Nice Knowing You, Nook

The new Nook Color has been revealed, and it’s a 7″ Android tablet with a color LCD touchscreen. Talk about bringing a knife to a knife fight when someone else already brought a gun.

It was the wrong move for Barnes & Noble to change horses mid-race. The only thing e-readers (and this is supposed to be an e-reader, make no mistake) have as a defense against the tablet onslaught is their superior (and rapidly improving) e-ink displays. Amazon knows this, and they know that a huge proportion of their sales are black-and-white. The color stuff market is ceded to tablets — they can have it, too, because e-readers already own the book market. Barnes & Noble just got greedy.

E-readers survive because they don’t compete directly with the iPad, which is the only credible tablet competition now (though that will change in the coming months). Again, Amazon knows this, and although they have been expanding a bit into games and other services, they like to define their product in terms of the things its competitor doesn’t have. What does the Nook Color have that the iPad or another Android tablet doesn’t?

As for the social aspect, it’s hardly unprecedented, and adding similar features would be trivial for other companies and devices; services like Facebook, Twitter, and e-book stores love to make that stuff happen. Copia is building a whole platform around social reading. What about the Android Market? Nope. That particular feature didn’t make the cut. It’s a “curated experience.” In a year, there will be a “curated experience” of all the Android tablets that failed because they didn’t leverage the best parts of the OS.

So, what Barnes & Noble has put out is an Android tablet, no more and no less. It looks to be a fairly nice one (half an inch thick, less than a pound, no physical buttons) and reasonably priced at $250, but even the top-shelf Android tablets are fighting over Apple’s table scraps. Tablet scraps, if you will. You can slag me for meh-ing at the new Nook without even seeing it, but the truth is it’s not a bad product, it’s the wrong product. The old Nook was closer to the mark, and remains so; it’s still for sale, though it’s looking rather long in the tooth next to newer Pearl-based e-readers.

The last thing the world needs right now is another Android tablet, especially when the focus for e-readers should be on distinguishing them from tablets and not trying to compete with more capable and connected devices. Amazon is already neck-deep in Kindle sales, and this gamble by Barnes & Noble essentially forfeits their portion of this generation of e-readers.