One of the oft-cited drawbacks of the Barnes and Noble Nook has been its closed ecosystem. Both the Nook HD and the Nook HD+ are attractively priced competent Android tablets. Yet, their sales have been so underwhelming that at one point B&N was reportedly considering quitting the hardware business. The Nook’s biggest weakness is its poor app catalogue. Nook runs a heavily customized version of Android that only allowed users to access its own app catalogue, which housed just a few thousand apps (a good chunk of which are paid). By comparison, the Google Play Store has nearly a million apps in its catalogue. Amazon also takes a similar approach with its Kindle tablets. However, thanks to heavy promotion and great deals, the Amazon App Store has has managed to cross the 75,000 mark.
All this is changing now. Barnes and Noble is pushing out an update to its Nook HD users, which will bring down the wall and provide access to the Google Play Store. Since, Google’s Android app offering is a “take it all or leave it” proposition, Nook is now sporting Google’s full suite of apps including Gmail, Chrome, Maps, and YouTube. As of now, the update is restricted to the Nook HD and Nook HD+, with no mention of Nook Tablet and Color owners.
Obviously, the new open stance from B&N means that you get access to your full catalogue of Android apps that you might have purchased on some other device. Apps installed via the B&N app store are now watermarked with an ‘n’ on the icon to indicate its source. The update also makes it possible to install Amazon Kindle on your Nook, and enjoy content you might have purchased from Barnes and Noble’s biggest competitor.
Both Nook HD and Nook HD+ are good pieces of hardware that were being held back by the software. The latest update liberates the tablets from the Barnes and Noble’s walled garden, and users will finally be able to realize the full potential of the devices they paid for.
It looks as if Barnes & Noble is trying even harder to get on your Christmas list as they’ve announced prices cuts for both the Nook Color and Nook Tablet. The Nook Color is now sporting a $139 price-tag while the Nook Tablet is sporting a $159 and $179 price-tag for 8GB and 16GB storage capacities respectively.
These two tablets are on the lower end of the tablet spectrum as they were recently replaced by the Nook HD and Nook HD+, two tablets which are meant to compete with Google’s Nexus 7 and Apple’s iPad. However, the Nook Color and Tablet are competitively priced to compete with Amazon’s $159 Kindle Fire offering.
Both the Nook Color and Nook Tablet are dated as the color was released in 2010 while the tablet was released in 2011. These two tablets feature the same design, though they are offered in different colors and feature different specifications. The Nook Color sports a single-core CPU while the Nook Tablet offers a faster, dual-core chip. Both of these tablets run a customized version of Android and offer 7″ screens.
Do these price cuts make you want to give a Nook as a holiday gift? Let us know by dropping a comment below this post.
On Thursday June 14, late in the afternoon, Microsoft sent out invites to media for a special event in Los Angeles, CA which promised to be a major announcement not to be missed. Since it was so cryptic, it created a flurry of rumors, leaks and conjecture. Several pundits have written about what it could be, connected the dots and come to a conclusion and in fact this morning, one of those guesses was even shot down.
Instead of trying to think of what it could be, I am going to write about what I hope it will be. Based on the fact that this event is in Los Angeles, I am hoping it has everything to do with entertainment tie-ups. At E3 earlier this month, Microsoft took the wraps off their new entertainment brand (Xbox-everything) and showed some bits of their new (improved?) Xbox Companion app, Smart Glass. Also, Microsoft gave a glimpse of Xbox Music, their successor to the Zune Music service. However, neither Smart Glass nor Xbox Music were looked at in detail. What we do know is they said that the Xbox Music service will have a catalog of 30 million tracks (compared to Zune Music today, which is around 20 million).
So, here’s my list of what I hope may come today:
- Details of Xbox Music service: Additional deals to get the catalog from today’s 20 million tracks to the promised 30 million. Also, most importantly, access for the service from other platforms besides Windows (8, RT and Phone) – so, iOS apps and Android apps.
- Unveiling of Xbox Video service: While it was made clear that Xbox is the center of Microsoft’s entertainment strategy, not much was discussed about Xbox Video. I hope that Microsoft is able to cut some deals with Hollywood to get exclusive content built into Xbox Video. Hollywood has got to be scared of Apple (and Netflix), so a good tie up with Microsoft would of course make sense for them.
- Merge Zune Music Pass and Xbox LIVE Gold: The most ridiculous thing about Xbox as an entertainment device is that to access almost any entertainment service on the Xbox, you need an Xbox LIVE Gold account, listed at $60/year. Although there are a lot of promotions for the Gold account (Amazon routinely sells these for $45 or so), it is still an unnecessary cost for normal (read: non-gaming) customers to access services they already pay for. On the other hand, Zune Music Pass is an awesome subscription service which can be accessed over the Xbox in addition to the PC and Windows Phone. It is time for Microsoft to merge the two and call it the Xbox Pass which enables access to the video services on the Xbox platform, as well as unlimited music.
- Xbox Lite: The Xbox today is still seen as a gaming device which can also do entertainment, never mind the stats which show that Xbox users now consume more content on the device than play games. Also, a lot of households have multiple TV sets and getting a $200 Xbox for each TV may not be worth it just for say, Netflix and Hulu. What if Microsoft made a Xbox Lite which like Apple TV would have close to no storage and would not be used for gaming. This would work great for the non-gaming customers who want to consume the unlimited music catalog and also get access to the tons of video services now available on the Xbox. If it is priced at $79, it would be a super hit, I’d imagine.
- Announce global availability of all of the above: Most of the Zune/Xbox LIVE services are poorly represented around the world. It would be fantastic if Microsoft is able to get availability parity across the globe.
Note, I am staying away from tablets, phones and cellular stuff. I do hope that it is not about a Microsoft tablet or a Nokia phone. On the cellular front though, some random rumor about a Verizon event have some tie in to this Microsoft announcement intrigues me – Verizon is a huge hold out when it comes to Windows Phones and any partnership they have with Microsoft, I see it as a positive step.
What do you think? Too much to hope for?
In the past few days, the rumors of Google making and selling their own tablet have gained steam. The rumors also point to a Kindle Fire-like price point of $199. The instant reaction is to look at Google’s earlier attempt to sell hardware directly to consumers, the Nexus One phone. We know it was a failed experiment which Google acknowledged, by shutting down the operations.
Nexus tablet, on the other hand, is a completely different story. I have firmly believed that tablets should not be sold by the carriers. Yes, there are some options with tablets where you can get cellular broadband service, but first and foremost, a tablet should be sold like a PC. I mean, a computer store or a consumer electronics store. Best Buy, Fry’s Electronics and the like. The carriers can also hop in and sell the 3G/4G versions of the tablets like they tried selling the 3G-enabled netbooks. So, taking the sales point away from the carrier stores is a good sign. Compare this with the phone where, at least in the US, it is extremely hard to sell a phone without subsidies. Nokia tried it long time ago and failed. Even Apple briefly tried the unsubsidized route but realized people are much more sensitive to upfront price than you would think. Given that the sale of the phone is tied so much to a carrier, it does not make much sense to conduct the sale away from the carrier. Apple is clearly an exception here, like in many business processes today.
Secondly, the price. If the rumors are true and the tablet is in fact around $199, it will be a huge win. A stock Android tablet with no “skins” installed, for $199 could be an interesting device. Kindle Fire has its ecosystem to rely upon but out of the box, it does limit which Android apps can run on the device. If a Nexus tablet can run all Android apps, and additionally support Amazon media consumption (either via Amazon apps like Kindle app or via the browser for Amazon Video), it becomes a superset of the Fire, for the same price as the Fire. Yes, the current Android tablets already do all of that, I understand. However, none of them have gained any traction yet, and if Google can get behind the marketing and sales, and create a Nexus phone-style clean and crisp user experience, I think users may get interested.
In fact, if this strategy does not work, you can presumably call it the end of the road for Android tablets.
Barnes & Noble had a surprise hit on its hands last year, when it launched the Nook Color ebook reader. No one knew it would become as popular as it did. It was probably the most popular tablet of 2010, after the Apple iPad.
Anyway, seeing the success of the Nook Color, and the potential of an inexpensive tablet, Amazon got into the game last month, with the Kindle Fire. It is expected to be the most popular Android tablet this year, in terms of sales.
Barnes & Noble have also announced the Nook Tablet, which is an upgraded version of the Nook Color with much better specifications. Presumably, it should become a hit too, as it is much better than the Nook Color, almost equal to the Kindle Fire, and half the price of the iPad 2.
According to a report by Digitimes, our favorite source for Taiwanese supplier intel, Barnes & Noble has already ordered and taken delivery of more than a million units of the Nook Tablet. While that’s much less than the estimated sales of the Amazon Kindle Fire, it’s still much more than most other tablets out there. B&N had originally ordered 800,000 tablets, but anticipating increased demand, they upped their order by 25%.
Now obviously, these are just orders, not actual sales, but these numbers do help us arrive at a ballpark estimate of what the sales numbers should look like.
Barnes & Noble, which was almost on the brink of extinction last year with its entire market being disrupted by Amazon, was revived by a product which no one expected would be a hit – the Nook Color.
B&N launched the Nook Color last year to compete with the Amazon Kindle. It wasn’t much of an ebook reader, but to the delight of many a Android fan, it could be turned into a very capable Android tablet. Coupled with the excellent pricing, it turned into one of the most popular Android tablets in 2010.
Amazon, which was focusing only on e-ink displays, saw the potential for a cheap Android based ebook reader and will likely launch its Android tablet soon.
Barnes & Noble isn’t lying still, and has been working on an upgrade to the Nook Color too. Apparently, according to a report by The Digital Reader, it plans to launch two new devices this year:
1. An upgrade to the Nook Color priced at $249 (code-named Encore)
2. Another Android tablet, priced at $349 with better hardware and possibly, a larger display (code-named Acclaim)
We don’t have any details about the exact specifications, but we should see some official updates soon, considering that they would be aiming to launch it before the holiday season.