No camera in latest Nook tablets puts focus on content consumption

To edit documents, Nook users will need to buy added Office Suite Pro software

Tablets seem to be heading in two directions: There are those primarily designed for consumption of books, movies and other content, and those intended for content creation as well as consumption.

7-in. Nook HD
The 7-in. Nook HD tablet.

That distinction is not always clear in the market, but the two new Nook tablets that Barnes & Noble announced on Wednesday seem to fall into the first category: The 7-in. Nook HD and the the 9-in. Nook HD+ have more processing power and better display resolution than their predecessors -- features that enhance the reading and video-viewing experiences. The Nook HD costs $199, and the Nook HD+ goes for $269.

And highlighting the fact that the new tablets seem to be designed with viewing in mind, neither device has a camera, so they can't be used for taking photos or videos, or for engaging in video chats, as many tablets are.

The new Nooks also don't come packaged with more than an Android OfficeSuite viewer, meaning users can open and view documents, spreadsheets, presentations and PDFs but they can't easily edit, print or share those files.

A Barnes & Noble spokeswoman confirmed in an email to Computerworld that to get the ability to edit documents, spreadsheets and presentations, a customer would need to purchase the OfficeSuite Professional app from the Barnes & Noble app store. Currently, OfficeSuite Pro costs $14.99 in BN's app store.

That added software cost might not discourage a user who's initially interested in a low-cost device, such as the $199 Nook HD, and later on decides he wants to edit documents. The lack of a camera might be another matter, however.

Bill Saperstein, vice president of digital products hardware engineering for Barnes & Noble, said the company could have included cameras in its new tablets, but it decided instead to focus on processing power and other factors since it was "not trying to be all things to all people."

Behind his comment is the reality that adding more functions can significantly increase the cost of a tablet. When it announced its new Nooks, Barnes & Noble noted that a new 9.7-in. iPad supports a wide range of functions but starts at $499, whereas the 9-in. Nook HD+, starts at $269.

On the other hand, the low-cost Google Nexus 7 tablet, starting at $199, comes with a 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera, although its display resolution is just 1280 x 800 (216 pixels per inch) whereas the Nook HD's display is 1440 x 900 (243 pixels per inch).

Amazon's 7-in. Kindle Fire HD tablet also has a starting price of $199, but it has double the storage capacity -- 16GB -- of both the lowest-cost Nook HD or the Nexus 7, which both have 8GB. The Kindle Fire HD also has a front-facing camera, but its display matches the Nexus 7's, which is less than the Nook HD's display.

Barnes & Noble did make some potential content-creating customers happy by working with Microsoft, its recent investment partner, to add support in a new Nook email client for Microsoft Exchange atop of Gmail and other popular email services. Barnes & Noble officials said the partnership with Microsoft could involve more collaboration in the future.

Barnes & Noble might be leaving behind customers who want tablets with cameras and document-editing capabilities. Or the company might have decided that it's more profitable to specialize and offer premium viewing from a 7-in. tablet. Tuesday's Nook Video announcement could hint at Barnes & Noble's intent, but it won't be clear until it's known how much a video or a TV show might cost, since Nook Video won't be a subscription service like Amazon's.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

See more by Matt Hamblen on Computerworld.com.

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