With no major releases or shifts in pricing in recent months, the tablet market had become relatively calm and defined. Apple continues to hold major market share with the iPad and it’s exclusive access to the App Store, while several 7” Android tablets slug it out in the economy space.
Barnes and Noble has been a respectable player in the tablet game, offering competitively-priced Nook tablets with nice features not often found on other devices in its class, but their strategy of using Nook as a gateway to primarily Barnes-provided content has limited their devices’ overall usefulness.
Looking to give Nook an edge over competing tablets, Barnes has used this spring to both get more aggressive in pricing and in opening up their devices to content from outside providers.
The Nook HD and HD+ both launched at the tail end of 2012 and were well-priced for their time. The entry-level 7” HD tablet initially sold for $199, while its bigger brother, the 9” HD+, started at $269.
In early May, the company tested lower pricing in select markets before extending sale pricing nationwide. Through May 12, Nook HD drops to $149 ($50 off), while the HD+ drops to $179 ($90 off). It isn’t known if this pricing will become the “new normal”, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the company revisit this sale if they receive high response.
Both tablets were a good value at their previous pricing, but are even better at the sale pricing. The Nook HD and HD+ both have high quality, retina-level touchscreens and a microSD slot, two features rare in the competition.
The 9” Nook HD+ is an amazing deal at $180 (or $200-209 for the 32GB model), especially when coupled with a 32GB microSDHC card. Apple charges $700 for the 64GB iPad; a 32GB microSDHC card would put the 32GB Nook HD+ at 64GB for under $250 (depending on the card). The iPad is more powerful, yes, but for movies, books and Android apps the Nook HD+ is a compelling, budget-friendly alternative.
In addition to adjusting pricing, Barnes and Noble sent Nook HD and HD+ users a free device update that allowed the tablets to access, purchase and install apps from the Play Store (http://play.google.com). The Play Store is Android’s version of the App Store: a popular, unified marketplace where Android users can find new apps.
Play Store access is not available on all Android devices and wasn’t previously an option for Nook users. Barnes created their own marketplace for Nook users which offered a curated selection of compatible apps, as well as Barnes and Noble ebooks and multimedia. Amazon employs a similar strategy for Kindle Fire devices, which can’t access the Play Store either. Both Barnes and Amazon had some of the most popular apps in their respective digital stores, but were missing the breadth of offerings allowed to Play Store users.
With the new software update, Nook HD and HD+ have access to the wide variety of apps on the Play Store and become much more versatile devices. Nook users can still buy the Barnes and Noble content previously available to them, but can round out their tablet experience with extra options from the Play Store.
On May 15, Google will hold the I/O conference from the Moscone Center in San Francisco. It’s widely expected that updates to Android and improvements to the Nexus tablet line will be announced.
The new Nook strategies could affect how companies pushing new tablets will price and spec their devices. With Nook giving users retina-level screens and Play Store access at under $150, the competition will have to compete with either better specs or a better price, or both, to keep consumers interested.
Watch next week to find out what Google has in store for Android in 2013.