Here's the part of the Microsoft and Barnes & Noble agreement everyone's ignoring

Here's the part of the Microsoft and Barnes & Noble agreement everyone's ignoring

Summary: A Barnes & Noble filing about deliverables coming as a result of its new Microsoft partnership is chock-full of references to Windows Phone.


Now that we're all speculated out about the possibility of a Windows-based Nook (a Wook?), it's time to start ruminating on what's cooking between Microsoft and Barnes & Noble on the Windows Phone front.

A B&N commercial agreement filing from earlier this week (which I found via a link in a New York Times story) ended up being well worth poring through, and not just because of a mention of a "Microsoft Reader."

(The B&N filing includes this statement: "Microsoft Reader. If Microsoft creates a reader, Microsoft may include an interface to the NewCo Store in that reader and may surface in that reader all Content purchased by customers from the NewCo Store." That clause may just be one of those cover-your-butt legal clauses and Microsoft may have no intentions of doing this. Or maybe it's more.)

But that's not the part of the B&N filing that interested me the most. There are 55 mentions in this one document of "Windows Phone." (There's even one mention of "Apollo," spotted by @clubdirthill. Sadly, it's only a definition: "'Windows Phone Software' means (a) the successor to Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7.5 operating system software for mobile phones that is currently code-named “Apollo,” and (b) any future versions and successors, including any bug fixes, service packs, upgrades and updates.")

As B&N and Microsoft announced at the start of this week, B&N is building a Windows 8 Nook app (which this document says will be downloadable from the Windows 8 app store, and which will be free to consumers).

The press release announcing the NewCo B&N/Microsoft-funded subsidiary never even mentioned Windows Phone -- not once. Yet the B&N commercial agreement cites "Windows Phone" 55 times? Why this discrepancy?

As we Windows Phone users know, our ranks are small. In the U.S., Windows Phone's share of the smartphone market is about four percent. How many (or few) of that four percent want to read on their phones? Maybe a lot. All I know is I never read books on my phone; the screen size is prohibitive for me.

But... and this is just wild and crazy speculation on my part... what if there will be devices running the Windows Phone 8 operating system (Apollo) which are not like the current Windows Phone devices. What if Microsoft is planning to allow OEMs to put the Windows Phone OS on something bigger... like a Microsoft reader. The idea might not be as nutty as it sounds: On May 2, Neowin reported that its servers were pinged by some kind of device running the Windows Phone 8 OS, but which had a screen resolution of 768X768.

Could my ZDNet colleague Jason Perlow be right? Could there be an e-reader or some kind of consumption-focused, subscription-centric tablet running the Windows Phone OS coming in the not-too-distant future? Or are those myriad references to Windows Phone simply indicative of the fact that Microsoft plans to position Windows Phone and Windows 8 as tightly integrated and "better together"?

Topics: Mobility, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Software, Telcos, Windows


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Same Kernel

    If Phone 8 will have the same OS kernel as Windows 8, then there isn't much of a distinction between phone devices and non-phone devices except a mobile carrier transceiver and a contract. And, like the Amazon Kindle, some non-phone devices will have transceivers and contracts too. Like Linux, the Windows 8 kernel can run on phones, appliances, game consoles, tablets, medical equipment, TVs, automobile dashboards, servers, mainframes, etc.
    • Not until 9 I didn't think

      This is from memory, but I was thinking that Windows and Windows Phone would not share a kernel until Windows 9 (and I guess WP9).

    • Kernel isn't everything

      I think you're overemphasizing the importance of the kernel here. iOS runs on the Mac OSX kernel, but to say that there isn't much distinction between those platforms is silly. Android, webOS, and Ubuntu all run on the Linux kernel, but they have very little in common with each other otherwise.

      A kernel is just the core that's powering things under the covers. It has very little to do with the user experience or what applications are compatible with the platform.
  • How about

    a phone that wirelessly displays (movies, the web, books, whatever) to your flat-screen TV? I want one of those. Who wants to sell me one?
    • iPhone & AppleTV

      Sounds like you need to rush down to your closest Apple Store to get an iPhone and AppleTV. That's all you need. Well ... and the flatscreen. The iPhone can wirelessly stream content to the AppleTV. Almost like magic.
      • funny

        yeah, very magical. OR you can just use your android phone and hook it up to a TV with USB and access your videos, pictures or music and play it that way (as USB Drive- good luck on an iphone)... and also calls still come in and don't interrupt your media playing on your tv- ANOTHER option: Even on my old EVO 4g with hdmi I've spent the last 2 years outputting directly to the TV - i've even gotten it to display the entire phone interface so i can play my video calls and anything i do on it on the tv.. show my games on a big screen. AND the new super phones with DNLA make all this even sweeter! And since this is about B&N- I have my rooted nook color running android and i use it as a second computer display that I can use in my recording booth to control my protools and pc from there... with touch-screen. LOVE FREEDOM!
      • Magical!

        Yes, connecting from the Apple ecosystem to your TV really works great. And, it is - at least to me - magical. My first experience with Apple's AirPlay feature was at a friend's house. I had found something on YouTube using my iPad, the TV was on and connected to the AppleTV. One touch on the AirPlay icon, and boom, the YouTube video is up on the screen. No passwords, no configuring, no selecting. It just worked. Magic.

        I'm sure that this ease of use was only possible due to the 'reality distortion field' present due to the several Apple products in the room, but even so, 'it just works' can be a very impressive thing...
  • Screen size

    The only difference in hardware between a Windows 8 tablet and a Windows Phone 8 device is the screen size. I personally don't see any distinction at the OS level since the kernel will be the same and the development environment the same as well. The only difference will be the UI layout, which at 7" for a "reader" is constant whether it's strictly based on Windows 8 or Windows Phone 8 (I predict that the distinctions between the two as a developer will be trivial, especially when you consider that the Windows 8 snap state of an app literally looks like a phone app).

    Of course, the main question is how will this product be positioned. Is it a 7" tablet that just happens to have the Nook software pre-installed (which is rather boring), or is it a 7" e-Reader that boots up immediately into the Nook software, and you can just happen to run other Windows 8 Metro apps?
    Jeff Kibuule
  • I've been schooled

    And a sincere huzzah for research.

    Though, now I have to wonder what is B&N thinking, if they plan to be a book seller in the phone business, or investing heavily in a subsidiary new phone maker, as that means setting up factory lines, supply chains, competing for carriers, and figuring out how to be a better choice than all the other phones. Perhaps you saw Horace Dediu tweet today about the divisions of profits for phone makers? And what would Nokia think about this when one of the points of partnering with Microsoft and AT&T was to improve its presence in the US?

    Could the references to the os be more about a commitment to write software and provide content support for users of non-NewCo devices running the Microsoft oses.
    • Nokia should be happy to have a Nook ereader/bookstore available for their

      new W8 tablets
      Johnny Vegas
  • Does Make Sense

    I reader device based on the Windows Phone OS does make a lot of sense considering the reduced footprint required and the somewhat sizeable applications ecosystem.

    Nice theory MJ.
  • Convergence

    First there was Kindle, and the e-paper Kindle is still my favorite way to read books. Then Kindle Fire, which not only let you read your Kindle books, but also download a movie or two to watch on the plane, some games, etc. So now when I travel, I bring the Fire and use it for everything - reading isn't as good as e-paper, but movies make up for that.

    Isn't the logical progression from Kindle Fire a Windows 8 tablet? A device that will let you read your Kindle books, watch movies on the plane, and when you land it takes the place of your laptop?

    I can see why Microsoft would want to enter the reader market, but not why anyone would buy another single-purpose device, when you can carry one different device that includes the Reader functionality plus so much more.
    • Windows 8 Tablet Won't Run Windows Apps

      That scenario isn't any different from other tablets since Windows 8 for ARM will only run WinRT apps, not regular Windows apps. There may be some convergence, but the key will have to either be desktop class apps for one of the tablet operating systems (either iOS, Android, or WinRT), or else a practical x86/amd64 based tablet or convertible. A Windows 8 ARM tablet doesn't really change anything (not necessarily any better or worse than the other two systems, but not as many apps available yet - though I'd expect them to expand fast if the tablets get any traction at all).
      • "Real" Windows Apps

        In order to run a desktop App on a tablet you MUST either redesign the interface for a touch environment or connect a keyboard/mouse to the tablet. "Real" Windows Apps are all desktop applications. If you are going to redesign an application for a tablet touch environment you will need to recompile it anyway, so switching to a different CPU shouldn't matter much. An example of this process is what Apple has done with their iWork Apps. The 'same' word processing, spreadsheet and presentation Apple Apps run in iOS devices using ARM, and on OS X machines with Intel processors. Files are synchronized by 'push' from the cloud (iCloud).

        If the need is to support existing Windows desktop applications without rewriting them, then the tablet user will be stuck with a keyboard and mouse (or trackpad) and what amounts to a really clunky implementation of a laptop computer. So why bother?
    • Proably because lots of nook users have no use for apps/movies on their

      ereaders. Some people prefer deidcated devices. Some people still even buy ipods.
      Johnny Vegas
      • Given the choice

        between watching a movie on my iPhone, HTC Thunderbolt, or Nook Color I'd pick the Nook Color every time. I'm actually excited to see a WP-based Nook - I want to see how it compares to an Android-based model. I personally prefer integrated devices and if someone is into dedicated devices then it's all good.
      • iPods

        I think a lot of people still buy these for their kids. It lets them do all sorts of stuff while keeping them from running up their parents' cell phone bill. And the NANO can be turned into a watch!
      • iPods - It's all in the Touch...

        The most popular iPod, according to Apple, is the iPod Touch. The 'Touch' is a full-on iOS device. You can think of it as an iPhone without the phone, or as an iPad with a little screen.

        The iPod world is quickly being assimilated into the iOS ecosystem.
    • The Same Reason

      that people continue to buy single purpose printers rather than new fangled 'all in one' printers and why people continue to buy game consoles: because a device that does dozens of things will never do anything as well as a device that does only one thing...
      Doctor Demento
  • NewCo Phone App and Microsoft Reader possibilities

    According to the agreement, NewCo is supposed to provide an app for Windows Phones. Since the agreement defines Windows Phones as those running Apollo, then maybe Microsoft opted to be quiet about it in the press release since, well, they haven't said anything publicly about Apollo in the first place.

    I find the Microsoft Reader clause interesting. If "Reader" here refers to hardware, then that means that Microsoft can makes its own hardware e-reader, while NewCo can continue with its Android-based Nook. The only thing that the Microsoft Reader will have in common with the Nook is the e-book store, which Microsoft cannot rebrand as its own. Microsoft could be interested in their own e-reader if they think that it's necessary to enter the digital textbook space. If they won't enter the hardware game, then "Reader" can also be the software/publishing platform (including digital textbooks) which could be Microsoft's answer to iBooks Author.

    If Microsoft and/or its OEM partners are able to push out Reader devices priced competitively with the Kindle Fire, then NewCo can EOL the color Android Nooks and concentrate on e-ink devices and on acquiring content.