Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet: Not quite as open as we thought

Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet: Not quite as open as we thought

Summary: Amazon and Barnes & Noble want you to buy only their content on the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet respectively, and new owners are finding out the companies are serious about that.


Both Amazon and Barnes & Noble made it clear at the respective launch events for the Kindle Fire and the Nook Tablet that the two tablets were aimed at selling you content. While the tech-savvy crowd quickly determined that as tablets they could be used for content from outside sources, the reality is just settling in that outside content may not be as welcome as first thought.

Before the two tablets were in owners' hands, I reported that I didn't think either company would want their tablet to be open for general usage. Whether they would lock them down to prevent hacking, or require you to buy content only from the provider I wasn't sure. It turns out they are using everything at their disposal to lock buyers into content purchased from the respective company.

B&N made a big deal about the internal memory on the Nook Tablet being twice as much as that on the Kindle Fire (16GB vs. 8GB). Then yesterday the real story came out that the 16GB of memory on the Nook Tablet is restricted. As ZDNet's Rachel King confirmed with Barnes & Noble, only 12GB is open for user content. More significantely 11GB of that storage is only available to content purchased from B&N. That's a drastic hardware measure for a tablet, and only leaves 1GB of storage for content from other sources out of the box.

It's true that the Nook Tablet has a microSD slot for additional user storage, but a storage card will cost another $20 - 40. That takes the cost of a Nook Tablet with more than a gig of memory up towards the $300 mark. Not quite as cheap as we thought.

While the Nook Color has been open to hacking since its release, one looking to do the same with the Nook Tablet has discovered that Barnes & Noble has apparently used a locked bootloader. This means the tablet will not be very easy to hack, and particularly difficult to install custom ROMs. This is a complete difference in philosophy with the Nook Tablet over the Nook Color, and is likely to protect the content sales the company needs to make.

The Kindle Fire only has 8GB of internal storage, with no slot for expansion. Owners have indicated that 6GB of that storage is available to the user out of the box, which is less than many smartphones being sold today. Amazon has lots of streaming content available for purchase which alleviates the need for a lot of storage. That's Amazon's plan, to lock you into buying streaming content from them with little onboard storage.

Not surprisingly, Amazon has the Kindle app preinstalled for buying and reading ebooks. Kindle Fire buyers wanting to use competing apps and ebookstores will notice they are available in the Amazon Appstore but not visible on the Fire. You can see them in the Amazon Appstore on desktop browsers, but not on the Fire. Savvy owners will find a way to get these competing apps on the Kindle Fire, but mainstream consumers will likely only use what they can see on the Fire. Amazon is basically letting competing apps in the Appstore on the Kindle Fire, but hiding them from view from these casual owners. Not quite as open as it appears.

Both companies have positioned their tablets to sell you content, and the memory situation pushes owners to do that very thing. While buyers may have visions of getting content from other sources, as indicated that may not be easy to do. For many customers it will just be easier to buy content from the tablet provider and be done with it, and that is the plan. Given the approach the companies have taken so far, it leads me to wonder what they will do when the expected hacking begins in earnest.

Image credit: Flickr user


Topics: Storage, Amazon, CXO, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility, Tablets

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  • RE: Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet: Not quite as open as we thought

    "That???s Amazon???s plan, to lock you into buying streaming content from them with little onboard storage."

    Er, just like the AppleTV - 8 Gigs of storage - but none available for actual content.
    • RE: Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet: Not quite as open as we thought


      I don't think I ever purchased video content from iTunes to play on my Apple TV. I used that device in conjunction with iOS 4 and 5 devices to stream content from my iPad to my HDTV for viewing on the "big screen".
    • RE: Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet: Not quite as open as we thought

      @john@... Apple TV has no storage in its latest version. What you refer to is the format limits that force you to recode all content if'n you wanna play it on yer TV! But with the SD expansion, the NOOK is the clear winner, as you get a 16gb micro sd card and go from there.
    • Tu Quoque fallacy

      Look it up.
  • You get what you ...

    ... pay for.
    P. Douglas
    • No kidding. Everyone knew this was a loss leader device

      And yet they act all surprised when Amazon takes steps to recover the loss.
    • RE: Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet: Not quite as open as we thought

      @P. Douglas Exactly! Why is this even news? Do you think Gillette won't do everything they can to make it so you can't use Schick blades? This is a really old and well known tactic and it benefits everyone when it is understood by all. You get low initial entry to the device and they get a sure bet on recouping the profit they lost on the device. (Plus a good chance to make lots more.) Subsidized phones do this, knowing you'll pay in air time. Subsidized printers do this knowing you'll buy ink. So why do people think they can get a subsidized tablet and not reward the seller by being a loyal consumer? If you want a wide-open platform that you can do as you wish with, you don't get the subsidy. Sounds pretty all-American and free market to me. No, you don't get to buy just one cheap tablet that will let you enjoy everything in the universe. But since they are so cheap, getting more than one is hardly a big problem. I have an iPad2 and yet I'm most likely going to buy a Kindle Fire as well. It's not like they take up tons of room in my house. I have more than one book in the house too because, gee, buying one book doesn't give me all the texts in the Library of Congress.
  • RE: Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet: Not quite as open as we thought

    Yup, this is making these tablets far less attractive. Back when the only game in town was an Apple iPad $499 or a 7" Samsung Galaxy Tab (also $499) the ability to take a $250 Nook Color and hack it into a bonafide Android 2.3 tablet was a biiig deal. But today you can get an Android 2.3 HTC Flyer for $299 or a Honeycomb sporting dual core Acer Iconia Tab for $329. The economics of hacking a cheapy eReader don't make nearly as much sense. Especially given that for $100 more you're also getting GPS, truly functional bluetooth, front and rear cameras, and HDMI out capabilities.
    • RE: Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet: Not quite as open as we thought

      @dsf3g .
      Good point, I think I'll hold out another year and see what comes to the market. Hoping the new transformer prime won't disappoint.
    • RE: Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet: Not quite as open as we thought


      The problem with this viewpoint is that it doesn't reflect the average consumer. The average consumer doesn't care as long as he can watch the new episode of House or listen to his music. These are the same people who buy iPads despite its limitations, which are many. The issue has never been about what any tablet WON'T do, but about what it will do.

      Amazon has the ecosystem to support users in what they want. People will buy it and love it. You and I won't, but we aren't average consumers. Average consumers don't visit this site and they will love the Fire.
      • RE: Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet: Not quite as open as we thought

        @AudeKhatru I have said that all along. The VAST majority of the talking point "limitations" or lacking "features" of the iPad might be of interest to many of those that read here but the VAST majority of the consumer market don't care about or need them. My wife is getting a Fire to replace her original Kindle and be an accompanying device to her iPad. I will be interested in seeing what the usage between the two ends up being.
  • RE: Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet: Not quite as open as we thought

    Well, it is rather amusing that the Kindle Fire has more defacto usable storage than the Nook Tablet. :) But never assign to malice, what can be explained on incompetence, or the marketing department. :) (I worked at a mfg, and Marketing is the bonafide enemy of engineering...) On the Fire, Amazon made several decisions to limit their manufacturing costs. The thing costs right at $200 to manufacture, and more than that with distribution thrown in. So 8GB versus 16GB is explainable on that alone. BUT the bootloader was unlocked as promised and already has been rooted, so life's good. I don't see a bonafide lockin with the Fire. They are highly ENCOURAGING users to stick inside the Amazon Ecosystem which is understandable, but no lockin.

    NOW - the Nook situation which hardware wise is the premium version of the Fire and likely has a manufacturing cost above it's sales cost alone (not including distribution), rather than at the break even point of the Fire. There are multiple indicators they went the lockin route, and were "malicious" about it. The biggest being the locked bootloader, and the interesting arrangement of their storage which limits user content to 1GB.
    • RE: Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet: Not quite as open as we thought

      @admiraljkb I agree BN is more restrictive than Amazon in many ways. Recently an Amazon VP said users could jailbreak/root their devices -- they didn't much care -- just don't expect Amazon CS to be of much help if you get in trouble -- seems reasonable to me.

      One other thing to keep in mind: CS. In a word BN is abysmal, Amazon is near the top. I have been a big customer of both since the early 90's. Amazon has always been best on price, and CS.
    • The OTHER difference is that B&N is limited to book sales. Amazon ...

      @admiraljkb ... sells everything. The Kindle Fire is a marketing tool and we all know it. Whether you are an Amazon customer or not, the Kindle Fire is an inexpensive tablet for those who do not need the extra stuff that comes with the iPad for $499.
      M Wagner
  • RE: Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet: Not quite as open as we thought

    Well, so much for the Nook Tablet.
    • RE: Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet: Not quite as open as we thought

      @Playdrv4me <br>Yup.

      edit: Barnes and Noble does not have the applications to make a serious case for itself. If it wants to be a tablet, it needs more than just media content, it needs better services. Google services would be a good start... but if they think there's a market for another cloud music and video shop, I don't know. The competition is now light years ahead.
  • e-Pub Authors

    I'm an author using e-Pub only, I have to upload two different versions of every MOBI for create-space..the other HTML for Lulu...BUT e-Books are the future, and a Great thing for Humanity itself...Where do I OCCUPY for freedom of the press and literature....Shame that $$$ slows down the education of our children.
    • Re: e-Pub Author

      I think it's awesome that eReading has become the war it is. Thinking back to the 90's and video everything, I never imagined companies would be fighting over the 7" tablet/eReader market. I got a Nook Color a month ago and am running CyanogenMod 7.1 using the B&N app and am reading the most I've ever read in about 20 years (almost thru my 3rd 400 page book since I bought it).

      There is yet hope our minds won't go completely to mush.
  • taking mine back

    Bought a Nook tablet yesterday, and noticed only 1gb storage, but hadn't gotten around to delving in. And now I won't. As soon as I gather all the contents of the box, it's going back to the store.
    • RE: Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet: Not quite as open as we thought

      ditto, I will give the B&N folks a chance to respond to this article but if I'm not satisfied it's going back. Probable alternative will be the Lenovo Ideapad A-1 for $200.