Microsoft and Barnes & Noble: From ‘Complicated’ to ‘In a Relationship’

Microsoft and Barnes & Noble Inc. have joined hands to announce a strategic partnership – A B&N subsidiary, provisionally referred to as Newco. After the patent dispute between the two companies last year, this surprising new venture aims to focus on e-reading and the education market while burying the patent litigation apparently.

B&N will own 82.4 percent of the new subsidiary and Microsoft will make a $300 million investment to hold a 17.6 percent stake in the company. Newco, will bring together the digital and College businesses of Barnes & Noble. B&N’s NOOK Study software is a leading platform for distribution and management of digital education materials to students and educators, and Newco would aim to extend this reach. The alliance would also bring about a NOOK application for Windows 8 bringing Barnes & Noble’s digital bookstore to hundreds of millions of Windows customers worldwide.

As the two companies move forward as allies, there are few things which aren’t answered in the press release and the commentary around it:

  • While the two companies closed on the alliance, how was the patent dispute tabled and settled? Would Barnes & Noble and/or Newco pay royalties to Microsoft on every Nook sold?
  • While Windows 8 tablets are expected to have a NOOK application now, and this might extend to the next version of Windows Phone, would there be a Nook tablet or e-reader running, maybe, Windows RT to participate in the market against Kindle and Kindle Fire?
  • While Microsoft has less than a fifth stake in the venture, would the reach of Windows platform make Nook Microsoft’s card in competition with Amazon and Apple in the e-reading market?

Nexus Tablet: Why It is Different from a Nexus Phone

Google Nexus Phone

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 to Launch a $349 Android Tablet with the Nook Color 2?

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.

Barnes & Noble Announces New Nook With Two Months (!) Of Battery Life

Today, Barnes & Nobles have announced the second generation Nook.   The all-new Nook sports a 6-inch touch screen E-Ink Pearl display. The new display offers better contrast compared to its predecessor, and is easily readable in direct sunlight as well.

Compared to the first generation Nook, the new Nook is 35% lighter at 212 grams and is 15% slimmer as well. The eBook reader will ship with 2GB of internal memory onboard, along with a microSD card slot.


“We set out to design the easiest-to-use, most optimized, dedicated reading device ever created and accomplished it with the All-New NOOK,” said William Lynch, Chief Executive Officer of Barnes & Noble. “Touch makes it simple to use, and the beautifully compact design makes it the most portable eReader in its class. Add to that an unmatched battery life, the most advanced paper-like touch display on the market and wireless access to the world’s largest digital bookstore, and we believe that for readers of all ages, the All-New NOOK is the best eReader on the market, and a great value at $139.”

The new Nook eBook reader is based on Android 2.1, and features Nook Friends as available on the Nook Color. The eBook reader is powered by an 800 MHz processor from TI OMAP, and sports Wi-Fi but lacks 3G.

One of the highlights of the new Nook is its battery life. Barnes & Noble’s state that the new Nook has a battery life of whopping 2 months, with Wi-Fi turned off! The all new Nook can already be pre-ordered for $139, and will start shipping on June 10.

Barnes and Noble Working on Nook Color Successor

Barnes and Noble, the surprise entrant in the tablet space in 2010, which had a spectacular hit on its hands with the Nook Color is apparently working on a successor to the Android powered Nook Color. The Nook Color was launched as an ereader to compete with the Amazon Kindle, but since it offered powerful hardware, it was soon hacked and modified into a full blown tablet. It is currently the cheapest usable Android tablet, not counting the many cheap Chinese knockoffs. Seeing the success of the Nook Color, even Amazon has started working on a cheap Android Kindle tablet.

Today, it was revealed in an SEC filing that Barnes and Noble plans to announce a new electronic book reader on May 24. Following the news, B&N shares closed up 17% on Wednesday, which indicates how positive the expectations for B&N on the street are, should it manage to pull off another success like the Nook Color. The new Nook Color should come with even more powerful hardware and should support Android 3.0 Honeycomb. No other details have been disclosed yet. The timing is quite good, as it may mean that the Nook Color 2 will be available before Amazon’s Kindle tablet.

Watch out for more details and specifications of the Nook Color 2 on May 24.

Nook Color

Why the Nook Color is the Best Android Tablet

Since the launch of the iPad, many Android tablets have been launched, but none of them have been able to match the iPad in terms of usability, price or even apps. The iPad (and the iPad 2) starts at $499 (for the 16 GB Wi-Fi version, while most Android tablets start at $599 (Galaxy Tab) for the unlocked version. Some of them are even priced as high at $799. Now that it’s clear that none of them can beat the iPad in terms of price, I can’t think of any Android tablet that offers more bang for your buck than the iPad.

Granted that the Wi-Fi versions of the new Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the Motorola Xoom will be priced around $499, but they still can’t beat the iPad in terms of apps. The App Store has 65,000 tablet apps while Honeycomb has just about 100. The number of apps will surely increase over time, but for the time being, the iPad is the king of the hill.

So why this post?

Well, Barnes and Noble launched the Nook Color last year to compete with the Amazon Kindle. It has a 7 inch color touchscreen display and is powered by Android. It was meant to be just a simple ebook reader, until some Android enthusiasts discovered that it could very well be used as a fully functioning tablet. It was hacked to enable Android apps, the Android Market. It also has a Cyanogen Mod 7 ROM using which you can install Android 2.3 Gingerbread on it.

In short, you can use it for almost everything that you would want to use an Android tablet for – Android apps, games, email, browsing, video, music and obviously, ebooks. Even so, it was still a slightly risky hack which deterred the average Joe from modding it to unlock its true potential.

Today, Barnes and Noble officially released a new software update (1.20) which installs Android 2.2 Froyo on your Nook Color. It brings a new App Store curated by B&N- Nook Apps which has a selection of some Android Apps. The new update makes it an even better tablet, which offers really good value for money. It is priced at just $249, which is half what the iPad is priced at. Obviously, it is not as powerful as the iPad, but it easily handles basic video playback, web browsing, light games, email and ebooks. I have been a big fan of the Amazon Kindle, but the Nook Color beats it in every aspect. Unless Amazon launches its rumored Android tablet soon, the Nook Color is poised to grab a larger share of the ebook reader market.

Coming back to the topic, the Nook Color is probably the best Android tablet you can buy today, at least in terms of value for money.

Nook Color

Barnes & Noble’s Nook Color Gets The Android 2.2 FroYo Update

Barnes and Noble’s have started rolling out a new software update for their popular Android based eReader the Nook Color, which also doubles up as decent Android tablet when modded.

The new software update (v1.2.0) brings with it some much need changes including an update to Android 2.2 FroYo.


Below is the full change-log from Barnes & Noble’s :

  • Access to shop a broad collection of popular NOOK Appsâ„¢ to enjoy great games, stay up to date on news and weather, and more
  • Full-featured free email to check and send web-based email (i.e., Yahoo, Gmail, Hotmail, AOL) all from one in-box
  • NOOK Color’s update to Android OS 2.2/Froyo offers system improvements, browser performance and a more complete Web experience giving customers access to enjoy even more video, interactive and animated content. NOOK Color now includes support for Adobe ® Flash ® Player
  • NOOK Kidsâ„¢ exciting new Read and Play titles that bring animation, activities and stories together
  • NOOK Books Enhanced offer in-page video and audio in a growing number of titles
  • Enhancements to magazine navigation making it easier to enjoy even more of the growing selection of magazines in NOOK Newsstand
  • NOOK Friendsâ„¢ (beta) to see your friends’ reading activities, swap books with LendMeâ„¢, share recommendations and discover new titles

The software update is an OTA one, and will be automatically pushed to your Nook Color within a week from now.

Sadly, this update still does not bring Android Market access to the Nook Color officially. Unofficially, Nook Color users can always flash CyanogenMod 7 on their device, and enjoy Gingerbread along with Android Market access.