Amazon and Barnes & Noble may put the brakes to Android hacking

Android device makers have so far been tolerant of the homebrew community, but Amazon and Barnes & Noble may not have that luxury when the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet hit the stores.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor

Barnes & Noble made it clear at the launch event for its Nook Tablet that it has the Amazon Kindle Fire firmly in its sights. The tablets from the two companies are pushing media sales for both, and ratcheting up the ebook wars a notch. With so much on the line, and both companies depending on selling content to make a profit, will these be the first Android tablets that get locked down from hacking?

I recently wrote that the homebrew community was likely itching to get hold of both the Nook Tablet and the updated Nook Color announced yesterday. This community has hacked the original Nook Color since its release, and it has become a popular tablet to open up with homebrew software. B&N has ignored this activity as it didn't impact the bottom line, but that may not be the case with these new devices.

Neither company has verified that it is selling these tablets at a loss, but those familiar with how much these things cost to build believe that is so. Even if the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet aren't being sold at a loss, it is close to break-even at best. This means the entire business model for both companies is to sell the devices as a loss leader with the intention of making a profit from ongoing media sales.

Both companies are big in the ebook retail business, and are augmenting that with audio/video content deals too. B&N made a big deal out of Netflix and Hulu Plus integration on the Nook Tablet, and Amazon already has its video-on-demand service for Prime members. Because of these add-ons to make the business viable, there are contracts in place with third party content providers.

These contracts may play into how Amazon and B&N deal with those hacking the tablets, as content providers are very intolerant when it comes to homebrew and hacking. They want devices locked down to prevent unauthorized users from accessing the content.

What we may see when the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet hit the market is that the two companies behind them start locking the devices to stop rooting and software manipulation. The combination of depending on content sales for profitability and having to honor contractual obligations to third party content providers may be enough to put a stop to any hacking that occurs.

Neither company has stated it intends to lock these tablets down, but that doesn't mean they aren't considering it. If they do it will start a real battle with the homebrew community, which has managed to work with just about every Android-based device around. It will certainly get sticky, if it comes to locking down the tablets.

Don't forget that B&N will be offering free in-store support for the Nook Tablet. This is not the only new free service as Amazon is offering free book lending to Kindle owners. These are purely costs to the companies, and they may not like them accessed on devices that have been rooted and modified by owners.

Both Amazon and B&N are using forks of the Android code, and as a result will not be able to tap into Google's Android services like the Market. This will likely be something the homebrew efforts will want to address, so perhaps even Google will get involved at some point.

While Android device makers have been mostly willing to turn their backs to the homebrew happenings in the past, this may not be the case with Amazon and B&N due to the reasons noted. It will bear watching to see how this plays out when the devices hit buyers' hands.

Image credit: Flickr user zodman

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