Barnes & Noble turns its Nook HD line into full-powered Android tablets

Barnes & Noble turns its Nook HD line into full-powered Android tablets

Summary: Barnes & Noble seeks to revitalize its Android-powered Nook tablet line over arch-rival Amazon's Kindle tablets by adding Google Play and full Android app support.

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Barnes & Noble's Nook started out well as an early Android-powered e-reader/tablet. Since then, however, the Nook has fallen behind other low-priced Android tablets, such as Google's Nexus 7 and arch-rival Amazon's Kindle Fire. In an attempt to make itself more competitive, Barnes & Noble is incorporating Google Store and its full Android application support into a new software update for its top-of-the-line Nook HD and HD+ tablets.

Nook with Google Play
With the addition of Google Play, Barnes & Noble's high-end Nook devices are now full Android tablets.
(Image: CBS Interactive)

Until now, the Nook had only a comparatively small application store. With this 2.1 software update, Nook HD+ users will have access to the full Google Play Store software library of 700,000 apps. In addition, they'll be able to buy and play music from Google Music, videos, and even ebooks. Yes, that means you'll be able to buy apps, books, and movies from either the Nook Store or the Google Play Store.

B&N is making this radical move for a very simple reason: It needs to reclaim its vanishing market share. According to IDC's first-quarter tablet market numbers, the Nook has fallen out of the top five tablets, with Amazon now claiming the third spot.

CEO William Lynch explained that consumers want all-purpose tablets, not simple e-readers. "We saw coming off holiday, the market moved to multifunction tablets. Consumer research showed us the breadth of applications available is really critical." Of course, some people saw the death of all but the cheapest dedicated e-reader years ago.

Another reason why Barnes & Noble is making this move, as Sterne Agee analyst Shaw Wu speculated in February, is because in the highly competitive tablet market, where "extras like the depth of apps are very important", B&N didn't have the funding and expertise needed to compete "against companies like Apple and Google, which literally have unlimited resources".

The bottom line is that Barnes & Noble was losing money on the Nook. Lynch also said, during the February earnings call, "Partnerships are one of the key strategies for growth for our Nook digital content business, and we are encouraged by the status and breadth of discussions we're in the midst of. Even with the decline in Nook unit sales in Q3, we grew digital content sales 7 percent, so we've demonstrated we can grow our content business without having to grow hardware sales." This software update clearly shows that going forward, B&N is partnering with Google.

At one time, it appeared that Barnes & Noble was going to partner with Microsoft and create a Windows 8-powered Nook. This move appears to have come to nothing except for a much-needed $300-million investment in B&N by Microsoft. What Microsoft is getting out of this deal is difficult to see.

As for Nook users, you can either wait for the update, which will be automatically downloaded to devices that are registered and connected to wi-fi, beginning on May 3, or download it manually. If you elect to do it yourself, you have two options.

The more difficult way is to download the update to your Windows PC or Mac and then flash your 7-inch Nook HD or 10-inch Nook HD+ over a USB connection. It's easier to simply connect your Nook to a wi-fi hotspot, tap the Settings icon in the Status bar at the top of your screen, tap on All Settings, then tap on Device Information, and check to see that your software version matches the number at the top of this page. If it doesn't, tap on Software version and then tap on the Check for updates button. Be sure to follow the on-screen instructions, and do not turn-off your Nook while it's downloading or installing the update. This update is not available for the Nook Tablet or other earlier models.

Will this update work for Barnes & Noble? It's too early to say. It will, however, clearly work for Nook HD and HD+ users who want to get the most from their e-readers/tablets.

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Topics: Android, Amazon, E-Commerce, Google, Microsoft, Tablets

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20 comments
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  • That's great news

    Was almost going to buy the N2A card for better and more apps, but this may make that move unnecessary. The direct download update method via settings is still not there yet, as of this second.
    D.J. 43
  • I'm pretty sure

    the nook is not open to 700,000 usable apps. I'm more than sure that more than half is useless/not functional on the nook. High profile apps like "whatsapp" won't be functional allong with its many themes that google still call apps. The myriads of SMS apps that seems to litter the store.

    In anycase it's a good move for b&n. I guess they're using some of that Microsoft money to pay google, however if this helps b&n sell more nooks then in the grand scheme of things Microsoft would make back their money plus more. Therefore it's mutually beneficial.
    blazing_smiley_face
  • Interesting

    This is great nows.

    Looks like the Nexus 7 and 10 might have some decent competition after all.
    Zig1994
    • Doubt it

      Who is going to bother buying the nook over an android tablet with a nook app OR an amazon Kindle tablet. Whats the draw?
      Panwo1@...
      • The resolution

        I got a Nook HD for the clarity, like a cheap retina display
        D.J. 43
      • support

        The draw is that the Nook is now the only Android tablet where you can go to a brick and mortar store that sold it to you to get help. That's not a small thing. Barnes and noble could give its customers something approaching Apple store help to its customers.
        LooseWingnut
      • Well, a few things...

        the tablet supports the reading of free books in any Barnes and Noble store. Also, you can convert pretty much every ebook but, Amazons to an ADE book and read it on the Nook.

        Yes, B&N Underspec their tablets but, this is a pretty good deal for that 9" screen.
        slickjim
        • Oh and

          Barnes and Noble adopted the standard Digital Media Format Ultra Violet so, you won't randomly have your movies deleted by the likes of Amazon because they were too cheap to pony up the cash to have the rights to keep them on their servers. And, you won't be locked to an Apple device either.
          slickjim
      • nook hd verus kindle

        The draw is you can download the kindle app and access all of kindle's features via the app. With Kindle you can ONLY access kindle stuff and pdf's are soooooooo much better on the Nook hd which is why I bought it
        Cheryl Atkins
  • literally?

    Ugh, I friggin' hate it when people use the word "literally" to mean "figuratively." No Apple and Google do not "literally" have unlimited resources. They have monstrous piles of cash, and could raise billions more at the drop of a hat. But they don't have unlimited resources. Not literally.

    That said, though, this move by Barnes & Noble feels like a desperation play. It's also 6 to 12 months too late. Had they tried this a year ago it might have made a difference vis a vis the Kindle Fire. Today... I'm not sure. I wish B&N well, because I don't want Amazon to have a monopoly on eBook sales, but I'm not convinced this Hail Mary pass is going to succeed.
    dsf3g
    • I agree

      Personally, I buy from Google so I can read them in a web browser without a plugin.

      Also, Amazon wants to force us onto any platform but Android as they prefer to add features to every other platform while making the reading experience minimally functional.

      B&N has the most pleasant looking fonts but, overall it is more expensive for their books.
      slickjim
      • Nook

        Though I abandoned the nook platform for true Android tablets (I'm currently on a Nexus 7) I still buy my eBooks from Barnes & Noble and read them on the Nook app. In part it's because I like the goofy page turn animations (yaaay skewomorhism) but also because I fear Amazon's monopoly power.
        dsf3g
  • Yabba Dabba Doo!!!!

    This is a fantastic development! One that I've been hoping Barnes and Noble would do. I bought my wife a Nook HD this past Christmas. It's a great tablet. Though, up until now, it was marred by a very poor application library. Today's update from Barnes and Noble eliminates that one weakness. I highly recommend the Nook HD or HD+ to anyone looking for a quality tablet who can't afford or don't want to pay the price premium of an iPad or iPad-mini.
    ckantack@...
  • Best of both worlds

    Not all Google Play apps work on the "new" Nook, but most do. The best part for me is that I can run the Kindle application on the Nook, so I can shop for books from either Amazon or B&N. Ah, freedom of choice! I was planning to install Cyanogen on the tablet eventually, but B&N saved me the trouble.
    The Nook HD+ has a nice display, is fast, and I can expand storage by up to 64GB with an SD card. And now, it runs most Google aps. All of which makes it better for me than the Nexus, Fire, or iPad. Of course, YMMV.
    ihatespam@...
  • Huge price drop on Nook HD and Nook HD+ just announced!

    At least thru Mother's Day, the 7" Nook HD is now at $149 (a $50 price reduction) and the 9" Nook HD+ is down to $179 (a $90 price drop). Check out Barnes and Noble's home page for more info! With the latest software update and price drops, these tablets are fantastic buys!
    ckantack@...
  • HD but not NT?

    Barnes & Noble lost me as a customer after they decided to screw their customers by kneecapping the Nook Tablet with a firmware upgrade that locked you out of *EVERYTHING* except the extremely anemic selection of apps in their App Store (you know, the one where they charged 2-4 times what apps sold for everyplace else). Sure, perhaps they'll update the HD-series, but the Nook Tablet will likely remain a nailed-closed flower box; can't even call it a "walled garden" like the iFad universe is, since at least the iFad products have some level of product selection available.

    Would be nice for them to make a gesture to show they regret their earlier actions, but the only gesture B&N gives their customers is a raised middle-finger. Once Borders went away, they figured they never had to consider the customer again.
    jelabarre
  • barnes and noblre turns it's nook tablets into full powered Android tablets

    I am going to gamble and bet that Microsoft will indeed team up with Barnes and Noble and create a Microsoft e reader powered by the windows Rt OS. it should be a redesigned Nook HD plus 9 inch model
    gregnewm7
  • Err...

    I think opening up their ecosystem to the full Google experience with the ability to use Kindle, Nook, or Google Books, Kno, etc. is a pretty darned good gesture on B&N's part. It's completely open now, including the ability to add the app launcher of your choice, custom wallpapers, etc. $209 for a 32GB 9" is a steal for a beautiful display and decent processor speed.
    Ross Voorhees
  • too little, too late

    I own some first-gen Nooks, which aren't too great, but I thought the new HD line had a pretty nice price/specs ratio. But the lack of an ecosystem (and IMO little prospect for improvement) kept me away. I always thought the main thing the Nook needed was Play access, I just assumed the MS investment precluded it somehow. Well, apparently not. So my question is, why didn't they do this a year ago? The writing has been on the wall for quite some time.
    frylock
  • Slow, conservative, small minded

    I was in a B&N store a couple of years ago when the Nook Colour first came out. I hadn't got a tablet at the time, the price was right it was there in front of me, but guess what, it was not a full android product. I eventually bought a Samsung Galaxy Tab. Since then I've had two more Galaxy's.

    B&N could have made this a fully featured Android and then bundled/locked in their media products on front. 80% of customers would not have changed it and sales would have been three or four times higher.

    Slow, conservative, small minded.
    afamiii