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.