The rumors have been swirling for most of this year: Barnes and Noble has an ebook coming. With a massive catalog of digital books at their disposal, and market share evaporating (and condensing around Amazon), they needed to do something.
What they’ve done is re-imagined the e-reader while the devices are still in their infancy. Let me explain what other e-reader manufacturers have been working toward so you’ll appreciate the brilliant dual-screen nature of the Nook.
E-readers are great for long periods of reading because of the new display technology they use. The black and white text isn’t backlit, instead you have an electrical sandwich full of ink that moves around thanks to an electrical charge. It’s called e-ink and it is viewable from ambient light, meaning you can read it in full-on sunlight, just like a printed page.
This technology makes reading a screen as gentle on your eyes as regular ink. Hence the name and hence its use in e-readers. The display has several problems, however. The transitions between pages require a bit of delay, in order to make the screen touch-sensitive, the overlay blurs the text, and color is EXPENSIVE.
Here’s how the Nook solves a few problems common to other readers: By adding a second color touchpanel using traditional technology, they give you a fast, touch-sensitive, color interface for choosing books, going through menu options, searching documents, displaying cover art, etc… Other e-readers try to incorporate the menus into the e-ink display, giving you a delay between choosing options, fuzzy text thanks to the touch-screen, and prohibitive expense if you want better graphics. By trying to do both, the screens do neither function well.
The Nook’s solution is so elegant (and in hindsight, obvious), that it isn’t surprising to see the combo being utilized in at least two other devices (that I know of). I’ve got a real good feeling about the Nook. It’s snazzy, it has the backing of the right company, and shoppers will be seeing these in their favorite bookstores, making them trust the device as a complement to their usual reading, not some digital monster to fear over the internet.