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Are Barnes & Noble, RIM wasting their time in the tablet space?

With Apple's iPad and several Android-powered tablets picking up steam, is there a point for RIM and Barnes & Noble ? both of which failed with their initial tablet strategies ? to take another stab at gaining market share in the tablet space?

Barnes & Noble has launched a new tablet from its Nook line of products that is priced to directly compete with Amazon?s Kindle Fire. Additionally, RIM has updated the operating system for its PlayBook tablet in an attempt to make it more appealing for marketers. The launch of the new tablets prove that the two companies are becoming more ambitious in terms of gaining tablet market share.

?Both Barnes & Noble and Amazon run the Android operating system, which gives them access to a wide range of Android apps,? said Matthew Mckee, Nashville-based senior analyst at Strategy Analytics.

?But Barnes & Noble will have to differentiate themselves somehow in order to justify the price difference,? he said.

?The same goes for RIM in that they need to build out the BlackBerry ecosystem to offer consumers the number of apps available with Android and iOS.?

Tablet target
Barnes & Noble?s new Nook Tablet is designed and priced almost identically to Amazon?s Kindle Fire, proving how the retailer is jumping at the chance to get into mobile.

The new Barnes & Noble tablet holds 8GB of storage, retails for $200 and is positioned as both a tablet and an ereader. Amazon?s Kindle Fire has the same specs and is also being marketed as a high-end ereader with apps and mobile Web browsing.

Barnes & Noble?s original Nook Color tablet was 16GB and was released late last year. The company has lowered the price to $169 for the device.

Additionally, Barnes & Noble is letting Nook Color owners swap out more of the device?s memory for personal storage space, showing how ereaders are becoming more sophisticated and that users want more tablet-like features on their devices.

The Barnes & Noble news was also announced in conjunction with the company?s fiscal earnings for the third quarter of 2011. Revenue from the company?s ereaders and digital catalog generated $542 million and increased 38 percent. Barnes & Noble claims to have approximately 30 percent of the ebook market in the United States.

Barnes & Noble?s announcement is proof that the retailer is going to great lengths to become a leader in the tablet space and will aggressively compete in lower-priced tablets in the coming years.

?Everyone is experimenting with product and pricing strategies at this nascent stage of the tablet market?s growth,? said Michael Boland, senior analyst and program director at BIA/Kelsey, San Francisco.

?There will continue to be lots of experimentation, but it will be difficult to compete with the market?s current two leading tablets ? the iPad that dominates on quality and the Kindle Fire that dominates on price,? he said.

?The new $200 8GB Nook is clearly trying to compete with the latter.?

Market reach
RIM has also rolled out new advancements to its PlayBook tablets that position the device as an entertainment hub for users.

With the updates, more applications will be added to BlackBerry App World and a video store that lets users buy and rent movies and TV shows will also now be available.

The new operating system will make it possible for Android app developers to port tablet apps from Google?s Android market to BlackBerry?s market. This will help boost awareness of the device and make it appealing for companies developing Android tablet apps to reach both platforms.

Additionally, the update will make email accessible via the device, which is a feature that many argue should have been loaded on the device at launch. Social media features have also been added to the PlayBook.

With heightened rumors around Apple?s announcement of the iPad3, RIM is getting its tablet product up to par.

The PlayBook was initally launched last year by RIM as a stab into the tablet market, but given Apple and Android's market share, marketers have been hesitant to roll out apps for the device.

By increasing the number of apps available and using Android-developed apps, RIM will be able to harness itself to create a more well-rounded tablet strategy.

Additionally, the updates to PlayBook will expand the role for mobile Web initiatives. As tablets are increasingly seen as a seperate mobile channel, marketers are realizing the power of having tablet-optimized mobile sites that take advantage of the device's size.

RIM also tried to place the PlayBook as a compeitor to Amazon by recently dropping the price of the device (see story).

The updated operating system and lowered price point is proof that RIM is trying to be a prime player in the tablet space and is part of the company?s broader initiatives to reposition itself as a mobile leader.

However, with Apple?s lead in the tablet space, manufacturers are beginning to learn that in order to compete in the tablet space, they have to develop a significantly different product than is already available.

?At the moment, the tablet market is a two-tiered market ? an iPad market and an everyone-else market,? said Carl Howe, vice president of consumer research at Yankee Group, Boston.

?Further, based on current buying intent, we do not see that changing substantially in the next three to six months because our surveys of consumer buying intent do not show it,? he said.

?The No. 1 challenge for any vendor who is not Apple is to provide a really good answer to the question, "Why should a consumer buy this tablet instead of an iPad?" If that answer is not obvious to consumers, their products just are not going to successfully compete.?

Final Take
Lauren Johnson is editorial assistant on Mobile Marketer, New York