Barnes & Noble, Amazon push ahead with e-readers

Both Barnes & Noble and Amazon are forging ahead with standalone e-readers, even though each also has a strategy for moving into the multipurpose tablet universe

Now that tablets are all the rage, it's easy to think e-readers may no longer have a market.

Not so fast.

Both Barnes & Noble and Amazon are forging ahead with standalone e-readers, even though each also has a strategy for moving into the multipurpose tablet universe. It probably helps that Amazon just announced Thursday that the online retailer is now selling more e-books than print books.

The latest round comes from Barnes & Noble, which casually revealed in an SEC filing that it will be introducing "a new e-reader device" on May 24. At the moment, we know nothing other than of this new device's existence, but here are some thoughts on what might be coming -- and why.

The company recently launched a significant update to enable apps on its Nook Color tablet, so it seems likely that, instead of releasing another tablet, B&N will update its original Nook e-reader. That model, first released in December 2009, has received software updates, but pales in comparison to Amazon's nearly year-old, third-generation Kindle, which is slimmer and has a sharper, clearer E-Ink Pearl screen.

Another reason to suspect the Nook will get an overdue refresh: B&N settled a long-running dispute with Spring Design, makers of the now-discontinued Alex eReader, by getting "non-exclusive, paid-up royalty free license for the entire portfolio of Spring Design patents and patent applications." This could lead to improved dual-screen technology on a next-generation Nook; the first Nook had a small LCD strip for navigation, but Spring Design's dual-screen approach-with an E-Ink screen on top and a roomy 3.5-inch Android-based LCD on bottom -- was far more functional than B&N's was.

Meanwhile, Amazon updated its Kindle a couple of months ago, introducing the cheaper, $114 Kindle With Special Offers, which makes up for its price cut by advertising special deals on the screensaver. It's an advertising ploy, to be sure; but between that step, and Amazon's recent gift card incentives if you buy a Kindle, and it feels like a sub-$100 e-reader can't be far behind. And at that price, it would be a strong complement to whatever Android tablet Amazon rumors say to expect for this year.

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