Barnes & Noble on Tuesday introduced an ebook reader called Nook Color, which will allow users to view colour ebooks and access social media applications on the Internet. The device combines the simplicity of a wireless e-reader with tablet functionality, said William Lynch, CEO of Barnes & Noble. The next big step in ebooks has been colour and users and publishers have asked for it, he said.
Users will be able to read ebooks such as colour picture books, Lynch said. But like tablets, users also will be able to access social media applications such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as email through Google's Gmail service. The device has a 7-inch colour LCD touchscreen that is capable of showing 16 million colours and an onscreen keyboard that allows users to enter Facebook updates.
When reading ebooks, users will be able to highlight text and look up meanings of words through a built-in dictionary. Passages from ebooks can also be shared with users through Facebook or Twitter. Users also will be able to access streaming music applications from sites like Pandora.
The device is capable of playing colour video embedded in ebooks or from inserted flash media, said a B&N spokeswoman. Though a web browser is included in the device's software, there is no support for the Flash multimedia platform, so users will not be able to play most web video. The spokeswoman declined to comment on whether Flash support would be ultimately added to the device.
The device is built on Google's Android OS. It has 8GB of internal memory and a MicroSD card slot and offers eight hours of battery life for continuous reading. The device is about 0.48 inches thick.
The Nook Color will be priced at $249 (£160) and will start shipping by November 19. It will have Wi-Fi capabilities for the delivery and sharing of books, but 3G capabilities are not available in the device.
The company originally announced the Nook in October 2009. The existing models come with two screens: a small, colour LCD screen at the bottom of the device to scroll through features and options and a larger black-and-white e-ink display, which is designed to show an ebook with text appearing as it would on printed paper.
The company shifted to LCD screens for Nook Color after considering emerging display technologies such as Qualcomm's Mirasol, said Lynch during a question-and-answer session. Alternative technologies to bring colour screens to e-readers aren't ready yet and the company felt that the LCD technology from LG did a good job reducing glare.
Lynch said that emerging colour display technologies could start appearing later next year.
B&N's previous version of the Nook uses black-and-white e-paper technology from E-Ink, which is researching colour e-paper. E-Ink has said it will talk about its colour e-paper plans and availability later this year.
The new device will compete with ebook rivals like Amazon's Kindle and Sony's e-reading devices such as Reader. Ebook readers are also offered through book sellers such as Borders, which announced price cuts on its tablets and ebook readers on Monday.
The device comes as the company puts more focus on its digital business, with consumers increasingly buying digital books as an alternative to print books and healthy Nook sales helping to sell more ebooks, according to the company. The company expects to generate $1 billion in revenue from sales of digital books, including ebooks and e-textbooks, by 2013, the company has said.
Amazon.com has found that ebook sales are outpacing hardcover book sales. Amazon sold 143 Kindle books for every 100 hardcover books during the previous three-month period, it said in July.
Beyond hardware, B&N is also focusing on software to increase its digital book sales. The company this year released the Nook mobile e-reader applications for Google's Android OS and Apple's iOS, which is used in the iPhone. The company on Tuesday said it established a developer programme to enable application development for its Nook devices.