed by the Nook at 22%.
As the race to become the essential tech-based holiday gift hots up, It remains to be seen if these new announcements will resonate with consumers enough to shift the balance away from the Seattle-based internet retailer.
Will you buy one? Let us know in the comments!