Today, Barnes & Noble announced the release of NOOKcolor–beating Amazon to the punch of releasing a color eReader that's really a multimedia tablet. Billed as "the reader's tablet" by B&N, the 7-inch device has an LCD screen, weighs less than 1lb., and runs on Android. Though it won't connect to the Android Marketplace, it will run reading-specific apps as well as games like Sudoku and eventually Netflix. At $249, the NOOKcolor fits comfortably in the price range of dedicated eReaders, but it's half the starting price of the iPad–which raises the question, will consumers be comparing the two products? I think they will, especially if they are a current B&N customer or if they want a device primarily for reading that also has other media consumption and Web browsing capabilities. If reading is secondary to accessing other media and the broad Apple or Android app ecosystems, consumers will be better off with a more multifunctional tablet like the iPad or future devices from RIM, Samsung, and others.

Earlier this week, HP quietly released the Slate 500, an 8.9-inch tablet running Windows 7 that's marketed exclusively to businesses. According to HP, 400 customers are currently evaluating the device, which will be sold through HP's direct sales force and through its Web site for SMBs. The Slate 500 is literally just Windows 7 on a slate form factor; the idea is that businesses that run their systems on Windows 7 will be able to use the Slate for enterprise applications (the device doesn't sync with a user's HP PC).

These two devices illustrate where the emerging tablet market is going, which is to say, all over the place. We see a diversity of devices in the tablet category that will range from multifunctional PC-like devices on one end of the spectrum, to media consumption tablets (both with broad and narrow focus) on the other. Sizes will range from devices you can hold in one hand like the 7-inch NOOKcolor, BlackBerry PlayBook, and Samsung GalaxyTab to lap-resting 8 and 9 and 10-inch devices. What this means:

  • For device product strategists: There's no single model that has been defined yet as a winner. The tablet market is wide open for innovation.
  • For content product strategists: Build for adaptability, both in terms of screen size and use case. For example, if NPR or Yahoo! Entertainment were to adapt their iPad apps for the NOOKcolor, ideally they would be reformatted for the 7-inch screen, but they would also respond to the reading-focused use case of the device, emphasizing content like book reviews.