Thursday, April 29, 2010

Another Look at Nook: After Upgrade #3

This past weekend my Barnes & Noble Nook received a software upgrade, which would make this the third since the launch of this e-Reader.

In two previous Blog posts, part one and part two, I gave my impressions of the Nook and discussed the positives and negatives. Throughout I kept mentioning how an additional upgrade could significantly make this a better device.

So I was glad to learn of this latest download and had high hopes regarding its impact.

Unfortunately, instead of an improved reading device, what I got instead was the addition of games like chess and sudoku, the option to surf the web, and a few other revisions. You can read about all the new features here.

Now I don't know if there's been any huge demand from Nook users for such applications, but as far as I'm concerned, even if there was, B&N should have ignored it. This was an opportunity to once and for all address a number of key negatives plaguing this e-Reader. Most notably the refresh rate between page turns, which does now appear to be a tad faster, but still suffers from an odd meshing of the text as it changes from one page to the next. It's kind of hard to describe, but for a split second the page you're reading and the page you're about to read blend together displaying a black blob. It's really disappointing that upgrade #3 didn't at least manage to improve this experience so it would be as good, if not better, than when reading on Amazon's Kindle.

But let's talk about the Chess and Sudoku for a moment. The question here is why. Why bother adding these features when what most people are looking for is simply a great e-Reader. It would be one thing if the Nook was a device that was more like an iPad with a full color screen, but instead the chess board or the sudoku boxes appear in both the E-ink screen and the narrow color screen making for a dual experience that is split in two and ultimately unsatisfying. Plus the chess board is not fully visible on the color screen, so you have to constantly scroll up and down to view and move the pieces, which is very awkward. However, even within this small view size, the color looks so much better than the grey and white display above that the comparison just illustrates how visuals like these long to be in color and will have you wishing the screen above was just as vibrant.

But, playing the games is not nearly as awkward as trying to surf the web. I know technically this device can access the Internet, but it should be kept a secret because the experience is extremely clunky, difficult to navigate, and visually unpleasant. This attempt to position the Nook as a multi-purpose device was a poor decision and should've been reconsidered. All these new features do, in a world where Apple's iPad exists, is shine a big spotlight on the shortcomings of the Nook's capabilities. And I say this with no joy because I believe this device has real potential and could be a very good e-Reader that has an advantage in that it can be improved every few months with software refinements, but NOT if this trend continues.

Barnes & Noble wisely took a page from the iPhone by releasing an e-reader with minimal buttons so that 98% of the functions would be executed on a small color touch-screen, where the look and navigation can be changed dramatically. But this wise choice is not being used to their benefit. Instead of wasting precious programming time on games and poor web browsing, there should be much more focus on developing a great reading experience so all future upgrades are viewed as true improvements, not distractions. Being able to change the way the device works without requiring customers to invest in a new version of the Nook gives B&N the opportunity to recognize the customer's needs and deliver them over and over, each time gaining consumer confidence and loyalty.

My conclusion is such enhancements are meant to justify the current $259 price tag for the Nook, especially when it won't be too long before multi-functional devices like the iPad and Dell's Mini 5 Tablet will be priced competitively.

And now two new Nook devices are on the way? I have to say it's difficult to get excited about such an announcement when the current version has a few key remaining issues that need improvement.

Anyone else tried the Nook after this latest upgrade? If so, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Monday, April 19, 2010

iPadDevCamp NYC 2010 - An App Developer's Paradise
(Plus Alice & Cathy)

I spent most of last week on a business trip visiting my work colleagues in Berkeley, CA where I gave a presentation about all the current and upcoming e-Readers, tablets, and smartphones that have recently released or are expected to come out later this year. It was a long five days of meetings, including one at the Apple headquarters in Cupertino to meet with the new iBookstore team. Though it was a very productive meeting, I was tormented as the Apple employees surrounded me with their shiny new iPads while I still await my 3G model to arrive. I tell you it was pure torture. However, I'm happy to report today I received an email from the Apple store assuring me that my iPad would be shipping as planned sometime at the end of this month. Woohoo! Needless to say, I'm very psyched. :-)

Perhaps this is why I was a logical choice to be a guest panelist at the iPadDevCamp 2010 conference over the weekend at the AOL headquarters in NYC.

This was a very interesting gathering of App developers, designers, strategists, and more arranged by CodeFab, a mobile development firm that describes itself on their website as a company that "provides a wide range of consulting solutions from iPhone, Palm Pre and Android development and training to systems integration and high performance web applications." Whoa, that's a mouthful and sounds very technical.

The event consisted of attendees sitting around with their laptops programming Apps while exchanging ideas, discussing challenges, and helping one another with creative suggestions and expert advice.

So what the heck was I doing there!?

Well, I joined Nina LaFrance, VP of Consumer Marketing for Forbes Digital, Tarik Sedkey, Chief Digital Officer, Young & Rubicam, and Douglas Gottlieb, VP of Digital, Barnes & Noble, to provide perspectives on the state of the book and magazine publishing industry in the digital age, especially in a universe that now co-exists with the iPad. And from what I can tell it was a pretty interesting discussion overall. The panel was videotaped and I was told it would be posted online. If that does in fact happen then I will add it to this post at a later date. But in the meantime, I want to share one aspect of this get together that really stood out for me.

Which brings us to Alice. During one of my explanations regarding what impact the iPad will have on the experience of reading I described an App that presents Alice in Wonderland in a lush and esthetically pleasing way by a company called, of all things, Atomic Antelope. I feel this new visual interpretation of the classic novel serves as a terrific example of how App developers, like those who attended this conference, will likely be the ones who introduce creative content that excites consumers and leads to significant sales. That's one of the most powerful things about Apple's SDK (Software Developer's Kit). It creates a level playing field where any one person or small group of people can go head to head with traditional publishers and compete in the App Store for readers' attention and hard earned dollars. This is pretty amazing when you stop to think about it.

Hats off to the team who created the Alice App, for I feel it demonstrates what's possible and will inspire others, including myself, to re-consider what it means to read on a device like the iPad. To see this App in action, here's a video.

Now I'd like to think we at Perseus also created a unique reading experience with Cathy's Book, an interactive App for teens I'm very proud of and that I believe also does a great job of telling a story with this new technology. Here's a video demo.

But that said, I have to admit this Alice in Wonderland App makes me want to produce more great interactive experiences and I feel everyone in the book and magazine business better start paying attention, for while publishers like the one I work for or popular magazines like Vanity Fair plan their next digital move, small creative upstarts with dreams of big success are unexpectedly swooping in to the various App environments to lure fans and gain devoted followers of their own.

I say more power to them.

What say you?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

April 3rd, 2010 - A Date Which Will Live In (Tech) Infamy

Yes, it was a Saturday to remember, full of technological history in the making, but one which I could only watch from the sidelines :-(

As I mentioned in a previous Blog post a couple of weeks ago, I ordered Apple's iPad with Wi-Fi and 3G back in March and now I'm patiently waiting for it to arrive sometime in late April.


Like most tech enthusiasts, I'd been following every bit of news I could about the April 3rd release of the iPad from any source I could devour. I confess, I couldn't get enough.

I was glad that gadget reviewers like David Pogue of the New York Times, Walt Mossberg of The Wall Street Journal, and Ed Baig of USAToday gave the iPad good marks overall.

It was fun to read people's enthusiastic tweets like these by a few folks I follow:
@petermeyers - UPS just called: my iPad is about an hour away!
@pablod - Ok, looking at photos is every bit as amazing as advertised
@ranajune - My iPad is synched and ready to face the world. I couldn't be more excited.
@maureengg - Mesmerizing for media consumption. Fab and fun as novel work tool. Can real-life experiences be as compelling as this?

There were also a couple of Blog posts that really stood out for me and I'd like to share them here:
iPad Review: It Only Had One Flaw by Craig Kanalley, The Huffington Post
iPad: The First Real Family Computer by Sarah Perez, ReadWriteWeb

Plus these two videos featuring Dylan Tweney from Wired do a terrific job of demonstrating the striking difference between using an eInk device like the SonyReader VS. the iPad with its color display and functionality:
Sony Reader Demo
iPad Demo

(The Sony Daily Edition currently sells for $399, so it's hard for me to imagine NOT spending the extra $100 for the iPad to experience all it can do.)

So after all this you might appreciate how excited I was when a colleague of mine brought his new iPad to the office and generously let me play around with it for a while. I'm definitely planning to post a full review later this month, but for now here are my immediate impressions:
1. It has a little bit more heft then I expected.
2. Just like my iPhone, I wouldn't want to drop the iPad 'cos it feels like it would easily get damaged.
3. Reading a book was simply wonderful and it felt great to sit back to enjoy a good book.
4. The virtual typing initially feels a bit strange, just as it did on the iPhone, but in short order I was doing just fine.
5. I can see myself bringing it to every meeting, on every plane trip, and reading newspapers, magazines, and email on the train with a dumb-ass grin on my face ;-)

There's so much more to say and I'm looking forward to doing so in a few weeks after I've really had the chance to dive deeply into this amazing device.

Whether you love it, hate it, or can't make up your mind, one thing for sure is April 3rd, 2010, will be the day in personal computing when everything changed - And for the better!

Don't believe that? Then check this out.

If you've got an opinion about the iPad, I'd love to hear it.