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Did This Company Just Surprise Everyone?

Tuesday - 5/7/2013, 5:56pm  ET

Sometimes, even seemingly boring companies can pull a rabbit out of the proverbial hat. That is certainly what happened when Barnes & Noble revealed that their Nook HD lineup would now add Google Play to its products. I won't suggest that this move will solve all of Barnes & Noble's ills, but it is a massive step in the direction toward changing the tablet game.

The reason tablets are so popular

Having owned an iPad for a few years, I can tell you first hand the few reasons that tablets have come into their own. The iPad and the current slate (pardon the pun) of tablets has changed the game. Tablets can do what laptops used to do for most people, but better.

In my household, we need a laptop for my job, but my wife doesn't need a laptop for her to surf the web, go on Facebook, e-mail, and more. That's why she has an iPad. I believe many households have realized that having a tablet makes sense. Given the choice between spending a few hundred on a cheap laptop that's heavy, slow, and hard to carry around, or a light tablet, with great battery life, that's fast, the choice is easy.

The point of all of this is to say, the tablet market isn't going anywhere, and the company with the best device will ultimately benefit. In fact, market research shows the tablet market exploding from about 233 million devices in 2013 to over 1 billion shipments by 2017.

Why should you care?

To be honest, the curveball of the Nook HD having Google Play has the potential to change the tablet landscape. Barnes & Noble was having trouble convincing consumers to buy the Nook because when consumers think tablets, they think apps. With around 10,000 apps for the Nook, versus about 700,000 on Google Play, Barnes & Noble just jumped into the full fledged Android business.

The move couldn't come soon enough based on market research. As most people know, the king of tablets is Apple , which, according to IDC research, had 43.6% market share in the fourth quarter, and their shipments grew by 48.1%. Samsung's Android-based tablets came in second, with a 15.1% market share and 263% growth.

Amazon.com placed third, with 11.5% market share and 26.8% growth. ASUS, which produces the Google-branded Nexus 7 tablet, placed fourth with 5.8% market share and 402.3% growth. By comparison, Barnes & Noble finished a lowly fifth with just 1.9% market share, and a negative growth rate of 27.7%. Clearly, the company needed to make a change.

By allowing the Nook HD lineup to become full Android devices, not only should Barnes & Noble see increased sales, but you could make the argument that these are now the best tablet values available.

Line them up and nook knocks them down

In the tablet market, eco-system wins out over everything. The reason I can make that statement is, Apple and Samsung are first and second, and they run the two most popular mobile operating systems in iOS and Android. Their devices may not have the best displays, or the best specs, but consumers know that apps matter.

The second most important factor in choosing a tablet is a tie between display and battery life. Consumers don't want to think about plugging the device in all the time, and they want a great display. Look at a comparison of the Nook versus their competition and you'll see how this race just got very interesting:

Name

Display

Weight

Price

Apple iPad Mini

7.9” - 1024 by 768 resolution (163 ppi)

0.68 lbs

$329.00

Amazon Kindle Fire HD

7” - 1280 by 800 resolution (216 ppi)

0.87 lbs

$199.00

Barnes & Noble Nook HD

7” - 1440 by 900 resolution (243 ppi)

0.69 lbs

$199.00

Google branded - Nexus 7

7” - 1280 by 800 resolution (216 ppi)

0.75 lbs

$199.00

Samsung Galaxy Tab 7

7” - 1024 by 600 resolution (170 ppi)

0.76 lbs

$199.00

As you can see, while the Apple iPad Mini has neither the best resolution, nor the best price, but it is the lightest, and has arguably the best brand behind it. There is a reason Apple sold 65% more iPads on a year-over-year basis. The eco-system is second to none, and apparently many customers wanted an iPad in a smaller form factor.

That being said, the lead that the Barnes & Noble's Nook HD has is fairly clear. At the same price, customers get a screen that has between 12.5% and 49.08% more pixels per square inch. They also get a device that is the second lightest by just a hair, and now they get 700,000 apps to choose from instead of 10,000 like before.

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