Amazon's Kindle Fire is Barnes & Noble's Nookopalypse

Amazon's Kindle Fire is Barnes & Noble's Nookopalypse

Summary: Will Amazon's Kindle Fire spell fire and brimstone for Barnes & Noble's tablets and e-readers?


In the next two weeks, we will know who really dominates the future in low-cost tablet computing.

All of that depends on whether or not Amazon's Kindle Fire, which is currently selling at a tremendous rate of thousands of units an hour, is as impressive a product as it is truly expected to be.

Amazon of course was not first to market with a low-cost tablet.

Barnes & Noble, with their NOOKColor ereader cum pseudo-tablet (pictured at right) beat them by about a year, which at the time was considered to be an astonishing no-brainer entry-level tablet at an aggressive price of $250.00.

But while NOOKColor had some early adopters, as well as its proponents -- including some of ZDNet's own gadget and mobile technology writers -- it never achieved the volume sales that would be comparable to Apple's iPad, the current tablet market leader.

Part of this had to do with the fact that as a tablet, it was never particularly powerful enough. It had a single core 800Mhz processor and only 512MB of RAM, with 8GB of flash memory which was expandable.

At best, it was about as capable in terms of processing and graphics power of a typical low-end Android smartphone on the market at the time.

But at launch it also lacked a sufficient application ecosystem as well as value-added services to make it a real competitor for Apple's market leading product, even at half the price.

Eventually, Barnes & Noble did upgrade the software on the device to allow for more tablet-like features rather than focus on it being a color e-reader product. The software improvements provided for additional tablet qualities such as the ability to download subscription magazines and download popular Android applications.

And it was also a very easy device for Android enthusiasts to hack and run full-blown smartphone versions of the OS on.

But none of this really translated into drastically improved sales.

NOOKColor was not a failure by any means, particularly if you compare it to the HP TouchPad or the RIM BlackBerry PlayBook which were complete flops. But it just wasn't the break out gangbusters hit that iPad was.

While Barnes & Noble was struggling in the tablet space against Apple as well as other Android tablet manufacturers to gain market and mind share, the company's e-book nemesis, Amazon, was devoting significant resources into developing new tablets and ebook readers of their own -- the Kindle Fire and new low-cost Kindle e-readers, which they finally announced on September 28.

On November 14, the Amazon Kindle Fire ships to customers.

At $199 the product is being positioned as a loss leader and monetization platform for the company, running on a TI OMAP dual core processor with a full implementation of Android Gingerbread, 512MB of RAM, 8GB of internal storage (with expansion storage provided by Amazon's cloud).

Amazon's 7" tablet also has special modifications that provide a slick user interface to make the Android OS friendlier to non-geeks and to appeal to the iPad's potential customer base.

The product is expected to sell in the millions of units in 2012 and is likely to become the dominant Android tablet on the market due to volume and pricing alone.

However, the hardware, software and pricing itself are not where all of the strengths of this product lie. Unlike the NOOKColor, it will sport Amazon's own AppStore for Android, which will have many thousands of applications to choose from, and which gives away a free commercial application every day.

As to be expected of a media consumption device, it will also have an integrated Kindle reader and Kindle store, providing the widest selection of ebooks, subscription newspapers as well as magazines available on any tablet device in its price class.

It will also be supported by Amazon's Cloud Player for streaming MP3 music and will be able to play streaming movies from Amazon Instant Video.

Barnes & Noble appears to be fighting back against the Kindle Fire onslaught by reducing the price of the existing NOOKColor to $199 and by introducing its own rival device to the Kindle Fire, the NOOKTablet, for $249.

While the NOOKTablet's hardware specs are similar to the Kindle Fire's -- and in some places exceed it, such as having double the RAM and the ability to use expansion memory cards, as well as having a limited library of HD streaming videos available at launch -- it is going to have a very difficult time matching the same value proposition Amazon offers.

For starters, the NOOKTablet is going to be $50 more than its competitor. It also lacks the cloud and value added services that Amazon offers, such as the Silk browser (which utilizes the horsepower of Amazon's EC2 to improve browsing performance) and the new Prime Kindle Owner Lending Library service that was announced this week.

Right now, the only tangible thing Barnes & Noble seems to offer to consumers that could possibly be considered an advantage over Amazon's offerings is their support of the EPUB format.

Up until recently, it also had the advantage of supporting digital library lending, but that too has now gone the wayside with Amazon's participation in the Overdrive service.

Ultimately, I do not believe that Barnes & Noble can provide the full range of services that Amazon offers today with Kindle, Amazon Video, Cloud Player, Appstore for Android or the continual perks that the company can offer for Prime members, nor does it possess the ability to absorb the up front costs of selling tablet devices at a loss in order to monetize additional services.

To match Kindle Fire in functionality it will need to fill in those gaps by partnering with other companies such as Hulu or even Netflix.

Even so, it will have tremendous difficulty in being able to match overall value and or continue to be profitable with their product in the face of such aggressive competition by Amazon, which doesn't have the additional burden of having to maintain a large retail presence that Barnes & Noble does with its 1700+ stores.

To me, the Kindle Fire represents only one thing to Barnes & Noble's tablet and digital convergence strategy: Apocalypse.

Topics: Tablets, Amazon, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • RE: Amazon's Kindle Fire is Barnes & Noble's Nookopalypse

    I think the problem Barnes & Noble has is just with getting the cash flow to try and compete with Amazon. Amazon has spent tons of money on their new products and services, and will no doubt spend tons more, and B&N just doesn't have the capitol.
    • Wait for Nook Color 2 and then lets talk

      Remember B&N has at least 9 month lead on Amazon!
      • RE: Amazon's Kindle Fire is Barnes & Noble's Nookopalypse

        I thank so.
      • RE: Amazon's Kindle Fire is Barnes & Noble's Nookopalypse

        @Uralbas not really significant when you weigh in all the extras that Amazon has to offer at the beginning. Amazon Prime (triple benefit: free 2 day shipping on all Amazon offered merchandise, 3.95/item next day shipping and access to the free video streaming library as well as the book sharing library), a fairly robust Android APP Market and the Amazon MP3 player not to mention less expensive books generally than B&N offers. I own a NC, bought one the day they released, and love it but not because it's a NC, because I've taken and turned it into a tablet and left the NC software behind. The NC software in it's first 3 iterations was so boring it was laughable. When their market launched I believe it had all of 145 apps, few of which were free and hardly any of which I saw any benefit in downloading.

        I think Amazon is on pretty level ground despite the year difference in launch.
    • RE: Amazon's Kindle Fire is Barnes & Noble's Nookopalypse

      @Shmythey I agree. Amazon has very deep pockets and more personnel they can dedicate to their device evolution. B&N is going to have a really tough time competing, even with the head start.

      Another thought I had: Perhaps Amazon's version of Android for tablets should become the default version of Android on tablets. I'm not aware of the licensing details for Android, but aren't changes to Open Source projects supposed to be made available as Open Source, too? It sounds to me like Amazon went a long way toward making Android more user-friendly for the masses. This might be the version that saves the Android tablet market from extinction.
      • RE: Amazon's Kindle Fire is Barnes & Noble's Nookopalypse

        @BillDem A couple of things.<br><br>While I do think the Amazon UI looks very nice, and I would like to see Amazon open it for use on other devices, they are under no obligation to share it with the Open Source community. You are confusing the concept of Open Source with the actual licensing Android is released under, which is Apache. Apache is different from GPL, which is a more common license associated with Open Source projects, such as the Linux kernel.<br><br>There is no such condition under the Apache license that would require Amazon to release their GUI overlay (which is essentially just an application layer) to the public. It has no "copyleft" component. <br><br>If Amazon made changes to the GPL components, such as the Linux kernel or GPL userspace libraries that run underneath Dalvik and the other Android-specific components, they would have to release them, but as I understand it, they haven't made any modifications of that sort.
  • Oranges Seller's Product Fails at being an Apple

    Pun actually truly not intended. The Nook came when the Kindle was already the big guy in eReader-town. I think most people were surprised/impressed how well B&N has been holding its own against the Kindle. I don't think B&N has any intentions on being an Android tablet power. They'd just like to keep their book business alive, or somehow survive past the changes that are upsetting their cash cow. If they can succeed at provided a good reading experience, that may actually be preferable to an eCommerce monster for a certain group of people (avid readers who do their shopping through other avenues than a Kindle Fire-like device, but love a good dedicated reading device). They probably won't top Amazon's sales in the process (quite likely not even for eReaders), but they may still accomplish their goals (unless our stock-crazed society cuts them off for not being what they weren't going to be).
    • RE: Amazon's Kindle Fire is Barnes & Noble's Nookopalypse

      @WebSiteManager <br><br>I didn't get the joke.<br> The Kindle may have been the first e-reader, but BN definitely pioneered the dedicated e-reader-tablet hybrid. If nothing else, this is a title that they can claim for promotional or advertisement reasons.
      Fat Albert 1
      • RE: Amazon's Kindle Fire is Barnes & Noble's Nookopalypse

        @Fat Albert 1 The kindle was not the first e-Reader.
    • RE: Amazon's Kindle Fire is Barnes & Noble's Nookopalypse

      @WebSiteManager <br>Personally I don't think it was ever B&N's intent to be the tablet of tablets which is why I think they never intervened with people rooting the device. Their intent is to make a reader if you want to make it a table then go right ahead.<br>B&N simply wants you to buy a device you can read on plain and simple and all the Color Nook does is allows you to read magazines. But still it comes down to reading and really that is NOT what the Kindle Fire is about it is about watching movies (that's not reading) watching u tube(Not reading) surfing the Web (not reading), e-mail (not reading). So it does really beg the question for me why would you compare a dedicated reading device to one that as a side note you can sometimes read e-books on. (sorta like comparing a Maserati to a Ford pick-up truck, they both have wheels, transmission and an engine but that's where it pretty much ends)<br>The people that review Nook vs Kindle I doubt are serious readers and more than likely only read tech stuff, so have no problem with pop-up advertisements and are far more interested in connecting to the Web and frankly when I'm reading - I well want to read not surf and I certainly dont want to try and read around pop-up Ads.<br>If the "Big" thing for the Kindle Fire is all the Fire power it has as a table then maybe the comparison should be with other tablets. Just because both Amazon and Barnes and Nobel sell books and devices that the books they sell can be read does not make them necessarily equal (see Maserati / Ford truck reference).
  • Nookopalypse Now

    Stick a fork in them ... they're dead. Amazon bet the farm and will reap the rewards. Sorry B&N but you're dead.
    • I love the smell of burning Nook in the morning

      @Oknarf ... it smells like ... burning plastic and circuitry.
      • RE: Amazon's Kindle Fire is Barnes & Noble's Nookopalypse


        This is the only site that seems to believe BN has absolutely no chance...
        Fat Albert 1
      • @Fat Albert 1 .. i'm a person, endo' boy

        <i>" ... This is the only site that seems to believe BN has absolutely no chance... "</i><br><br>.. not a website.<br><br>Besides, since when do you equate public opinion (e.g. me and other non-ZDNet staffers) with a blog site? <br><br>... Hey, hey, hey .. you better lay off the fast food Fat Albert .. you're already chronically obese (.. and it sure ain't helping with your powers of perception either).
    • RE: Amazon's Kindle Fire is Barnes & Noble's Nookopalypse

      @Oknarf and thx-1138 Not bloody likely - the Kindle was the premier ereader prior to the launch of the Nook line and since then the Nook has held it's own. And here's the thing - the Nook Tablet is 50 bucks more than the Kindle Fire and has twice the ram, more processor speed, and twice the on-board storage PLUS SDCard capability... meaning that it can hold more, run faster, and be rooted far easier to be a full fledged Android tablet than the Kindle.

      The burning plastic and circuitry you smell... that's the smell of the Kindle Fire burning trying to play keep up with the Nook Tablet.
      • Hey, wiseguy

        @Pete "athynz" Athens ... since when did you start dictating to others "their opinions"??<br><br>Buzz off!
    • RE: Amazon's Kindle Fire is Barnes & Noble's Nookopalypse


      I am not a fan of the Fire. The no SD slot really kills the device for me. I will buy the new B&N Nook instead.
      • RE: Amazon's Kindle Fire is Barnes & Noble's Nookopalypse

        @alceste007<br><br>I've pre-ordered the Fire but I agree with you that this is a key difference. It may determine whether tablet #2 in my family ends up being a Fire or a Nook. Still, I'm waiting to see how well I can use the built-in storage the Fire -does- contain, and how much the whole Amazon ecosystem adds to the experience.<br><br>For the market in general though, not the more tech-savvy people that tend to spend time reading zdnet, I have a feeling that the $50 price difference will prove to be a big deal.
      • RE: Amazon's Kindle Fire is Barnes & Noble's Nookopalypse


        I'm normally like that, but oddly enough, for the Fire, I'm quite willing to accept no SD slot in exchange for the capabilities it does have (and all the Amazony goodness which I already use on my Evo4g phone), versus the low price tag of $199. Now if it were just a little higher, even at $250 and up, then I'd demand 1GB of RAM and 16GB or 32GB of storage, along with an SD-XC slot for more.

        I've had more than one of my friends do a double take when I told them I was getting a Fire, since I'm the biggest power user among them. But for me the Fire is a big subsidized ebook reader that I can do a lot more on without having to pay too much. I've also had one of my favorite magazines switch to electronic only subscription in the last two months, so that also hastened my decision. In two years I'll replace it with something 10 times better for the same price and still have come out even money or ahead than if I'd gotten a Xoom, iPad or any of the comparable/better spec'd tablets. Definitely a case of it's not the best, but it'll do quite nicely for now.
  • RE: Amazon's Kindle Fire is Barnes & Noble's Nookopalypse

    I can't take exception to your analysis - but haven't seen anything regarding the Kindle Fire device itself that would move me from my Nook Color - I'm sitting in a technical library while I key this, my rooted/dual-boot Nook Color (Cyanogen running on the SD Card) next to my Linux laptop and Android phone. The Nook provides easy access to several GPS and GIS apps (including several not available in Amazon or Google App markets), TED Air video presentations, one scientific calculator running in RPN mode and another in dynamic graphing mode, iTAP RDP and Nomachine NX clients providing access to my office network and desktop, and everything in front of me happily communicating and capable of remote control via bluetooth. That's not a working environment the Kindle Fire has any capability of fitting into, but as an information appliance rather than an information tool, the usual Gresham's Law corollary to consumer technology applies and the less-capable device will likely triumph over the more-capable device....