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Nook Color gets tablet makeover

Apr 25, 2011 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 1 views

Barnes & Noble announced an automatic update this week for its Nook Color e-reader that turns the device into more of a low-cost Android tablet. New features offered by the 1.2.0 update include 125 apps, an email application, and support for Adobe Flash, says the online retailer.

Barnes & Noble has announced  a bevy of new features for its Nook Color e-reader, including email and Flash support. The update 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. Barnes & Noble will make the version 1.2.0 update available over the next week as an automatic download, according to a note on the Nook website.

Nook Color (left) and earlier Nook Wi-Fi (right)

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 email into a single in-box, plus support for Adobe Flash Player.

Stated William Lynch, Barnes & Noble's CEO, "These and 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."

Rooting for the Nook

Months ago, tech enthusiasts figured out how to hack the Nook and transform it into a full Android tablet. In early February, Ars Technica even posted handy instructions on how to do so. The story offered 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 to another effort to bring the tablet-optimized Android 3.0 ("Honeycomb") to the e-reader.

The Nook retails for $249, far cheaper than the Android tablets on the market. That helps explain the appeal in transforming the seven-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.

"If your 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 development community."

Somewhere 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.

Next move: Amazon

Whether or 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 Amazon, 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 version of the device that retails for $114, slightly cheaper than the basic Kindle at $139 and the Kindle 3G at $189.

Meanwhile, rumors continue that Amazon is prepping an Android-based tablet version of the Kindle.

Of course, 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 tablet-like functionality — along with the price?

The answers to those questions will determine the Nook's place in both the e-reader and tablet worlds. Meanwhile, it is still unclear to what extent Microsoft's March lawsuit against Barnes & Noble over Android-based UI techniques used in the Nook might slow down the device's success.

Nicholas Kolakowski is a writer for eWEEK.

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