Barnes and Noble has made good on its promise of upgrading the firmware on its Nook Color, launched in October 2010, by announcing that Froyo, aka Android 2.2, will now be available to Nook Color owners. The upgrade for the $249 device can be done immediately through “sideloading” (download from web and install) or via a wireless push from B&N in one week. The net result transforms the Nook Color into a well…an enhanced Nook Color. Is it a tablet, did you ask? The answer—it depends. Hold that thought.
So, what new in the Froyo upgrade? There’s now an app marketplace with Android-based apps built for the Nook Color using a Nook SDK. Apps, which predominantly sell for $2.99 or less, run the gamut from games (Angry Birds) to Pandora internet radio. There is also email with seamless account setup for most popular POP-based email accounts (Yahoo, Hotmail, Gmail). The device now will support Flash which means it will play Flash video and audio. On the deficit side, it lacks Bluetooth, has tiny audio quality through small speakers in the back of the unit and while it plays Flash, a great deal of Web video is not optimized for mobile.. The experience can be hit and miss: on The New York Times site, video worked well; on Hulu, not so great.
The best things about the new and improved Nook Color are all reading related. After all, isn’t this “the reader’s tablet”? The Nook Color is a strong device for kids’ books with more than 350 kids’ digital picture books which take advantage of the new Froyo features such as video and embedded games. Nook Color V1.2 (as it’s called) does a nice job of handling the emerging category of enhanced books which incorporate video, audio and interactive social features. B&N says it has 225 (and counting) multimedia books including “Knitting for Dummies,” Raising a Child” and Elle: Workout Yoga starring Brooklyn Decker.
Nook Color V 1.2 might provide some help for the Nook Newsstand. I am among those who believe replica or enhanced versions of existing print pages not only don’t work on a tablet device, they look especially weak on a seven-inch screen. At launch, the upgraded device will have the Pulse “social magazine” app which hopefully will encourage newspaper and magazine publishers to build apps that look less like copes of their print products and more like Pulse and Flipboard.
Saving one of the better features for last, there’s a beta version of Nook Friends, a social application that shows great promise for sharing, recommending and buying books in one integrated site. The site also makes the “Lend Me” feature for sharing B&N titles much simpler. There are really good sites to share what you are reading and some where you can compare what you are reading to various parts of the social graph, but none that combines those two elements with the ability to buy a digital copy once you’ve discovered a new title.
It’s a bit hazy to gauge the impact of the Nook Color V1.2 in the e-book marketplace/e-reader landscape. While it might seem logical for Amazon or Kobo to build an app for the new Nook Color app marketplace (as they have for other marketplaces), none is in the offing, says B&N and neither Amazon nor Kobo has requested a developer’s kit . The same goes for digital magazine marketplaces such as Zinio. Will B&N keep them out of their marketplace? Better yet, can B&N keep them out of their marketplace?
So, bottom line, is the Nook Color a tablet? Well, it always was a tablet—a reader’s tablet—which is a device whose form factor and functions facilitate an enjoyable reading experience across books, newspapers and magazines. Now, it strengthens its position in that space and offers enough gaming, entertainment and productivity apps to keep consumers not so much from buying an iPad, but more from buying whatever Amazon or Sony might come up with for readers “who want more.”
The Nook Color with its new Froyo upgrade is not an iPad—not even close. But those who are looking for a great cross-media reading device with some nice new multimedia bells and whistles, it remains a go-to device.