November 7, 2011, 2:14 PM

Barnes & Noble enters the tablet contest

The Nook Tablet ships within days of the Kindle Fire from Amazon.

Lead Photo

The 7-inch tablet goes on sale for $249 just days after a rival device, priced at $199, hits the market.

Barnes & Noble Inc. is about to light a fire in the tablet wars. The bookseller announced today its Nook Tablet, a 7-inch mobile device with built-in access to the Barnes & Noble online store, will be available Nov. 18, just days after Amazon.com Inc.’s Kindle Fire tablet goes on sale. Both retailers hope to lure consumers with a more affordable tablet than Apple Inc.’s iPad. The Nook Tablet at $249 and the Kindle Fire at $199 undercut the $499 price of the least expensive iPad.

Front and center in the Nook Tablet’s offering is Barnes & Noble’s digital content, consisting of e-books, interactive magazines, children’s picture books and Nook Comics for digital comic books. Additionally, the Nook Tablet also will display entertainment content from the Netflix Inc. and Hulu digital video services and Pandora, a streaming music service.

Amazon’s Kindle Fire, announced in September, also has a 7-inch screen. Kindle Fire users who belong to Amazon Prime, Amazon’s free shipping and loyalty program, also gain access to unlimited instant videos, now numbering more than 13,000, and to the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, enabling a user to borrow one e-book a month from a pool of 5,000 titles.

While the screen size is the same, the Nook Table and the Kindle Fire have different technical specifications, which may be important for consumers. Amazon, No. 1 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, says the Kindle Fire has a maximum battery life of eight hours compared with 11.5 hours claimed by Barnes & Noble, No. 27 in the Internet Retailer Mobile Commerce Top 300 for the Nook Tablet. The Kindle Fire has eight gigabytes of built-in storage compared with 16 gigabytes for the Nook Tablet.

The more powerful Nook Tablet has the potential to “make the device more convenient to use and snappier for media consumption and app multitasking,” says Sarah Rotman Epps, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. The Kindle Fire also competes against the Nook Color, a 7-inch tablet Barnes & Noble introduced last year that more closely mirrors the Kindle Fire’s specifications. Updated this spring, the Nook Color had been priced at $249, but now sells for $199.

Between 1.5 million and 2 million Nook Tablets could sell this holiday season, Rotman Epps forecasts with Barnes & Noble selling between 5 million and 7 million Nook Color units.  She forecasted in August, when rumors of an Amazon tablet were rampant, that Amazon, No. 1 in the Internet Retailer Mobile Commerce Top 300 could sell between 3 million and 5 million devices in the fourth quarter. That’s a lot of tablets, but combined don’t add up to Rotman Epp’s projection of 8 million iPads sold in the fourth quarter. But, Barnes & Noble, No. 41 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide should not worry too much about that, she says. “No, it’s not an iPad look-alike, and it doesn’t need to be,” Rotman Epps says.

Barnes & Noble has the advantage of being a “fast follower,” a company that closely trails new technology introductions with improved versions of the technologies, she says. “Barnes & Noble wasn’t first to launch an electronic ink e-reader, but when they did they improved upon the experience not just with better features, but also with better services,” she says.

Barnes & Noble’s stores also represent an advantage over Amazon, Rotman Epps says. “They are using their brick-and-mortar stores to their best advantage as well, offering free service, exclusive content and full browsing over the free WiFi network in Barnes & Noble stores, benefits Amazon can’t match.”

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