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Android e-reader rooted, booed, and sued

Dec 17, 2009 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 2 views

Barnes & Noble's Android-based Nook e-reader device was rooted by a site called NookDevs. Meanwhile, Intrinsyc revealed that it led the systems integration of the delayed Nook, which has has suffered from some early negative reviews, and Spring Design's lawsuit against Barnes & Noble over the Nook is moving forward.

Announced by book retail giant Barnes & Noble (B&N) in October, the Nook is the first of several e-readers combining a standard monochrome E Ink e-reader display with a secondary Android screen. In the case of the Nook, however, the Android interface is dedicated solely with communicating with the B&N online book store via a built-in 3G interface for AT&T's network.

The process required to root (or "mod") the Nook to become a fully hackable device is thoroughly described by NookDevs. The site explains, complete with photos (see image image at right), how to remove the Nook's microSD card holding its modified Android operating system. It then shows how to replace several files to open up the Nook as a general Android web browsing device.

The NookDevs process strips out the modified Android code to leave a basic Android operating system that can be equipped with a web browser. The 3G service remains free, unless B&N and AT&T somehow manage to find a way to detect and turn off the rooted devices.

The site offers numerous warnings and caveats about the danger of bricking the device, as well as the near certainty that the process breaks one's warranty. The site also stresses that the process is recommended only for advanced users.

Innovative, but rushed to market?

Despite considerable consumer interest in the Nook, which was recently ranked number two on Time's Best Gadgets of 2009 list, after the number one, Android based Droid by Motorola, early reviews have not been kind.

According to a story by Nicholas Kolakowski in our sister publication, eWEEK, reviewers in the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and BusinessWeek have all slammed the dual-display device (pictured at left) for slow boot-up and performance, as well as bugs and limited battery life.

In his Wall Street Journal review, Mossberg found the Nook to be "slower, more cumbersome to use and less polished than the Kindle," according to eWEEK. Although Mossberg liked several aspects of the Nook, including the e-book sharing feature, he felt that bugs, incomplete features, and limited battery life limited the appeal. "At launch, the Nook has the feel of a product with great potential that was rushed to market before it was fully ready," Mossberg was said to have written.

The other reviews echoed many of these judgments, with David Pogue writing in The New York Times that the Nook was "slower than an anesthetized slug in water," according to the story. The review also agreed that the product had been rushed to market prematurely for the holidays. If so, this appears to have been a particularly flawed strategy considering that although the device went on sale on Nov. 30, shipments have been delayed until early January.

Looming lawsuits

On top of the Nook's other troubles, Barnes & Noble was sued in November by Spring Designs, which claimed that the company had stolen the design from its own Android-based Alex e-reader device, says eWEEK. Spring Designs is said to have claimed it had shown the device to B&N earlier this year in hopes of striking up a partnership. Although the Spring Designs had moved to stop sales of the Nook, the San Jose Division of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, which is hearing the case, announced on Dec. 1 that B&N will be allowed to continue selling the Nook during the legal proceedings, eWEEK added.

Spring Design plans to release the Alex (pictured at right) for selected strategic partners by the end of this year. A third contender offering a dual-display Android e-reader is Entourage Systems, which expects to ship its Entourage Edge in February. Unlike the Alex and Nook designs, which have a relatively small Android color display underneath the grayscale e-reader display, the Entourage Edge offers dual 10.1-inch displays in a design that folds open like a book with facing touchscreen pages.

Intrinsyc steps forward as Nook integrator

Despite the tough reviews for the Nook, Vancouver-based Intrinsyc has bravely stepped forward to announce that it provided Barnes & Noble with proprietary software and engineering services for the Nook's Android-based platform software. The company also says it assisted with general application development. Intrinsyc's Device Development Solutions group was said to have customized Android to abstract the hardware from the applications, enabling the application development team to build applications that spanned the Nook's dual screen design.

A long-time player in embedded Linux with its CerfBoard single-board computers (SBCs), among other devices, Intrinsyc has engineers working in Canada, the United States, and China. The latter team was able to work closely with the Nook's unnamed hardware ODM, which was said to be located in the same time zone.

Intrinsyc and its partners used its own RapidRIL, Connection Manager, Power Optimizer, Telephony Test Suite, and Remote Device Updater tools to achieve the system integration, says the company. RapidRIL is said to accelerate Radio Interface Layer (RIL) development on connected devices with out-of-the-box modem support, says Intrinsyc. The Intrinsyc Telephony Test Suite, meanwhile, is claimed to be the only commercially available automated test suite available for Android-based devices.

Intrinsyc's Remote Device Updater is used by Nook developers to provide remote updates of the entire software platform to allow developers around the world to have the latest software build, as well as to provide enhancements to consumers' devices after purchase, says the company. The Power Optimizer and Connection Manager software is said to have provided the Nook with a 3G/WiFi hand-over and power management scheme that provides least cost routing with radio power optimization for "long battery life."

Apparently, something went terribly wrong along the way, at least on the battery life. Yet, according to the reviews, the Nook appears to be salvageable with firmware updates. Perhaps with the help of the Remote Device Updater, Nook users can make full and productive use out of their innovative Android device without having to risk bricking their device or voiding their warranty with a mod attempt.

In the meantime, B&N may want to push out the ship date just a bit longer. Consumers, who are still by all accounts still in love with Amazon's Linux-based Kindle, may not wait around for a second update.


The NookDevs description of the Nook root process may be found here. The eWEEK story on the Nook's reviews and legal problems should be here.

More information on Intrinsyc and its Android-ready tools may be found here.

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