Barnes & Noble just revamped its Nook tablet with a specially tweaked Android makeover and a curated app store.
B&N is now promoting its Nook Color Android e-reader as the "best value tablet" on the market, after adding a custom layer of Android 2.2 Froyo to its dinky tablet, along with a curated app store and Adobe Flash capabilities in its browser. There are other tweaks too, like page-turn animations and even a social media friends app.
And as much as this might say about Barnes & Noble's table ambitions, more than anything else, the update offers clues about what Amazon may be planning for its next-gen Kindle.
Amazon's been planning an upgrade for its Kindle for a while--if you read between the lines--as a way to combat the high-end tablet threat represented by Apple's iPad. We speculated last week that in an Apple-dominated world, the Amazon Android Tablet would suffer difficulties, unless it could really achieve an incredibly low price. The Nook is already there, though, at $250, which is half the entry-level price of the iPad 2. For this price, the Nook Color offers a free email app, enhanced e-books for kids and adults with better multimedia, and a beta issue of the Nook Friends app (which lets you chat with like-minded readers, swap e-books, and find new texts to read based on recommendations). The curated app store contains apps like Angry Birds, news apps like Pulse, and Lonely Planet phrasebooks--not exactly the full Android marketplace experience, instead offering carefully chosen apps that are 100% compatible with the special Android overlay Barnes & Noble has created.
B&N has essentially done everything that we think Amazon may do in the future, although Amazon's already taken the step of launching a curated app store for Android apps to compete with Apple's App Store. America's biggest bricks-and-mortar bookseller is even launching a new ad campaign to promote its new Nook skills.
Is it enough, though, to pre-empt Amazon's hotly rumored attempt to own the entry-level tablet market? In late March, some statistics hinted the Nook had stolen around 50% of the non-Apple tablet market in the U.S., with the Color edition selling more than a million units over the holiday period. That sounds like a strong sales rate.
But though Amazon has always been shy of revealing absolute Kindle sales figures, we can speculate that if it does choose to launch a tablet PC of its own, using a very similar model to the Nook Color's, it could quickly sell many more tablets than B&N does. Amazon's ability to push its product to millions upon millions of its customers is impressive.