Audio Footnote

Picture 2 On the surface, it's just one of more than 140,000 apps available for your iPhone/iPod Touch.  That's what I originally thought of the Audio Footnote app (iTunes link), but as I played around with it I saw so much more potential.

Footnote lets you record audio notes while you listed to audio books or podcasts, for example.  Simple enough, right?  Think about how something like this could be extended in so many other ways though.

Why limit yourself to audio products?  What about e-books?  Wouldn't it be nice to be able to record audio notes while you're reading that how-to guide?  Then there's the textbook angle.  Imagine something like this being available to students so they could "make a note" right in their e-textbook; the note is spoken, not written.  Take it a step further and imagine the student being able to record the portion of their teacher's lecture that relates to this particular page or section of the book.

This functionality requires audio input, of course.  Gee, there's yet another feature Amazon hasn't considered for their Kindle family.  Doh!  Apple is on top of it though as even their upcoming iPad has a microphone.

Although I think the Footnote app is pretty cool, I worry that it's a feature that would be extremely easy for all reader app developers and device makers to add to their core products.  If they do, I hope they think of all the other features that could also be added.  Social networking is an obvious one.  Maybe you'd like to tweet a few of your notes.  A more impressive feature is one that collects all your notes into a separate audio study guide, something you could listen to during the daily commute or even share with (or sell to) other students.

Even if you don't have an iPhone/Touch you owe it to yourself to check out the Audio Footnote website or watch their demo video that I've embedded below.  If you come up with additional feature ideas I didn't think of please be sure to share them with the rest of us!

Audio Footnote Demo from Eric Granata on Vimeo.

eReaders & eBook Prices

Picture 2I considered opening with a snarky comment about the Nook ereader.  Something about how it's destined to be the RC Cola of ereaders seemed appropriate.  And when I went looking for a graphic to insert, guess what I found?  Amazon is actually selling the Barnes & Noble device on their own site!  Whodathunkit?

Nevertheless, how would you like to have been B&N these last couple of weeks?  There you are, trying to get some enthusiasm for your newly-released Nook while Amazon is fighting for any sort of attention amidst the biggest announcement in years: Apple's iPad.  Good luck with that.  It kind of makes Borders look smart for staying on the sidelines and merely reselling the Sony Reader.

I came across a number of interesting articles this week and I wanted to share them here along with my thoughts on each:

Gizmodo says $9.99 ebook prices are dead.  I an extent.  The agency model is a good way to put the brakes on Amazon's race to the pricing bottom but as an industry we've got to get beyond simple print-to-e conversions.  Let's add value, people.  Otherwise, $9.99 might be the high end of what consumers will pay.

Mike Nash leaves Microsoft for Amazon's Kindle.  Boy, I can't wait to see how this one plays out.  It gives me hope that maybe, just maybe someone at Amazon will finally have a sense of urgency about moving the Kindle platform forward.  If it seems like a long time ago when Amazon wowed everyone with Whispernet and eInk it's because it was.  Not much has changed on that platform since November 2007 but maybe Nash can turn it around.

As $9.99 ebooks evaporate, the Kindle will suffer, or so says Adrian Kingsley-Hughes.  He makes some good points in his article, but I'm still wondering about Amazon's tactics.  Ever since they started selling $9.99 ebooks at a loss I figured they would eventually come back to publishers armed with loads of data to show why the industry needs to adopt that pricing model.  After all, how long was Amazon planning to lose money on these sales?  And if they wanted to make a compelling case, they should have taken it not just to publishers but to the public in general.  That never happened and the iPad has already dealt a serious blow to Amazon's upper hand in all of this.  This seems like an enormous strategic blunder.

Although it took Amazon more than 2 years to even consider building an app store ecosystem like the one that's made the iPhone a runaway success, maybe there's still hope for the Kindle platform after all.  Jared Newman offers up these 8 Kindle apps he hopes to see.  Yes, even a one-trick pony like the Kindle can benefit from add-on applications.

P.S. -- I've already mentioned that I'm ditching my Kindle for the iPad.  That means I'm also completely stepping away from my Kindleville blog.  Paul Higginbotham has done a great job running Kindleville for the past year or so and I'm looking for others who might want to join him in that effort.  In the mean time, stay tuned for what I plan to do in the not-too-distant future on the iPad front...

Why Publishers Should Jump on the iPad Bandwagon

IpadThe worst-kept secret in recent tech history, Apple's iPad, was unveiled last week.  Some folks were wowed by the announcement while others were left asking, "is that all there is?"  I was somewhere in between.

A buddy called me that day and said he bet Jeff Bezos was..., well, requiring an undergarment change.  I told him I doubted it.  Not because the iPad won't have a significant impact on the will...but because Wednesday's announcement was the confirmation of something Amazon, like the rest of us, already knew about.

I'll get to the Kindle effect in a moment, but first let me say why I think every publisher on the planet should warm up to the iPad.  One word: Pricing.  Not device pricing but content pricing.  Ever since the Kindle arrived in late 2007 Amazon has led us on this downward path to lower and lower prices.  On the one hand, I don't blame them for this.  After all, we, the publishers, are the ones trying to build a significant business around quickie print-to-e conversions.

Amazon has been more than an accomplice in this regard though as they've developed a device that discourages and effectively prevents publishers from enriching their content offerings.  Two plus years into the life of the Kindle and they're just now announcing plans to open the platform to third-party developers?!  Are you kidding me?  Did they not notice that the App Store is one of the keys to the iPhone's success?

Compare the functionality of the Kindle to what the iPad will offer.  Look at the rich content opportunities the iPad presents.  Your newspaper won't just be a lousy text feed with a few grayscale images; it will be full color with video and audio built in.  Your travel guide won't just be some static black-and-white rendering of the full color print edition; the iPad will bring it to life with the type of imagery you'd expect and probably some you didn't even anticipate.  And how about your how-to guides?  No longer will they be quick conversions from print format.  They too will have all sorts of other types of video and audio content to make the job easier.

All this means we won't have to lower the price because customers feel they're getting print content with no added value.  In fact, the current model also typically loses the option to resell or pass along to a friend.  All that, along with the fact that customers realize there's no cost of goods or returns exposure for the publisher, is why Amazon has us all contemplating a future of $9.99 ebooks.

That model will still exist but Apple offers a different one.  The Apple model only differs if publishers are willing to make the investment in new forms of content, not just the written word.  If you're not willing to experiment with video or audio, for example, upside from the Apple platform will be limited for you.  Just remember that other publishers, as well as a whole bunch of start-ups, will be experimenting in this space, so watch out!

Btw, I don't mean to suggest that the iPad is guaranteed to become a runaway hit.  It's not the device I'm enamored with as much as the capabilities the device represents.  Others will undoubtedly mimic it and offer similar functionality at a lower price.  And while some consumers will stick with the Kindle platform, the way forward is one with full color, video capability and a connectivity option that's built for more than just downloading books.  (Seriously, have you ever tried doing any sort of web browsing on a Kindle?)

Here's something else to keep in mind with the iPad: It's not just an ereader.  Whereas the Kindle is a one-trick pony, the iPad enters the game with more than 140,000 other uses.  OK, I've only got a couple dozen of those apps on my iPhone, but that's roughly a couple of dozen more things than I can do on my Kindle!

None of this is a surprise to Amazon though.  Why do you think they created the Kindle iPhone app last year?  I'm sure that tool will let you read your Kindle books on the iPad, so at least we won't feel like total idiots for supporting the closed Kindle platform.

As much as I originally wanted the Kindle to succeed I'm extremely disappointed with Amazon's lack of innovation.  They're still well-positioned to be an econtent player, if not the leader, but I don't see them being dominant on the device front now.

I've got a tip for Mr. Bezos & Co. if they plan to remain committed to the eInk approach: Go for the low-end of the market and offer a sub-$100 dumb device that tethers to your smartphone for connectivity.  Dump the Whispernet service and the hardware required to support it.  Everyone has a cell phone, so leverage their existing service instead.  A sub-$50 option would be even better.  Do you think they could sell a few $49 MiniKindle's with this configuration?  I do, and they'd still be able to sell all the content they want.

FWIW, I'm currently planning to get an iPad when they're available.  I'll probably go with the mid-range 32-Gig model with wifi only.  I spend most of my time in one hot spot or another, so I don't see any reason to pay for the hardware or monthly fee on a 3G plan.

As for my Kindle, well, that's about to become a hand-me-down.  My wife said she'd like to try it out.  I doubt she'll have any interest in taking over my Kindleville blog though.  Kindleville has been largely ignored the past several months, so if you know anyone who plans to stick with Amazon's platform, ask them if they're interested in becoming the Kindleville custodian!

Adding the Word "Free" to Your Marketing Dictionary

Picture 1Today's post is courtesy of Ben Richter, eReader enthusiast and owner of, a review site for eReaders, tablets and ebooks.  Ben wrote this as a follow-up to my earlier plea for Amazon to share the data related to free Kindle content.  Here's what Ben has to say:

In today's marketing world, both online and offline, it's getting harder and harder to put your product in front of potential shoppers. The internet has turned the world upside down, and although there are more ways today to promote your product, the competition is getting tougher. So, how can you, as a publisher or as an author, get more people to read your new creation? 

The answer is quite surprising. You need to give your product away for free. Like Joe mentioned in his last post, if you browse through Amazon's bestseller list, you'll find a bunch of free ebooks. If Amazon is doing it, then there has to be something useful about it.

So, how can you make money by giving away your ebook for free? Here are some interesting action plans:

  1. Give away your 1st book for free, charge more money on your next ones: The first impression is also the most important one. Offering your first book for free will get plenty of potential readers to click the download button. If your book is good, they might be curious enough to buy your next one for a higher price. You can see it as a first date. If you made the right impressions, there will be a second one. Another option is to offer your older books for free, when a customer buys your latest one. Kind of a 2 for 1 deal.

  2. Integrate ads inside your ebook: Sounds like a pretty strange idea don't you think? It sort of takes the romance out of books and turns them into magazines. This idea has never hit the mainstream but it might be a good concept going forward. The ads don't have to be full page ones, they can be textual, embedded nicely in the text. Here is an example: A company called InfoLinks is offering a service called In-text advertising. It basically inserts text link advertisements within the content of your website (or ebook in our case), usually in the form of double-underline hyperlinks. When the reader hovers their mouse over one of these, a floating informational bubble opens with content from an advertiser. If clicked, the visitor is directed to the advertiser’s landing page and you earn advertising revenue; otherwise, when the mouse is moved away from the hyperlink, the bubble disappears.

    As you are being paid for each click, it is only a question of how popular your book will be. The more you sell, the more money you make. And because you're giving away your book for free, you'll probably move quite a few copies. In order for this idea to work, eReaders need to support 3G or Wi-Fi as well as have a more sophisticated display than the current eInk versions found on the Kindle, for example. With the current, fast-paced developments, it is only a matter of time until they do. And don't forget about the smartphones and tablets that already support this. 

  3. Limited Time Offer On Your Book: The hardest thing to do is create the initial buzz around your book. So why not offer a limited amount of books for free? Let's say the first 1000 copies will be free… People just love those limited time offers. It makes them think they're missing out on something. If your book is good, this initial buzz could lead to other people buying it at full price.

  4. Social Market Your eBook: My opinion is that book publishers are not taking advantage of the features eReaders offer. We tend to forget that an eReader is much more than just an electronic gadget with a screen. We might want to look at it as a gate to the web as well! Imagine all the possibilities it might have while connected to the internet… A reader can share her reading experience with her friends on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks while reading the book, helping you as a publisher to social market your book. Maybe, instead of looking on ebooks as books, we should look at them as webpages? 

The bottom line: The world of ebooks and eReaders is only starting to evolve. Competition will get tougher, book prices will go down. Publishers and authors have to think of new ways to make money. I believe books won't remain ad-free forever.

P.S. from Joe: I disagree with Ben's notion that ebook prices will remain low or get pushed down even further.  Amazon's approach with the Kindle simply leverages content ported from print to e without adding any value.  I believe Apple's upcoming iPad device opens the door to a much richer content model.  Richer content and more functionality should allow us all to create products more valuable than 99-cent apps and $9.99 quickie print-to-e conversions.  I want to give this more consideration and follow-up with a detailed post on it shortly...

Has the Magazine Industry Heard of the iPhone?

Mag stackWhat is the magazine industry waiting for?  The iPhone is now 3 years old and there appears to be little to no interest in creating paid apps with their content.  Go to the App Store, search for "magazine" and look at the hodgepodge results.

Many of the ones that actually have apps treat them more like news feeds than new ways of rendering their magazine (e.g,. see the Sports Illustrated app, for example).  Hey, I've got plenty of news apps already.  If I'm taking the time to download your app it's because I want the magazine content, not another news feed.

I shouldn't complain because most of the magazine apps out there are free, right?  Wrong!  I'll pay a monthly subscription price for this app if you'll just get me the content I want.

Here's a good example: My BusinessWeek print subscription just lapsed.  I tried the Kindle version but was underwhelmed thanks to missing content and the awful way magazines are rendered on it.  I can either renew the print subscription for $40 or go with the lesser Kindle edition at $2.49/month, or roughly $30/year.  I'm opting for the Kindle version, but only because I can stop it at any time.  I'd pay more than $2.50/month for a great iPhone app version though.

Of course we've all heard about a number of new and interesting devices on the horizon, several of which sound like a good fit for magazines.  That's wonderful for everyone with a few hundred bucks burning a hole in their pockets, but why not take advantage of the platform that's already in millions of peoples hands?!

2010 Predictions

Binoculars It's that time of the year. Time for new year's resolutions and predictions.  I won't bore you with the former but I'll take a crack at a few of the latter.

#1 -- The year of the richer ebook. Let's face it.  The e-future of this industry is not quick-and-dirty p-to-e conversions.  Pricing pressures and  value propositions mean these will be nothing more than revenue rounding errors for the foreseeable future.  2010 will be the year where we'll see more investment in richer e-content products.  I'm not talking about simply slapping some video into a book, btw.  We'll see more digital-first initiatives where the print version, if there even is one, will be considered secondary.  Start thinking about not just reading but overall entertainment. Think also about the capabilities of multi-function devices, not dedicated e-readers.  More on that in a moment...

#2 -- Most publishers will largely ignore prediction #1.  Call it another case of "The Innovator's Dilemma".  Far too many publishers will continue treating e-content as an easy way to squeeze a few more bucks out of Kindle editions of print products.  Those publishers should remember that the core concept behind "The Innovator's Dilemma" is that this approach leaves the door wide open for a start-up to reinvent the entire industry.

#3 -- Single-purpose, dedicated devices lose momentum to multi-purpose ones.  Thanks in large part to prediction #1, more and more prospective customers will find it harder to justify a $300 investment in a dedicated device.  (Btw, I had a chance to play with a Nook at B&N recently.  I saw the potential but left discouraged.  They went to the trouble of adding a color display and do almost nothing with it.  And why in the world don't they open the device up to third-party developers to see what new and exciting uses the could come up with?!  But I digress...)

I'd like to clarify the point of this third prediction.  Apple already sells a lot more iPhones each month than Amazon sells of the Kindle.  I'm not talking about installed bases; I'm talking about how the devices are being used.  Most people probably wouldn't say they use their iPhone to do a lot of traditional reading today.  That's mostly because the longer-length products available are those quick-and-dirty p-to-e conversions I mentioned earlier.  As we see more digital-first products though, I believe this rate will rise dramatically.  And that's regardless of whether Apple ever comes out with their rumored tabled device!

That's a glimpse of where I see things heading.  Do you agree or disagree?  Do you have any other predictions you'd like to add to this list?

Making eBooks "The Next Big Thing"

Old booksOver the past year or so I've been seeing a few more Kindles in airports and elsewhere.  That's great, but ebooks and e-readers are far from a mass market phenomenon.  This article by Michael Honig on TG Daily reminded me that the vast majority of potential customers not only don't own a dedicated e-reader but probably haven't even seen one in person.  Here are a few excerpts and my thoughts about them:

You can make a great many arguments in favor of eBooks: They’re ‘green’ (few trees die in their creation or packaging, zero paper and ink means virtually zero environmental pollution, and much energy is saved in their transport), they’re convenient (a thousand books can fit into an electronic device small enough to fit into your pocket) and they’re cheap. Oh. Strike that last part…

Ah, the price factor.  Yep, couldn't agree more.  We're still in the early stages of this so there's plenty of room for improvement.  I still think we're looking at it all wrong though, which is why I wrote this earlier post about a different financial model and this one where I suggest a cheap reader with a smartphone tethering option.

For authors and publishers, the concern is copyright protection and preventing illegal copying. This is perfectly reasonable on their part, but conflicts with book buyers’ two strongest tendencies: one, the desire to back up a computer file, and two, the occasional wish to loan a book to a friend. Most eBook formats don’t permit you to do either. One exception permits a one-time, two-week loan within the life of your ownership. This suggests that you either better not buy eBooks you like very much, or you better not have many close friends. Also, since many formats are incompatible with each other, read “life of your ownership” as, “until your eBook reader breaks and/or you replace it.”

I'm starting to feel the ownership issue is going to be even bigger than the pricing issue at some point.  I already feel the pain today.  When I got a Kindle I promised myself I wouldn't buy any more print books unless a Kindle edition wasn't available.  I'm starting to question the logic of that approach.  Why should I lock myself in with one vendor when that vendor has such a closed DRM model with limited support for industry standards (e.g., PDF (some) and EPUB (none))?

I feel like the poor sucker in the '70's who converted his entire library to 8-tracks, only to see cassettes take over!  Sure, Amazon's got the Kindle iPhone app as well as the Windows and soon-to-be-released Mac apps, but it just doesn't feel right. I guess I'd be much more confident buying my next Kindle edition if I felt it could also be read on the Sony Reader, for example.  At some point, will all the early Kindle owners have invested so much money in Kindle editions that they'll find it too painful to change platforms?  That's obviously what Amazon hopes.  A better option might be to build an e-content library with a vendor who's not trying to force you into their hardware model.  That sounds an awful lot like the promise of Google Editions, assuming it ever comes to fruition.

Btw, someone's gotta come up with a better ebook sharing and reselling model than what we have today, which is pretty much non-existent, at least when it comes to DRM-protected books.  Even the Nook's model feels lame compared to the freedoms you have with a physical book.  Can't the genius developers on these platform teams come up with a way to integrate reselling into the service?  If I can resell a physical book on why can't I do the same with an ebook there?

Now let’s contemplate this: The publishers send out books that require no ink, no paper, no printing presses, no typesetters, no warehouses, no cartons, no trucking or shipping, no shelf-stocking, no returns or write-offs … No material purchases or handling of any consequence, and dramatically less financial risk to publish a book … and all they can come up with is maybe a 10% discount?? I’m still paying about $8 to $10 for a book?

Isn't it interesting how we publishers value the intellectual property but consumers (like Michael Honig) always seem to focus on the cost of goods, or lack thereof?  Perception is reality though and although Amazon generally offers significantly more than 10% off the print cover price, plenty of publishers don't want to cheapen the IP and wind up pricing the ebook at or very close to the print edition.  Btw, the current rule of thumb where I work is to price the DRM-free ebook bundle (including epub, mobi and PDF formats) at 80% of the print price.  Is that the "right" price?  Who knows, but we also experiment with even deeper discounts from time to time and it based on the results we still default to the 20%-off model.

That said, publishers everywhere often bellyache about the Kindle's $9.99 model, saying it sets a dangerous precedent for consumer expectations.  I say as long as these products are nothing more than quick-and-dirty p-to-e conversions, how can we really justify a higher price?  Btw, that's the subject of my talk at O'Reilly's TOC conference early next year.  I'm not going to steal my own thunder here, so you'll just have to attend the conference if you want to hear the details...

The Evolution of Content Consumption

Basset reading Eric Shanfelt's article in the latest issue of Publishing Executive magazine is called Publishing in a Fragmented Online World.  Here's the excerpt that got me thinking:

How can we get our content to our readers however they want to get it?  Does a reader want to get our latest content by visiting our web site?

These questions are intertwined and I'd argue the answer to the second one is "no."  Are you familiar with that saying that, "the best camera is the one that's with you"?  The same logic applies to reading.  A book is great, my Kindle is nice but my iPhone is always with me so the bulk of my content consumption happens via that small screen.

Here are some of the more noteworthy ways my reading habits have changed over the last few years:

iPhone, not the Kindle.  OK, I prefer to read a lengthy book on my Kindle, but that's about it.  A year ago I liked the Kindle for newspapers.  But then the NY Times offered the same content via a free app, so I dumped the Kindle subscription.  I've been paying for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on my Kindle but I'm about to cancel that one too now that I can get it for free via another app.  So the Kindle has quickly become a long form content-only option for me now.

Apps, not browser access.  And since I'm consuming more and more content on my iPhone, this has become a critical distinction.  It's also why I say "no" is the answer to Shanfelt's second question.  To me, the iPhone Safari browser is for emergency use only.  I don't want to access your website that way even if you've "optimized it for mobile access."  A well-designed app is always going to offer UI touches you just won't find in a mobile UI view of your website.  I'm much more likely to access your content if it's available as an ap than I am if I have to use my browser.  There's a reason the phrase, "there's an app for that," is so darned popular!

Far less RSS.  My RSS reader used to be my first and last stop of the day.  Now I rarely use it.

Short form, not long form.  I'm an info-snacking addict.  The Kindle enables it but the iPhone perfects the experience.

More Twitter, less blogs.  18 months ago I was a non-believer in the Twitter revolution.  Now I use it throughout the day.  It has its flaws and one day something will replace it, but it's a nice solution for now.  The time I used to spend reading (and writing) blogs has shifted to Twitter.  I find myself less attracted to the long form writing in blogs and more to the short bursts of Twitter.  FWIW, I used to write 4-6 posts for this blog every week and now I typically only write one, but I also write anywhere from 3-10 or more tweets per day.  Despite that, traffic continues to grow modestly and nobody has complained so it seems like the right approach.

Have you seen similar trends with your reading habits?  Different trends?  No change whatsoever? :-)

A Bold Prediction

CrystalI'm not convinced Amazon has a long-term commitment to the Kindle hardware business. In fact, I'll go so out on a limb and predict that Amazon will completely exit the Kindle hardware space within the next 3 years.  Here are a few reasons why:

Zero evolution in 2 years. Compare today's Kindle 2 and DX models to the original Kindle.  The current versions have pretty much the same functionality as the original.  And don't tell me native PDF support was a big change...that should have been there from the start!  I had totally different expectations when I opened my Kindle v1 and saw the "experimental" features.  Two years later, nothing is new there and the original experimental features never changed.  Here's a great example of how there's been no feature evolution: We're all waiting anxiously to see if Amazon will actually add folder functionality.  Are you kidding me?!  That's another feature that should have been there all along.

Amazon isn't a hardware vendor.  Hardware isn't Amazon's specialty.  Far from it.  Just look at the Kindle's design, UI and how it operates and you quickly realize if this is as good as it gets Amazon has no business in the hardware space.  (Btw, how many outstanding software/content companies are also rock stars when it comes to hardware?  I can only think of one: Apple.)

Competitors are passing them by.  B&N's Nook is what the Kindle should have been.  See details here.  I'm not saying the Nook is the answer, but Amazon's lack of innovation is making it easier for new devices to leapfrog the Kindle.

Closed platforms are dead.  Even Apple opens the iPhone platform for extensibility.  Amazon should have not only allowed but encouraged third-party extensions and apps for the device.  What sort of new and exciting functionality would exist for the Kindle today if Amazon would have created a Kindle app store 2 years ago?

Dedicated readers won't be the answer, not for mass.  Content is still critical, but as my O'Reilly colleague Andrew Savikas recently stated so eloquently, "convenience is king."  Mobile, multi-function devices will rule the day.

I was reading my Kindle during a recent cross-country flight.  The passenger next to me said his wife is a big reader and he's thinking about getting her an e-device.  He asked me if I recommend he get her a Kindle.  Sadly, I said, "no."  I told him he's better off checking out the upcoming B&N Nook as well as waiting to see if the rumored Apple device ever materializes.  That's the first time I've ever recommended someone not get a Kindle when they ask me about mine.

I'm not down on Amazon, btw.  I'm forever grateful for the job they've done to spark interest in the e-reader space.  With all due respect to Sony, If it weren't for the Kindle we'd still be waiting for the first commercial success in this space.

I had high hopes back in November of 2007 but Amazon is clearly hedging their hardware bet by offering the Kindle iPhone app as well as the Kindle for PC (beta) and Kindle for Mac (forthcoming) apps.  That's a smart move by Amazon.  If my prediction comes true and they abandon the hardware space in the next three years they'll still be a major e-content player.

B&N's Nook...and Beyond

Nook_angle viewThe big news in e-readers last week was B&N's announcement of their upcoming Nook device.  My first reaction was "meh", but the more I think about it, the more potential I see...not necessarily for the Nook, but rather for the e-reader space.

Let's start with the Nook features I find interesting:

3G Wireless and Wifi -- I blogged about this long ago and have often wondered why Amazon didn't bother offering wifi with the Kindle.  Some said it would be redundant with Whispernet.  I say nonsense, particularly since I use wifi every day with my iPhone 3GS.

Exclusive In-Store Content -- Another smart move, and a way for B&N to encourage Nook owners into their brick-and-mortar outlets.  I'm not sure how successful this will be but it's something Amazon simply can't do.  And if it words, an increase in in-store foot traffic is always a good thing.

eBook Sharing -- Also known as the "LendMe" feature, it's far from perfect but at least it's a first step towards one of the chief complaints about ebooks.

SD Slot -- I have a first-gen Kindle with an SD slot and I use the card all the time.  I still don't understand why Amazon dumped it with Kindle 2.  I ran out of device memory long ago on my Kindle 1 and if you own a Kindle 2 you will too at some point.

Free eBook with Pre-order -- Sometimes it's the little things that matter.  In this case, B&N gives you a copy of Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point when you pre-order a Nook.  Won't that be nice knowing that your device will show up with a great book already on it?  And from the publisher's point of view, if you haven't already read The Tipping Point, it will be an introduction to the genius of Gladwell and a chance that you'll want to buy one of his other books.

You may have noticed that I didn't mention the color navigation touch-screen at the bottom of the Nook.  How could I overlook that?  Well, it seems like a bit of a gimmick, but this is the feature that got me thinking.

Without access to an actual Nook (they don't ship till later next month) it's impossible for me to say what this color touchscreen will allow you to do (other than browse a virtual bookshelf).  I'd like to think B&N has additional plans for this area, but we'll have to see.  For example, will B&N open the device up to third-party developers, just like Apple has with the iPhone (and Amazon hasn't with the Kindle)?  Think of all the types of apps that could be developed for this display, not to mention the eInk display itself.  Some would also say they don't need apps for their reader, that they bought it for reading and nothing else.  Gee, before the iPhone we were all pretty content making calls and sending text messages.  It's funny how sometimes you don't know what you want till it's invented.  (It also reminds me of Henry Ford's famous quote about how if he would have asked people what they wanted they would have said "faster horses.")

That would be cool, but let's take that idea one step further.  Why doesn't someone come out with a stripped-down eInk display device with a slot for iPhone connection?  The eInk display wouldn't need 3G/wifi or some of the other features the Kindle, Sony, etc., have.  Make it bare-bones so that it can be sold for under $100.  Then either include a collapsible slot where an iPhone can slide in or just connect it via USB or Bluetooth.  Then you'd use the iPhone for all your purchases/downloads with no connectivity required from the reading device itself.

I've been wanting to have my cake and eat it too with an e-reader.  The combination of a stripped-down eInk device and my iPhone would be perfect.  I'd get the apps, extensibility and connectivity of the iPhone along with the easy-on-the-eyes and insanely long battery life features of eInk.  And, if the eInk device could really be priced below $100 it would make the Kindle sales total look like a rounding error!