Will Barnes & Noble and Nook usher in a $199 Windows Metro tablet?

Will Barnes & Noble and Nook usher in a $199 Windows Metro tablet?

Summary: The resolution of the litigation between Barnes & Noble and Microsoft has resulted in a $300M partnership. Will it produce an entirely new class of mobile Windows device?

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The big news today is that Microsoft and Barnes & Noble have buried their respective litigious hatchets and as a result, Microsoft is going to invest in a $300M spin-off of B&N which is to include their NOOK products division as well as the company's higher education business.

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Part of the nature of this spin-off, currently called "NewCo" is to produce an e-reader application written for the Windows 8 Metro interface, which will be used on new tablets and PCs running on the x86 and ARM architectures.

But what about e-reader and Nook Tablet devices themselves, running on a Metro-enabled version of Windows?

Back in November I speculated about the possibility of 7", $199.00 tablets running the Windows Phone OS to compete with Amazon's Kindle Fire.

At the time, I felt that Microsoft had missed a huge opportunity in the 7" form factor, since they had an OS for the ARM architecture pretty much ready to go, with a app ecosystem developing for it well underway.

However, Microsoft along with this new joint venture with Barnes & Noble could very well make a run for Amazon's low-end tablet aspirations.

The question remains, however, if the price points could be kept agressive to compete realistically with Kindle Fire, if Microsoft and B&N can present a value-add that is comparable to what Amazon brings to the table with Prime, and if a sufficient amount of exploitive apps for Metro using a 7" form factor and corresponding screen resolution could be built quickly enough.

One of the reasons why NOOKTablet could remain relatively competitive with Kindle Fire was its use of the Android operating system, which did not require licensing. If the next-generation product is to be based on some version of Metro-enabled Windows, there is the issue of additional licensing cost for the OS that has to be built into the bill of materials for each device.

However, as Microsoft will be a partner in this new NOOK joint venture, one would presume that these licensing terms might be more generous than what the average Windows Phone or Windows 8 OEM is going to receive.

Beyond the licensing there is of course the adaptation and software fragmentation issues that currently plague Android that Windows 7 Phone OS is currently immune to. If a 7" form factor device is to be built, and it ends up running the next generation of Windows Phone OS (codenamed "Apollo") then it would have to support a higher screen resolution.

One of the reasons why Windows Phone 7 was never licensed to OEMs for anything other than producing smartphones was that they only supported a single screen resolution.

Back in February, my colleague, Mary Jo Foley, published a list of possible features that "Apollo" might support, based on information leaked from various sources on the Internet.

The first five features, namely support for multiple processors, support for multiple screen resolutions, removable MicroSD card support, and inclusion of the Windows Core elements would seem to be essential for building a 7" tablet device.

While it has been widely reported that the first "Apollo" phones will be out in Q4 2012, we don't know if all of these features are actually going to appear in the finished OS.

The other possibility is to build the device on Windows RT, the ARM-based OS derivative of the full-blown Windows 8, formerly referred to as "Windows on ARM".

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While this OS is relatively closer to completion -- the first Windows RT devices are likely to appear around the fall of 2012 -- it would require more far more tweaking and likely require the creation of a special Windows SKU to build a 7" tablet for Barnes & Noble's new subsidiary.

Why? Well, the minimum specs for a Metro UI with snap support on Windows 8 is a screen resolution of 1366x768. While it is definitely doable to produce a 7" device with such a screen resolution, it might be overkill and blow the BOM out of the water and prohibiting a product to be manufactured at a $199.00 price point.

So the Windows RT OS would have to be modified to have a "snapless" GUI and run at a lower screen resolution -- making it something of an inbred offshoot of Windows RT and Windows "Apollo". And of course, you'd have to rip out the "Desktop" along with the integrated Office apps which would add licensing cost, and which wouldn't work particularly well on such a small screen anyway.

All of which would introduce developer fragmentation, and a third Windows mobile SKU which nobody wants, especially Microsoft.

So all roads seem to lead to an "Apollo" based NOOK ereader tablet. When and if such a product actually emerges will be interesting to see, although we are probably looking at a six to eight month product development to launch time frame, at the bare minimum, in which case it will end up competing with Amazon's next-generation Kindle Fire.

Would you buy a $199 Windows Metro-based NOOK tablet? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Laptops, Hardware, Mobility, Operating Systems, Software, Tablets, Windows

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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59 comments
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  • This was the deal the whole time.

    If all the information is correct. The lawsuit was because B&N backed out of the deal. Now the settlement look like more of Microsoft's Anti-Competitive behavior is starting to surface again. It might be time to revisit Possible Anti-Trust penalties and give Microsoft some incentive to play by the rules...
    Jumpin Jack Flash
    • There is no anti-trust

      HAHAHAHA. They don't own any of the market, so what is anti-trust about it? What are they going to do, take away B&N's Office suite? Its obvious B&N had a contract. Its no different than if you decided to break your lease. You either pay to leave or pay to stay.

      Doesn't mean these have any chance in heck. Metro is awesome, probably the best UI out there in a long time, but it doesn't sell the promise of geek awesomeness or zen awesomeness that Android and iOS do, so there is no chance for Windows Metro.
      A Gray
      • I just find it kind of ugly. My honest reaction whenever I see

        a Metro UI is ugh. It's kind of clunky looking colored boxes. But as I always say to each their own it does not do anything for me. I do like the fact that MS choose too think different and while I'm not a fan of it's looks I hope it does well enough to be the strong third horse in this so far two horse reace between android and iOS. Good luck MS!

        Pagan jim
        James Quinn
      • And yet, James Quinn I believe the term is "to each their own"

        which would be logical as Steve Wozniak stated that [i]Just for looks and beauty I definitely favour the Windows Phone over Android," Compared to Android, there's no contest."

        Nokia Lumia 900 with a Windows 7 operating system "I'm just shocked, I haven't seen anything yet that isn't more beautiful than the other platforms," leading him to decide that he will be "carrying the Windows Phone everywhere."

        "[b]in my opinion it sets the mark for user interface," [/b]said Wozniak[/i]

        :|
        Tim Cook
      • At Mr. Spock

        and the rest of what Woz said...

        "Though Wozniak praised Windows Phone 7 for its superior visual appearance and more attractive operation cues, he made his allegiance to Apple clear by saying in a follow-up comment that the iPhone is still the number one phone in his heart."
        JeveSobs
      • Yeah, sure

        And it is funny that Metro isn't a new GUI at all, it is just a copy of old Unix GUI ;)

        The only difference is, a) you have bigger resolution than decades ago b) apps are limited to two simultaneous use c) It is now implemented by Microsoft so fans can celebrate it.

        So welcome to Unix world what have enjoyed Metro for decades! Finally you can be closer to Unix philosophy than trying to be away!
        Fri13
      • @JeveSobs

        "he made his allegiance to Apple clear"

        The word "duh" comes to mind here. That is expected, this: "Though Wozniak praised Windows Phone 7 for its superior visual appearance and more attractive operation cues", is not.
        Badgered
  • Minimum specs

    "So the Windows RT OS would have to be modified to have a snapless GUI and run at a lower screen resolution ."

    This statement is somewhat miss leading. Windows 8 already supports a "snapless" GUI. On screens with a resolution of less than 1366x768, the ability to snap an app is not available. Besides who would want to snap a GUI on a 7" screen anyway...
    Windows 8 or windows phone 8 (which are essentially the same OS) would both run great on a 7" tablet or Nook device....

    I'm excited about the possibilities....
    C#2010
    • I would

      I would cladly snap a two or three WP applications to screen what is 1024x600 or 1280x800. But now Microsoft in its great wisdom just chose to limit resolution to 1024x768 throwing all Netbooks out of the market (they want to sell new devices) and limiting it even to today standard resolution whole Metro GUI would allow to be used even much smaller resolution if it would just be flexible enough.
      Fri13
      • Obviously you don't understand how applications are built

        Applications are design to look good for a minimum screen resolution. When you limit the size then things start becoming ugly and non-functional. Going up in size is not the problem, it's going down that is an issue. Just try reducing the size of your web browser and see how this site reacts. I already know some devs that are pissed at the need to support snap just imagine if the needed to support all kind of weird screen sizes and resolution. If a web site has a hard time supporting a smaller screen size you can imagine how much work it would be to do it on a native app.
        RF68
    • How may?

      How many misses are you leading?
      PensivePeter
  • another possible reason

    By making this deal, microsoft avoids going to court on the pending android lawsuit. They may have been confident of winning, but there is always an element of doubt when you go to court. If microsoft had lost in court, it would have looked pretty bad for their licensing agreements with the rest of the android makers.
    normcf
  • I'm guessing itll be W8 embedded, thatll let them do whatever they want.

    Theyll be able to save cpu/ram vs a comparably performing android device. WinRT app support yes, screen resolution requirements no, guessing multiple size/resolution nooks will come out. Snap mode no, not all W8 devices have to have snap mode (eg next WP). No desktop, no office, probably have IE, Email, skydrive cloud roaming settings, integrated FB/twitter. WinRT app/store support yes, maybe limited to BN store. Should be able to hit $199 without any subsidizing, wouldnt be surprised to see $79-$99. PS have you picked up a Fire? It's an F'ing brick. A brick with no battery life. Very poor. That it's outsold all other android tablets combined in the us speaks volumes about the horrible state of android tablets today.
    Johnny Vegas
    • Why it Kindle works

      The reason Kindle works and sells is not because of the device, but because of the content that it can so easily access--it is a very convenient device.
      brickengraver
      • Plus...

        The device is cheep and you can read in the sun and charge it only once a month.
        RF68
      • ....

        No so much it is convient if your just an amzon shopper other wise it pretty much sucks as a tablet. The nook sucks until you port full on android to it then its not bad for the price.
        Fletchguy
  • Mass Win licenses for OEMs are cheap

    If an OEM is going to buy millions of licences, they are going to pay a lot, lot less for each than someone buying a full retail pack.
    Patanjali
    • So? Even at 90 percent off, it still costs more than "free"

      On a high-volume low-end device every dollar in cost has a dramatic effect on the price. Even at $20 a license, Windows would drive the price up much higher than equivalent Android units.
      terry flores
  • Like the Kindle...

    Barnes and Nobles doesn't need to make a profit with the Nook. The goal is to sell books, and perhaps other stuff down the road.
    The also would save on the ressources needed to maintain an OS.
    RF68
    • Not true

      Barnes and Noble no longer sells Nooks. The "NewCo" does. And the only books the NewCo owns are from the old textbook division of B&N, which was also spun out into NewCo.

      NewCo is going to have to make money all by itself. So will Barnes and Noble. This limits how much gamesmanship can go on with the pricing and where to recognize the profits.
      Robert Hahn