We’ve had a few days to think about what the deal between Microsoft and Barnes & Noble will mean in terms of hardware.
Clearly, the near term target for the upcoming device is Amazon's Kindle Fire. However, the iPad will almost certainly be the secondary target of opportunity.
Essentially, the only way for both industry heavyweights (MS and B&N) to hit the price, size, and battery life requirements for a Windows-based Nook device is to start with Windows RT, the ARM version of Windows 8.
Kindle Fire 2.0
As noted above, the primary objective for B&N is to design a tablet capable of taking on and beating the next version of the Kindle Fire. Remember, even the current iteration of Amazon's Fire is quite impressive and sells for just under $200. The device boasts Wi-Fi connectivity, approximately 7 hours of battery life, a 7” IPS screen, 8GB of storage, weighs in at a light 14.6 ounces, and features a user interface - that while based on Android - is arguably easier than Apple’s iOS-driven iPad.
Of course, it still isn’t as capable as the iPad, limited by fewer apps, a smaller screen, and a far less advanced display. However, since the iPad costs 2.5x the cost of the Kindle Fire, such shortcomings are easily offset by the price. To be sure, the Kindle Fire 1.0 is currently one of Amazon’s best-selling products. Then again, there is no real productivity aspect to this device, while the web browsing experience is far from that of Apple's iPad. The design point for the user interface is a book shelf which is consistent with its primary use - but not that practical when it comes to a more feature rich tablet.
The Kindle Fire 2.0 is likely to offer more storage, a faster processor, a more impressive screen, and improvements in battery life - all while holding to a resonable, mainstream entry-level price. It is also expected to include the X-Ray feature that is currently exclusive to the Kindle Touch. Basically, X-Ray allows the Kindle to create an instant summary of a book, while helping the user find key parts of a novel far more quickly. Think of being late on a school or book club reading assignment and being able to instantly pull up a short comprehensive summary, allowing you to pretend you had devoured a number of books without actually reading them.
Although I expect the book shelf UI to remain, Amazon is likely to improve the speed and capability of the browser significantly. I don’t expect an improvement in productivity capability, since that isn’t a design focus for the second iteration of the Kindle Fire, which could arrive just in time for the 2012 holidays.
The sleek Windows Nook should be able to match the Kindle Fire 2.0 in terms of battery life, size and weight. Nevertheless, Microsoft and N&N may ultimately offer two configurations: a traditional 7” tablet and a 10” premium device that addresses both older readers and the iPad audience more strongly.
The Windows Nook would likely price on top of the Kindle Fire for the 7” and below the iPad for the 10” offering. Yes, the user interface (UI) will be Metro but the Nook reading application may take center stage. The tablet will undoubtedly support IE10, which should be the most advanced browser by year end - both faster and more secure than Amazon’s Silk.
It will also offer access to the Metro version of Office, providing the app as part of the package and giving this new tablet laptop-like capabilities. With AMOLED prices dropping, I fuilly expect the 7” product to explore supporting this particular screen type, although it will ultimately depend on cost. The 10” product, if it shows up, will probably be equipped with a more common LCD IPS display, simply because larger AMOLED displays can be rather pricey.
Wrapping Up: Fire 2.0 vs. Windows Nook
The Fire 2.0 will be more book and Amazon On-Line focused with an evolutionary improvement over the first iteration of the tablet. Meanwhile, the Windows Nook should be much more like a tablet, boasting a Metro interface with a broader set of practical uses. It is also more likely to field a larger version that more directly targets the iPad. So while Amazon stays focused, the Windows Nook will be aggressively attempting to evolve into a more fully featured offering.