Barnes and Noble has just released new firmware for the Nook e-reader, and it's no run-of-the-mill tweak--it adds in some neat extra functionality including a browser. Better yet, there's a clever trick to get you back into the real bookstores.
The new software is version 1.3, and it's out now. The obvious performance tweaks are still there of course, and B&N promise that it has boosted the Wi-Fi connectivity of the device. On the strength of the improved Wi-Fi powers, there's a browser (in beta version) which brings the Nook up to the same sort of level of capability as the industry-leading Kindle.
But of course the Nook boasts that small color LCD screen at the bottom, running a customized installation of Google Android OS, and B&N's update also brings the devices first Android apps into play--they're nothing particularly astonishing, but they'll be welcome to Nook owners all the same: Games, folks, games like chess or sudoku. Its also an indication of how the platform may evolve in the future.
The best feature however, is a surprising one: If you're a Nook owner you can now pop into a bricks and mortar B&N store, connect up to the proprietary Wi-Fi and dial through to the "Read in Store" function which lets you read the complete contents of a book you don't yet own, including some periodicals. The "More in Store" function looks like you may even be able to access unique content. It only works for an hour a day, but it's a clever trick to entice the public into bookstores--something you may imagine is tricky in our increasingly digital age. We're not sure exactly what B&N expects you to do while you're in there, except possibly sip a latte in the stores that serve up coffee, chat to other patrons, and maybe discover a new book or two while you're there that may even encourage you to buy the full e-book copy.
Wait a minute--yes we do know what B&N is after: The exact same sort of thing you'd do in a bookstore if you were buying old-fashioned physical books. It's an experience Amazon just can't compete with. This isn't a maneuver that will necessarily save the e-reader as a genre of device (I'm still convinced multi-purpose tablet PCs will quickly usurp their e-publishing crown,) and anyway, it's possible that a Nook app, running on an iPad perhaps, would be able to do the same trick. But it does reinsert the bookstore into the digital publishing equation.
Nook owners can grab the 1.3 firmware now by clicking "Check for new B&N content" under the "My Library" tag, or wait for the device to update automatically.