Tablets as e-readers: What the major players have in store

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Apple is due to begin rolling out its iPad on April 3, and with it the iBooks app, an e-reader application designed specifically for the new device. Around that time, Amazon and Barnes & Noble are both due to respond with their own tablet e-reading applications, making iBooks just one of many ways tablet users may choose to buy, store, and read their e-books.

Since the first rumors about Apple's iPad, analysts have said the tablet computer's full-color display and user-friendly size were likely to make it a competitive addition to the crowded e-reader market. Amazon and Barnes & Noble - both major players in the e-reading market - have been the first to respond by creating apps specifically for the tablet.

While expectations are high for these apps, it is unknown whether the iPad will be open to third-party applications, and both Amazon and Barnes & Noble have apparently designed their tablet apps without a physical iPad to work with.

About the apps:

With a format similar to the iTunes Store, Apple's iBooks application will launch in the US on April 3 with an iBookstore carrying titles by HarperCollins, Penguin, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, Hachette Book Group, and other major and independent publishers (on March 23, the Perseus Book Group became the most recent to join the list).

The iBooks application, which offers books in ePub format, will be available in the US as a free download on April 3, according to Apple, and will be available in some additional countries within the year. (For context, Amazon took nearly two years to make its Kindle e-books available internationally, and Apple's iTunes Store took between one and two-and-a-half years to release internationally.)

Amazon's Kindle for tablet
On March 22, Amazon announced that it had an app on the way "for tablet computers including the iPad." The company says its tablet app will be "tailored to the size, look, and feel of your tablet computer" and will include an optional "animation that replicates the look of turning a page in a book." The app will also allow users to synchronize the last page they read on a Kindle, PC, Mac, iPhone, or BlackBerry, and pick up on their tablet where they left off.

From the app, users will be able to access their Kindle account (the account is required but a Kindle device is not) at Amazon's online store, which includes more than 450,000 e-books (fewer outside the US) in Amazon's proprietary format.

Barnes and Noble eBookstore and eReader
On March 11, Barnes and Noble announced that a version of its e-reading software for iPad is coming soon - around the time of the iPad launch, according to the company's Unbound blog. Barnes & Noble's e-reading store and software are already available for the Nook and other e-book readers as well as for computers, smartphones, and other mobile devices.

The B&N eBookstore offers more than a million e-books, magazines, and newspapers, of which around half are free public domain titles, all in ePub format. A unique feature is B&N's LendMe service, which allows customers to share select titles with friends, free of charge, for up to 14 days.

According to the most recent news from Apple, the iPad is due out in the US on April 3, then in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, Switzerland, and the UK by late April.