In a move that widely increases the functionality of its Nook HD and Nook HD+ tablets, Barnes & Noble has added access to more than 700,000 applications as well as media content via Google Play (formerly the Android Market).
The 7-inch and 9-inch tablets will also gain access to such Google services as its Chrome browser, Gmail, YouTube, Google Search and Google Maps.
"Now with access to more than 700,000 apps and the best reading experience available, both are must-see products for entertainment lovers looking for high-quality tablets," Barnes & Noble chief executive officer William Lynch announced in a statement Friday (May 3).
What Took So Long?
Some analysts are calling it a bold move, while others say it was overdue.
"In the markets where Nook competes, the ecosystem is all important," Peter King, director of tablet and touchscreen strategies at Strategy Analytics, told us.
The nation's largest book retailer has been losing money on the Nook. In February, the company announced that it expects fiscal year 2013 to be worse for the segment than in fiscal 2012, with revenues of less than $3 billion.
In its report on the worldwide tablet market released Wednesday, IDC Research did not include Barnes & Noble in its top five tablet makers, which are (in order of market share) Apple, Samsung, Amazon, Asus and Microsoft . It is among the "others" that collectively hold 31 percent of the market. As tablet sales soar, Apple remains in the lead with its iPad, though the lead is slipping.
Accessing Google Play on the Nook will require an over-the-air update to a full Android operating system, rather than the forked version used by the Nook until now. In doing so, however, the company is undercutting its own sales of Barnes and Noble products, including e-books, applications and movies.
"Unforking Android is a tremendously gutsy move on Barnes & Noble's part," consumer devices analyst Avi Greengart of Current Analysis told us. "It fills a major hole and improves the Nook's value proposition significantly. However, it still isn't clear that consumers think of Barnes & Noble when they are shopping for a general-purpose tablet."
What Will Redmond Say?
Another analyst, Jeff Orr of ABI Research, said the move closer to Google was curious given Barnes & Noble's agreement last year to create a new subsidiary for the Nook and College bookstore division with a $300 million investment from Microsoft.
"This does not exactly sound like a strategy that the experienced software company from Washington state would have initiated," Orr said. "Rumors of a potential Windows 8-based tablet from Barnes & Noble remain a possibility, though [it will be] unlikely if the existing portfolio of devices [such as Microsoft's Surface] do not show increased promise."
In announcing the Android update, Barnes & Noble noted that Web browsing "continues to be among the most popular tablet activities," asserting that the Chrome browser will allow "fast start-up and page loading and an unlimited number of tabs open at once" as well as bookmarking pages to read on other devices running Chrome.