The Nook HD and HD+ got a great update late last night (via Engadget), as Barnes & Noble finally moved away from its closed and system-specific app and media ecosystem. The two Android tablets now offer Google Play, and new devices will ship with the app pre-loaded, while existing owners can get it via a software update over-the-air or via direct download.
Other changes with this update include the introduction of some stock Android apps, including Gmail, Maps and Chrome (which replaces the Nook’s existing web browser as the default option). Essentially, Barnes & Noble is turning the Nook HD line into a very cheap Android tablet play, and not in the limited way it was doing so before.
Where once the Nook brand was a reader first, with Android-powered full-color readers with some tablet functionality, now it looks like we’ll see Barnes & Noble embrace the tablet identity much more fully. Another sign that the book seller is banking on tablets as a much broader attempt at reaching customers is the fact that the Nook Tablet and Color don’t get the Play update, meaning we could see those left behind in terms of future hardware updates.
John took a look at the updated Nook HD+, and found it impressive, especially at $269, or a full $60 cheaper than the cheapest iPad (16GB Wi-Fi iPad mini). The problem, though, was summed up in John’s conclusion: the Nook HD+ is a great upgrade as a reader, but not necessarily a real tablet competitor. Opening up the broader Android software market place and its selection of tablet apps definitely helps to change that.
The Nook line could be the key to Barnes & Noble’s future, but right now it’s also a weight hanging around its neck, as slow sales of the Simple Touch e-reader prompted a fire sale to help move more HD+ inventory, and the Nook division lost cash in the most recent fiscal quarter. There’s still an opportunity for a cheap Android tablet to capture the hearts and minds of consumers, however, and Nook is now in a better position to capitalize on that now that its ecosystem wall has come down.