Barnes & Noble's Nook has new features that make it into more of a low-cost Android tablet. Will that change the competition with Amazon's Kindle franchise?
& Noble announced April 25 a bevy of new features for its Nook e-reader,
including email and Flash support. That makes the full-color Nook as much a
tablet as an e-reader, but whether that boosts the device's competitive
prospects against Amazon's Kindle remains to be seen.
tech enthusiasts figured out how to hack the Nook and transform it into a full
Android tablet. In early February, the tech Website Ars Technica even posted handy instructions on
how to do so, complete with links to the Nookie
Froyo project-described as "a community-driven effort to build a
stock Android 2.2 environment that is tailored to the Nook Color hardware-as
well as another effort to bring the tablet-optimized Android 3.0 (code-named
"Honeycomb") to the e-reader.
retails for $249, far cheaper than the Android tablets on the market. That
helps explain the appeal in transforming the 7-inch device into something
broader than an e-reader. However, even as the Web chattered with information
about how to "root" the Nook and turn it into a bargain-basement tablet,
various Websites cautioned that doing so would potentially void the warranty.
Nook Color explodes during experimentation, you're free to pursue a life of
amoral crime and misdirected acts of vengeance against society," Ars Technica
wrote in its February breakdown. "Just don't blame us or the Nook Color
along the way, either because of the evident interest or simply out of a need
to differentiate its offering from Amazon's Kindle, Barnes & Noble decided
to officially meet that community halfway. Even if the aforementioned features
don't magically transform the Nook into a muscular competitor to the Motorola
Xoom or Apple iPad, they certainly offer reasons for even the most
reading-adverse to take a second look at the device.
the new features include access to 125 apps ranging from Angry Birds to Sudoku,
enhanced video and audio for certain titles, enhancements to magazine
navigation, and a social-networking app that lets readers swap books and
recommendations. There's also an app that consolidates Web-based email into a
single in-box, and support for Adobe Flash Player. Barnes & Noble plans to
make the update (Version 1.2.0) available over the next week as an automatic
download, according to a note on the Nook Website.
other enhancements, plus new ways for adults and children to experience
exciting content, make Nook Color a great alternative to paying double the
price-or more-for an expensive tablet," William Lynch, Barnes & Noble's
CEO, wrote in an April 25 statement.
not the Nook proves viable as an Android tablet competitor, the newest update
suggests Barnes & Noble is veering away from competing directly with
Amazon's Kindle, which continues to emphasize the e-reading experience over
expanding its possible features. That's not to say the online retailer, which
dominates the e-reader market, isn't bringing new functionality to the Kindle
platform: On April 20, the company announced a Kindle Library Lending feature,
due later in 2011, which will allow readers to borrow Kindle ebooks from more
than 11,000 libraries in the United States. Amazon is also seeking to broaden
Kindle adoption with an ad-supported device that retails for $114, slightly
cheaper than the basic Kindle at $139 and the Kindle 3G at $189.
Barnes & Noble positioning the Nook as more of a low-cost tablet raises its
own questions. Will Flash Player support and apps such as Angry Birds affect
the device's advertised eight-hour battery life? Will customers prefer more
expensive, powerful tablets running Android 3.0? Will Barnes & Noble find
itself forced to boost the hardware in order to accommodate customer demand for
more tabletlike functionality-along with the price?
to those questions will determine the Nook's place in both the e-reader and
Nicholas Kolakowski is a staff editor at eWEEK, covering Microsoft and other companies in the enterprise space, as well as evolving technology such as tablet PCs. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, WebMD, AARP the Magazine, AutoWeek, Washington City Paper, Trader Monthly, and Private Air. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.