Nook Color

Barnes and Noble just sent out media invites to a Nook-themed event they’re hosting next Monday morning, November 7th, in New York City. While the invitation offers little in the way of product details beyond the telltale green Nook logo, smart money’s on the unveiling of a successor to the Nook Color e-reader/tablet. Nook Color was the sleeper hit of last holiday season, riding a customized version of Android, access to B&N’s e-bookstore, and a low $199 price point to surprisingly strong sales. Given the recent introduction of a low-end touchscreen Nook and the launch of Amazon’s rival Kindle Fire tablet, the time is right for a Nook Color refresh.

What can we expect from Nook Color 2 – or, I’d venture to guess, simply “Nook Color”?  Judging from the rumors, something fairly big. To wit, last week Mike reported on some leaks about massive in-store overhauls to promote Nook starting on the 7th:

in the center we took away the customer service counter and built a massive NOOK boutique. This space is HUGE, with bright lights, LED TVS, touch screen POS systems, the works. Our manager told us, this space was not designed to house just 2 nooks.

A month or so back I wrote about a leak over at The Digital Reader suggesting that B&N was prepping two new Nook Colors for the holiday season. The report, gleamed from some B&N internal slide presentation, mentioned a $249 device codenamed “Encore” and a $349 model called “Acclaim.” Today’s press invites have generated renewed buzz around Acclaim, though frankly it’s hard for me to see B&N launching a $349 tablet given Kindle Fire’s $199 price point. Unless we’re looking at something radically new to justify a venture into the high-end market that, frankly, nobody but Apple has had any success in whatsoever.

Believe it or not, B&N might actually be turning to gaming as their secret weapon to battle Amazon and Apple in the Tablet Wars this Xmas. Turns out there’s a corporate connection between Barnes and Noble and gaming retailer GameStop, and more than one source has been speculating for awhile now that the kissing cousins could be collaborating on an Android-based gaming tablet. A $349 – or better yet, $299 – tablet with dual focuses on gaming and general Nook-ness almost makes too much sense to actually happen, given the craziness that passes as “tablet strategies” these days. Then again, B&N is a retailer and not a consumer electronics company, so they might just have the smarts to, well, do something smart in this fledgling space.

Imagine for a moment, a three-headed Nook lineup for the holidays: $139 gets you “The Simple Touch Reader,” a grey-scale Nook with a 6-inch e-ink touchscreen that’s quite possibly the perfect e-reading machine. $199 (down from $249, to better fight Kindle Fire with fire) gets you the revamped Nook Color, a full-on tablet with a 7-inch color touchscreen, no muss Android-based OS customized for the B&N crowd, and access to a newly bolstered selection of audio and video content to go with an already popular library of apps, books, and “family” oriented content. And $299 or so gets you the new beast, codename “Acclaim,” a joint venture with GameStop that packs a larger touchscreen and more robust graphics and processing power along with access to HD video and 3D gaming.

Barnes and Noble has undergone significant transformation since their early days. The bookseller begat an online retailer and bricks-n-mortar cafe/hangout that now sells DVDs and audio CDs alongside games, magazines and books. The addition of “huge” Nook displays “with bright lights, LED TVS, touch screen POS systems,” would signal another step in the company’s transformative efforts to keep up with the times. What better reason to step a bit further into the digital age than to launch a full-blown multimedia machine that combines B&N’s roots – reading – with the Amazon-fighting future of the business – streaming video and gaming?

There’s not much in the way of crazy rumors, let alone so-called solid information, to base Nook speculation on. But I will point you to one more tidbit from The Digital Reader:

There’s a good chance that we’re going to see the launch of the NookColor Acclaim, B&N’s new tablet. Few details have been leaked, but I can authoritatively say that the Acclaim has between 1 and 3 screens, with sizes possibly ranging from 4″ to 14″ (or some multiple thereof).

Sizes ranging up to 14″? What in the world would anyone want from an e-Reader with a 14″ screen? Oh, right! They’d want to play games and watch HD video on it. Makes as much sense as anything Amazon’s doing, right?

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