At the end of April, I read that the Nook Color was turning into an Android 2.2 device. Cool! I wanted a slip, cheap Android tablet. But in reality, calling the Nook an Android device is an embarrassment to Android devices everywhere.
Cast your mind back to when the Android 2.2 “Froyo” upgrade news went around. Among the headlines from Techmeme at the time, the lead item was a ZDnet piece that gave the impression the Nook was now an Android 2.2 tablet. From the story:
There’s no need to hack the Nook Color into an Android tablet anymore as B&N is giving out the power for free. The biggest feature found in the v1.2 firmware update is the inclusion of Android 2.2….
Speaking of familiar apps, there are plenty available in Nook Apps that we’ve seen elsewhere now optimized for this device, such as Pulse (as seen on the iPad), Epicurious, Lonely Planet phrasebooks, and of course, Angry Birds. (Let’s face it: no device that supports gaming apps could go without Angry Birds these days.
No need to hack the device, right? Because now it was Android 2.2 and it could run Android apps. Except, as I’ll get into, it doesn’t really run Android apps. It only runs Nook apps.
To be fair to ZDnet, it, like many of the other publications reporting on the news, did say that there was a special Nook app store that only had about 125 applications at launch. As for Barnes & Noble, it buries the news about the Nook Color being upgraded to Android 2.2 midway down in its release from the time.
If It’s Android, Android Is Buried Six Feet Under
The reality is that while the Nook might be Android 2.2 under the hood, there’s so much of the Nook’s own operating system layered above that the device has little to do with Android, in my opinion. It’s simply a Nook device, only able to run Nook apps — not Android apps — unless you want to hack it.
Consider if you decide to add more apps. You don’t get an Android market with thousands of apps but instead get routed to the walled garden of the Nook Apps area:
All The Apps You Can’t Use Elsewhere
Want Angry Birds, which the Nook press release talked about? There’s no free version, only a paid one:
I don’t mind buying apps, but if I’m going to buy an “Android” app, I’d like to use it on all my Android devices. But with the Nook, if you already own Angry Birds on another Android device, you won’t be able to use it. And if you buy the Nook version, that’s not going to work on your real Android devices.
Consider what happens if you go to Google’s Android Market on the web, to try and download and app for your Nook that way. Here’s me trying to put the Kindle on the Nook:
As you can see, I can’t send the app to the Nook because the Nook, despite supposedly being an Android 2.2 device, doesn’t register itself as such. In face, what’s the Nook Color really? The system settings screen makes it clear. Not Android 2.2 but rather a Nook 1.2 device.
Kindle On The Nook?
Now am I crazy to want to run Kindle on the Nook? When I returned my Nook, the salesperson seemed to find it weird. But me, I wanted a lightweight, inexpensive, touchscreen backlit device to read my Kindle books. Amazon’s own Kindle isn’t touchscreen or backlist. My iPad is often too heavy to hold comfortable. The Nook seemed a good fit. But in the end, I discovered it had little to do with Android.
Maybe Barnes & Noble will bring out a real Android-version of the Nook during its announcement next week. Maybe Amazon will turn release its own Android-powered Kindle device later this year, as reports suggest. In either case, if these devices will be called “Android” by the press, I think we need to set some minimum requirements for that.
At the very least, the device should be able to run any of the thousands of applications that would typically run on an Android device. Having its own app store with a tiny subset of apps that can’t be used on real Android devices is a sign it’s not really Android.