Technology

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from the L.A. Times

Category: eReaders

Black Friday: Barnes & Noble to sell a $79 Nook Simple Touch

BN.com screenshot

Barnes & Noble's Nook Simple Touch e-reader is getting a $79 variant just for Black Friday.

A limited number of the devices will be available at that price in stores only and only on the day after Thanksgiving, the traditional start of the holiday shopping season.

The Black Friday edition is the same as the regular $99 unit available in Barnes & Noble bookstores and online, except that the Black Friday edition has a white rim. The regular Simple Touch's rim is the same dark blue-gray as the rest of the exterior.

The other specs are the same. The device weighs 7.48 ounces, measures 6.5 inches tall and five inches wide and is about as thick as a No. 2 pencil. The 6-inch eInk screen renders text in black and white. The battery can go an average of two months before needing a charge. The e-reader can store about 1,000 books. More storage is available using the device's SD card slot.

The Simple Touch also features a nice concave back making it more comfortable to hold during long reading sessions.

Barnes & Noble didn't say how many of the special units would be sold, but they're likely to sell out quickly, as many deals on Black Friday do.

The company's biggest competitor, Amazon.com, sells a Kindle e-reader year-round at $79 but that unit lacks a touchscreen and runs ads on its home screen and screen saver. A touchscreen Kindle sells for $99 but still, unlike the Nook, runs ads. To get an ad-free Kindle, $139 is the starting price.

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— Nathan Olivarez-Giles

twitter.com/nateog

Image: The Black Friday edition of the Nook Simple Touch as shown on BN.com. Credit: Barnes & Noble

Amazon looking to release a smartphone next year, analyst says

Kindle-foneAmazon.com Inc. may be putting a smartphone on the books.

The longtime bookseller and online retailer is broadening its business to include not just electronic reading devices and tablet computers like the just-released Kindle Fire, but also handheld smartphones, according to business intelligence gleaned by Mark Mahaney, an analyst at Citi.

Mahaney says he thinks Amazon will release a mid-priced smartphone by the fourth quarter of 2012 -- one that could cost less than $200 and that will be customized to work with Amazon's digital movies, music and e-books.

"We continue to believe Amazon has now set its eyes on the mobile (and tablet) media and product
consumption frontier," Mahaney wrote in a note to investors.

Mahaney said industry whispers indicated that Amazon would be working with Foxconn International Holdings, a subsidiary of the Taiwanese company Hon Hai Precision, a global leader in electronics manufacturing that makes other Amazon products as well as Apple's iPhone and iPad.

Further scuttlebutt from Mahaney on the specifications of the tablet:

We believe the smartphone will adopt Texas Instrument's OMAP 4 processor and is very likely to adopt [Qualcomm's] dual mode 6-series standalone baseband given [Qualcomm] has been a longtime baseband supplier for Amazon's e-reader.

If the rumors are true, the phone may also have an 8-megapixel camera, a 4-inch touch screen and an HSPA+ radio -- part of the newer generations of cellular technology that allows for faster data uploading and downloading.

"With the clear success of the Kindle e-reader over the past three years, and Kindle Fire possibly succeeding in the low-priced tablet market, we view this as the next logical step for Amazon," Mahaney wrote.

His note did not mention the type of software the phone might run, but in passing he cited a possible "OS royalty to Microsoft." Because of patents it owns, Microsoft collects royalties from many manufacturers of mobile devices running Google's Android operating system. The Kindle Fire is one such Android-based device.

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Image: Photo illustration using images from Plenty.r / Flickr and andyi / Flickr

New Netflix app ready for Kindle Fire and Nook, but not iPad

Netflix announced a revamped tablet app now available for the Kindle Fire and Barnes and Noble's Nook, but not for the iPad

The great tech horse race of 2011 pits the iPad, that thoroughbred of tablet computers, against a pair of new lightweight fillies, the Kindle Fire and Barnes and Noble's Nook

But this year, the race may not be decided by horsepower alone. Indeed, in the run-up to the frenzied holiday buying season, the Android manufacturers are focusing less on their devices' technical prowess, and more on the kinds of things that people can do with them.

Last week, Amazon announced that the Kindle Fire will feature a "Lending Library" that will let paying users borrow a limited selection of books. Then Amazon pushed Hulu Plus, saying the for-pay TV and movie rental service would also be available on its Kindle Fire, along with music apps Pandora and Rhapsody.

And now, not to be left behind, Netflix is joining the party, announcing a revamped tablet app now available for the Fire and the Nook.

But not for the iPad. That version will arrive "in the coming weeks," the company said.

"It's nothing more than a timing issue," wrote Netflix spokesman Steve Swasey in an email, explaining that the Android release was timed to coincide with the Kindle Fire and Nook releases this week, and that there was no favoritism involved. "Netflix is agnostic on platforms -– no preferences or priorities," he wrote.

Still, that means iPad owners will have to be content with the older version of the Netflix app. Swasey did not reply to a question about whether the new version of the iPad app would be available by holiday buying time.

The new app, which Android users can download now, fits twice as many movies on the screen as the earlier version, and lets users easily swipe through many categories of films and TV shows, as well as begin streaming videos directly from within the app.

Check this space for continuing handicapping of the tablet derby.

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-- David Sarno

Twitter.com/dsarno

Image: The new Netflix app for Android.  Credit: Netflix

Japan's Rakuten to buy e-reader maker Kobo for $315 million

Kobo Vox tablets

Canadian e-reader maker Kobo is being taken over by Rakuten, a Japanese online retailer, for $315 million.

The two companies announced the deal late Tuesday, with Rakuten (Japan's equivalent to Amazon.com) buying Kobo, which is now owned by Indigo Books & Music (Canada's equivalent to Barnes & Noble) and to a much lesser extent by Borders, the bankrupt chain of U.S. bookstores. 

Kobo said that Rakuten is "one of the world's top 3 e-commerce companies by revenue" and that the purchase deal will help the two companies grow both their e-reader and digital retail businesses by creating an ecosystem of downloadable media and devices for consumers.

"Kobo provides one of the world’s most communal eBook reading experiences with its innovative integration of social media, such as Facebook and Twitter; while Rakuten offers Kobo unparalleled opportunities to extend its reach through some of the world’s largest regional e-commerce companies, including Buy.com in the U.S., Tradoria in Germany, Rakuten Brazil, Rakuten Taiwan, Lekutian in China, TARAD in Thailand, and Rakuten Belanja Online in Indonesia, and of course, Rakuten Ichiba in Japan," Hiroshi Mikitani, Rakuten's CEO and chairman, said in a statement.

Kobo said it expected the sale to close in early 2012. The Toronto company said its new owner plans to keep the same management team and employees in place.

"From a business and cultural perspective this is a perfect match," Kobo CEO Michael Serbinis said in a statement. "We share a common vision of creating a content experience that is both global and social. Rakuten is already one of the world's largest e-commerce platforms, while Kobo is the most social eBook service on the market and one of the world's largest eBook stores with over 2.5 million titles."

The deal will also enable Kobo to "diversify quickly into other countries and e-commerce categories," Serbinis said.

Kobo's diversifying could help it compete more aggressively with Barnes & Noble's Nook line of e-readers and tablets and Amazon's Kindle devices. Amazon, unlike Barnes & Noble and Kobo, sells moves, music and apps and not just e-books.

This month, Kobo will release its Vox tablet, a gadget with a 7-inch display that runs Google's Android Gingerbread operating system and is being positioned as an alternative to the Nook Tablet and Kindle Fire.

RELATED:

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Twitter.com/nateog

Image: Kobo Vox tablets. Credit: Kobo

Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch e-reader drops to $99

Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch eReader

Barnes & Noble dropped the price on its Nook e-reader, now renamed the Nook Simple Touch, to $99 on Monday.

The price cut, down from $139, came alongside the unveiling of the new Nook Tablet at $250 and the drop in price of the Nook Color tablet to $200 from $250.

Along with the price change will come a software change to all touch-screen e-Ink Nooks that will result in faster page turns and sharper text, the bookseller said. The Nook's hardware will remain the same, with a promised battery life of two months with about 1 hour of reading a day and a 6-inch touchscreen.

The Nook Simple Touch's price drop will put the device even in price with Amazon's upcoming Kindle Touch with Special Offers, which runs ads on the Kindle's home screen and screen saver (something the Nook doesn't do). 

RELATED:

Kobo Vox tablet, $200, to take on Kindle Fire, Nook Color

Barnes & Noble unveils Nook Tablet at $249 as Kindle Fire rival

Barnes & Noble's revamped Nook has a touchscreen, 2-month battery life

-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

twitter.com/nateog

Image: Barnes & Noble's Nook Simple Touch e-reader. Credit: Barnes & Noble Inc.

Is Barnes & Noble launching a new Nook on Monday?

Nook Color

Is Barnes & Noble Inc. set to launch a new Nook?

In a few weeks, Amazon's Kindle Fire and Kobo's Vox tablets will go on sale, entering the low-end tablet space that Barnes & Noble's Nook Color has occupied for about a year.

Nook event inviteSo far, Barnes & Noble hasn't announced any new Nook tablet plans, but the Web is buzzing with speculation that it's all heading that direction after the bookstore chain and e-reader maker invited the media to a Nook-related event in New York on Monday.

The invitation for the event reads simply, "Please join us for a very special announcement" under a shining green Nook "n" logo.

Could we see a new Nook? It's likely. If we were to see a new Nook device, it probably would be an update to the Nook Color.

Barnes & Noble replaced its old eInk e-reader in May with the market's second touch-screen e-reader (just a day behind the launch of the Kobo Touch) -- so that's unlikely to see a replacement anytime soon.

The current Nook Color and the upcoming Kindle Fire and Kobo Vox each run versions of Google's Android operating system and feature 7-inch touch screens.

Another possibility is changes to Barnes & Noble's Nook Friends social network, which allows users to see what their friends are reading, read reviews of books, lend books to one another, share quotes from a book, list their progress in a book and recommend titles to a buddy.

Whatever the Nook news is Monday, we'll have it covered here on the Technology blog. Stay tuned.

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

twitter.com/nateog

Images: (Top) Angry Birds running on a Barnes & Noble Nook Color tablet and (bottom) an invitation to a Nook event in New York on Nov. 7. Credit: Barnes & Noble

Kobo Vox tablet, $200, to take on Kindle Fire, Nook Color

Kobo Vox tablet

E-reader maker Kobo is following in Barnes & Noble's and Amazon's footsteps and releasing its own low-priced Android tablet.

The Canadian firm announced the Kobo Vox tablet on Wednesday, coming in at a Amazon Kindle Fire-matching price of $199.99. Barnes & Noble's hit Nook Color tablet sells for $249.

Kobo began taking pre-orders for the Vox on Wednesday as well, and the specs are similar to what Nook Color or Kindle Fire users might find in their tablets.

The Vox has a 7-inch screen with a resolution of 1024 x 600 that is covered in an anti-glare coating that Kobo said will make the tablet better suited for outdoor reading.

It also has 8 gigabytes of built-in storage memory and a microSD card slot that can handle up to 32-gigabyte cards, as well as an 800-megahertz processor and 512 megabytes of RAM.

Kobo Vox tabletLike the Kindle Fire and Nook Color, the Vox is Wi-Fi only.

The multi-touch display on the front is offset by a colored plastic band around the side of the Vox, and Kobo's quilted plastic back design style remains in place. The Vox is available in colors of "hot pink," "lime green," "ice blue" and "jet black."

Unlike the Nook Color and the Kindle Fire, the Kobo Vox is running a less-modified version of Google's Android operating system. Kobo is using "full open access Android 2.3," also known as Gingerbread, an operating system widely used on tablets but also an OS that was designed by Google with phones in mind.

Kobo's Reading Life application, of course, is included on the Vox, allowing users to track their reading by way of stats -- what, how much and how long a user reads -- with digital awards offered up based on that progress (number of pages or books read, for example) and integration with Facebook and Twitter for easy sharing.

The Vox will start shipping on Oct. 28, a couple of weeks ahead of the Kindle Fire.

Kobo's Vox keeps it in step with Amazon and Barnes & Noble, with all three companies now offering touch-screen eInk eReaders and 7-inch touch-screen Android tablets.

And that's a point Kobo has made before -- it will match its rivals and won't be left behind as it competes to be the third-place eReader with sights set on growing in stature and sales.

"We're gunning for Amazon," Kobo Chief Executive Michael Serbinis said in a May interview with the Times' Technology blog.

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Twitter.com/nateog

Images: The Kobo Vox tablet. Credit: Kobo

Amazon launches $79 Kindle and $99 Kindle Touch eReaders

Amazon Kindle Touch, Kindle, and Kindle Fire

Amazon.com's Kindle Fire tablet wasn't the only new Kindle introduced Wednesday. The retail giant also announced two new eInk eReaders -- a Kindle starting at $79 and a Kindle Touch starting at $99.

The Kindle Touch is, as you might expect, a touch-screen eReader. No buttons, no keyboard; the navigation and interaction take place via swiping, tapping or typing the device's display.

A touch-screen Kindle had been rumored for months and was essentially assured to be on the way after Amazon's eReader rivals, Nook maker Barnes & Noble and Kobo, released touch-screen devices.

The $99 Kindle is Wi-Fi only and runs advertisements from Amazon's "Special Offers" service on the Kindle's lock and home screens. An ad-free version of the Kindle Touch sells for $139, the same price as the touch-screen Nook. The Kobo Touch sells for $129.

Amazon is also making available a Kindle Touch 3G model for $149 with "Special Offers" and an ad-free version for $189. Both of the Kindle Touch 3G variations feature lifetime free 3G wireless service for downloading books in more than 100 countries around the world.

The company also is introducing a $79 Kindle with Special Offers, its lowest priced eReader so far, that loses the keyboard seen on every previous Kindle model, retaining only a few buttons for page turns and navigating around Amazon's eBook store.

An ad-free version of the base Kindle sells for $109.

Both the Kindle Touch and the non-touch Kindle feature a 6-inch display that Amazon says is its best eInk screen so far.

The new Kindle Touch starts shipping Nov. 21 but can be pre-ordered now. The new $79 Kindle is shipping now.

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Twitter.com/nateog

Image: The Kindle Touch, the Kindle and the Kindle Fire. Credit: Amazon.com

Amazon Kindle Fire tablet: $199, 7-inch screen, ships Nov. 15

Amazon's Kindle Fire tablet was finally introduced Wednesday. It will sell for $199, feature a 7-inch touchscreen and ship on Nov. 15.

Kindle Fire The Fire will run on, as expected, a unique version of Google Android developed by Amazon.

The first tablet from the world's largest online retailer has been anticipated for months as the first device that really might be able to challenge Apple's iPad, given Amazon's ability not only to sell hardware at a low price, but also to offer a full suite of downloadable music, movies, TV shows, eBooks and apps.

A look at the specs of the Kindle Fire reaffirms the idea that the focus of this tablet is consuming media -- and consuming it directly from Amazon.

Amazon has tailored the Android operating system to look unlike any other version of Android out there, with Amazon's media and app store the focus of the user experience.

The tablet has a dual-core processor and eight gigabytes of storage, but no camera or 3G connection, and its screen is just a two-point touchscreen versus the iPad's ability to handle up to 10 points of touch at a time. 

Amazon began taking pre-orders for the Kindle Fire on Wednesday.

Buyers of the Fire will get a free 30-day trial of Amazon Prime, the Seattle online retailer's $79 yearly service that provides free video streaming and free shipping for items purchased from Amazon.com.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon's CEO, announced the Kindle Fire at an event in New York on Wednesday, after Bloomberg reported details of the specs earlier in the day and released the first official image of the device.

[Updated 8:28 a.m.: Here's a look at Amazon's first Kindle Fire TV commercial, as posted on YouTube, which shows a bit of the tablet in action.]

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Twitter.com/nateog

Image: The Amazon Kindle Fire tablet. Credit: Amazon.com / Bloomberg

Is Amazon launching a Kindle tablet? E-book rentals?

Amazon media event invitatione

Amazon.com is set to host a media event on Wednesday morning in New York City, and the expectation is that the world's largest online retailer will be unveiling its long-rumored Google Android-based Kindle tablet.

On Monday, Amazon announced a beefing-up of its Amazon Prime service, with the addition of more than 11,000 older movies and TV shows from Fox added to the catalog. Among the newly added titles are shows such as "Arrested Development," "The X-Files" and "24," as well as films such as "Office Space," "Mrs. Doubtfire" and "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid."

The move is aimed at bolstering the appeal of Amazon Prime, which offers online streaming of a catalog of TV shows and movies to those who pay a the $79.99 annual fee, which also gives subscribers free two-day shipping from Amazon.

Rumors have also been circulating that with the release of the Amazon tablet, the company could add an e-book rental service to Amazon Prime as well.

The Amazon tablet, which is expected to carry the Kindle name used on the Seattle-based company's e-readers thus far, is rumored to cost about $250 and feature a 7-inch touchscreen, which would make it smaller and about half the price of an entry-level Apple iPad, the current tablet sales leader.

Of course, the Amazon tablet is expected to be integrated with Amazon's services, such as Amazon Prime for shopping and streaming, Kindle for books, its MP3 store and Cloud Player for music, and its Amazon Appstore for Android for apps.

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Twitter.com/nateog

Image: An invitation to Amazon's media event. Credit: Amazon.com

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