April 28, 2011

With Apps, The NOOK Color Is Now A Smart Hybrid

Monday's announcement that the Barnes & Noble NOOK Color had launched its application gallery was much anticipated, with leaks and rumors galore over the last few months, as industry watchers have been curious how the eReader would adapt to a world in between the single mindedness of a Kindle and the do-anything catch all of a full-fledged tablet device. Full disclosures up front, due to my role at my6sense, I've known the Barnes & Noble app plans for several months, and our app was included as one of the first to be included on launch day. But as a user who already owns an Android tablet in the Samsung Galaxy Tab and a pair of iPads besides, I was independently eager to get my hands on these apps, and I believe what has been delivered is a smartly curated, less intimidating way to bring the best features of Android to users who don't want to lose the comfort or familiarity of a device centered around reading.

My NOOK home screen with apps and the apps gallery

As was much covered by the mainstream technology press, the NOOK Color app gallery features more than 100 select applications across a broad reach of categories, with an emphasis on those that would be in high demand by the most active readers. For us, it made sense that those reading books might also want to read and engage with their social and news streams. For others, the option to bring to-do lists, email, comic book apps and more make sense in the intuitive seven-inch form factor. And yes, everybody loves games, and if a device has a screen these days, you know Angry Birds is there.

NOOK Color Apps for Sale

Much like Apple's iTunes store, the app store on the NOOK Color adds applications to a marketplace already designed for more traditional entertainment goods. Instead of music and video titles, magazines, newspapers and books are the headliner, with apps likely to play an increasing role over time. Without a full-fledged Android Market, with hundreds of thousands of apps, every app on the NOOK has a chance to be found, and its not amateur hour. Each app was planned for inclusion well in advance and carries the implied support of the NOOK team.

For Android users, the visibility of apps like Pulse, Epicurious and QuickOffice is comfortably familiar. Other titles have never crossed my radar. The addition of a standard email client that supports multiple accounts is also very welcome, eliminating yet another need for multiple devices when I can just close the page on a book (or close an app) and pull up email to both read and send messages, synced with your cloud server. With little fanfare, the NOOK has always also had the option to support your own media, including music files and photos as well, for a light multimedia experience.

Composing and Reading Email on the NOOK Color

Those calling for the NOOK to become even more of a full-fledged tablet are trying to make it something it's not really aimed to be - no more than the iPod is trying to be an iPad. The single homescreen button and lacking hard-wired buttons for "Back" and "Menu", common on Android smartphones, takes some getting used to, but functionality to navigate one's library, content and the store is very easy to pick up. The apps each are intuitive, and if they assume back and menu buttons, as ours has, you can emulate that in software.

I see the NOOK as a serious hybrid. It's both an eReader and a tablet, but like the Prius, it's not going to beat a Porsche in a speed test for going 0-60. It just quietly does its job, has an amazing battery life, and brings the features you would expect. While the app store is only a few days old, I've already seen my interaction with the device change, transforming from one of passivity, mostly consuming content, to a more engaged role, creating emails, and interacting with new apps.

Disclosures: As noted above, my6sense, where I am VP of Marketing, is a launch partner with Barnes & Noble for their app store.