The greatest influencer of the fledging eReader market is not Amazon.com, Google, or even Barnes & Noble… In fact, it’s the least involved company there is: Apple.
Despite Apple’s lack of any tangible presence in the eReader market (if you don’t count the iPhone, that is), Apple has done more to shape the way eReaders are made and eBooks are sold than anyone else. Steve Jobs has long denied interest in entering the eReader market, but despite keeping his distance, it’s obvious he’s made a long-lasting impact.
Barnes & Noble recently unveiled the Nook, its response to Amazon’s hugely-publicized Kindle. While the Kindle was a promising turn in the fortune of the eReader, many reviewers believe that the Nook is so close to perfecting the eReader that it almost seems like an Apple product.
ZDNet goes as far as to say that the Nook features “a curvy industrial design that would make Apple engineers proud.”
The Nook owes so much of its existence to Apple that one might accuse Barnes & Noble of stealing engineers from Steve Jobs under the cover of night. Here are ten profound ways that Apple inspired the Nook:
1. Touch. Anyone who gets into the eReader business knows that touch screens are the best way to control the format. But no one knew how to do it. eInk and touch just don’t work together so well right now. Most eReaders feature tiny, clunky buttons that fatigue the design and burden the fingers. Nook finds the perfect temporary solution by adding touch to a secondary screen. Thanks to the enormous popularity of Apple’s iPhone, consumers already know how to use and appreciate touch-screens. The Nook even foregoes a hardware keyboard for a digital one similar to the iPhone.
2. Cover Flow. Originally invented by Andrew Coulter Enright, Apple purchased Cover Flow in 2006 and immediately implemented the technology in the iPhone and on iTunes. The color touch screen on the Nook displays a selection of purchased or available eBooks in a similar manner, allowing readers to flick the covers left or right to scroll further and view more options.
3. The wireless store. Although the Kindle beat Nook to the wireless store, the concept originated with the iPhone. The idea that users could purchase content (originally music and later apps) from a wireless device was pioneered by Apple. Amazon progressed the concept by allowing downloads from cell networks (in addition to Wi-Fi) and Apple eventually followed suit. The Nook allows readers to download eBooks wireless from a cellular network also.
4. The SD card slot. Apple has long favored controlling the amount of memory on board any given device, but the company has recently relaxed its stance on SD card readers in its Macs. You can bet that when the Apple tablet is released it will carry an SD card port on board, similar to the Nook.
5. Promotions and advertising. If you’ve watched the Nook’s overview video, you’ll notice a clean white background and a friendly personality guiding you through features in real-life scenarios, similar to Apple’s instructional videos. In addition, the Nook’s promotional page on Barnes & Noble’s website resembles Apple’s online product pages by bannering with a dominant image followed by clean, easy-to-read chunks of information.
6. Retail. Amazon’s Kindle is an exclusive product. If you want to buy it you’ve only got one place to do it: Amazon.com. If you want to try it out, you’ll probably only get the chance if you have a friend who owns one. Barnes & Noble, unlike Amazon, has a virile fleet of brick and mortar stores across the country where Nooks can be fondled, goggled and acquired in a matter of minutes, no shipping delay required. It’s like an impulse buy for plastic surgeons. Apple works the same way. Many of the people who purchase iPhones and iPods do so at an Apple Store, where they can make love with the objects until their next credit card comes in the mail.
7. Bundles. Content comes in many forms. Apple’s well aware of the competition if faces from DVD bins at Wal-Mart. But physical DVD discs can also be used to promote Apple products. By encouraging companies to bundle iPod-friendly versions of films on Blu-Ray discs, it influences sales of iPods and use of iTunes. Barnes & Noble has stated that it plans to bundle eBook versions of some books with physical copies, giving shoppers one more reason to consider a Nook.
8. Competition comparisons. Apple has spent a considerable amount of money lambasting Microsoft in its ubiquitous Mac Vs. PC ads. It’s all about calling out the two obvious choices and telling consumers which one is better. Nook does the same thing on its website, showing a feature checklist comparison that will also be shown in stores.
9. Freeware hype. Barnes & Noble advertises more than 500,000 free eBooks available for the Nook that Amazon.com doesn’t provide. In fact, if you consider that the company offers more than a million eBooks, that’s like saying half of its inventory is completely free. Apple’s not quite as generous, simply because while many old books have fallen out of copyright protection, recorded music and movies are still relatively recent inventions. However, Apple does provide numerous free singles and free television episodes every week. It’s a way of drawing people in who might not otherwise sign up.
10. Apps. When the iPhone first launched, apps were a distant dream to developers who eventually saw their dream realized as Apple provided the tools and outlet for new and creative uses of its technology. Nook runs on Android technology, an existing platform that already has an impressive developer base. In fact, Barnes & Noble is currently planning an SDK release for Android developers. What makes it such a greater platform than the Kindle? That color touch screen, making possibilities limitless…. sort of like the iPhone.
Amazon, however, deserves a little credit. The Kindle includes a built-in battery, much like the iPhone before it. Apple’s right that few customers want to deal with the hassle of charging and carrying around an extra battery. Even fewer are likely to do so for a consumer device that lasts more than ten days on a single charge (like an eReader). The Nook takes up valuable space and weight to provide such an antiquated option.