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

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.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor

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 lavocado@sbcglobal.net


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