Barnes & Noble has taken the wraps off its nook Color eBook reader/tablet (more on that tablet part in a moment.) The nook Color will be priced at $249 in the U.S. and will be available on or around November 19th.
Here are the basic specs: The nook Color has a 7" touch-sensitive display, is 0.5" thick and weighs just under one pound. It can store 6,000 eBooks, and storage can be expanded with a microSD card. It runs an unnamed version of Android. Unlike the previous nooks with their dual displays, the nook Color has a single display and virtually no physical buttons--almost all interaction is with the touchscreen.
Interestingly, the nook Color only has WiFi, not a 3G broadband interface, in order to keep the cost down. B&N hasn't ruled out offering a 3G (or 4G) version in the future. The company has started a developer program to encourage Android developers to build nook apps, but the nook Color has its own API. It's not currently compatible with the Android Market, and it appears that it's not likely to be compatible for quite some time, if ever. Lonely Planet, Dictionary.com and Pandora have already signed on to provide apps, and B&N will include a few apps of its own (crosswords and sudoku were shown.)
B&N has added social networking features to the nook Color; users can recommend eBooks, newspapers and magazines on Facebook and Twitter, and can change their status on both services. The company also claims that it will have 100 newspapers and magazines available in full color when the color Nook ships.
Based on what B&N showed today, the nook Color probably won't have a very long life, at least not at its current price. At $249, it's expensive for an eBook reader, and as a tablet, it's extremely limited, with only a handful of apps, no current or forthcoming compatibility with the Android Market and not a great deal of incentives for developers to write custom apps. (B&N claims to have 20% of the digital book market, meaning that the 75% market share that some analysts have attributed to Amazon is probably correct.)
I suspect that B&N dropped the dual display to provide an out in the event that it loses the lawsuit filed against the company by Spring Design (developers of the Alex eBook reader,) or if Amazon decides to enforce its patent on eBook readers with dual displays. The current nooks' dual display is too much of a litigation lightning rod; getting rid of it will remove a big risk factor for B&N.
There was no word of B&N dropping the prices of its existing models, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the WiFi black & white nook drop to $99 for the holiday season.