Technologizer

Barnes & Noble Puts Google’s Play Store and Apps on the Nook

The walled garden around the venerable bookseller's reading-centric tablets is coming down.

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Barnes & Noble

The walls around Barnes & Noble‘s Nook walled garden are tumbling down.

The company’s Nook HD and Nook HD+ are credible content-consumption tablets — remarkably credible, actually, considering that they come from a 127-year-old bookseller. But they sold so poorly over the holiday season that it raised questions about whether B&N would end up being forced to de-emphasize its hardware business in favor of selling content on other platforms.

The Nooks use Barnes & Noble’s own custom version of Android and provide its own stores for books, magazines, newspapers and apps. And therein lies an oft-raised argument against buying a Nook: the Barnes & Noble application store has had only 10,000 pieces of software — mostly for-pay ones — vs. the hundreds of thousands of choices in Google’s Google Play.

So with one fell swoop, in the form of a software update being rolled out today, B&N is eliminating that downside. It’s giving both Nooks the Google Play stores for apps, music, movies and books, plus key Google apps which the tablets have lacked until now: Chrome, Gmail and YouTube. (Google’s policies for its apps are an all-or-nothing proposition for device makers — if they want Google Play, they also have to pre-install Google’s apps.) New Nooks sold at Barnes & Noble’s bookstores and elsewhere will also carry the updated software.

The bottom line: if something’s available for Android, it’s now available for Nook, assuming it’s compatible from a technical standpoint. Among other things, that means you’ll be able to install Amazon’s Kindle app on a Nook and read books you’ve purchased from Amazon. For the first time, the notion of someone with a heavy investment in Kindle books buying a Nook doesn’t sound completely impractical.

Apps you bought from Barnes & Noble will be marked with an “n” label (for Nook). And if you’ve bought Google Play apps for another Android device, they’ll be downloaded to your Nook at no extra charge.

The arrival of the standard Android stores and apps doesn’t mean that the Nooks are becoming plain-vanilla, general-purpose Android devices. They still sport Barnes & Noble’s heavily-customized version of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, with a reading-centric home screen and B&N’s own services and apps for books, magazines, newspapers and video. (It hasn’t had a music store of its own.) The fact that the tablets don’t run Android 4.2 Jelly Bean, the latest version of the operating system, is largely moot: B&N has modified the software’s look and feel so much that it’s not readily apparent which flavor of Android its devices run.

Stephane Maes, vice president of product for Barnes & Noble, told me that the company will continue to operate its own application store. But with Google Play on its devices, it won’t be under pressure to be comprehensive. Instead, it can focus in on particular categories, such as high-quality kids’ software.

All of this adds up to one gigantic, gutsy gamble for Barnes & Noble. It’s been selling its tablets at dirt-cheap prices — $199 for the 7″ Nook HD, and $269 for the 9″ Nook HD+ — in hopes of turning an overall profit by selling content. Starting today, you could buy a new Google-ized Nook at the same price and buy all your content through Google’s stores rather than from Barnes & Noble.

Maes told me that the company understands the risk. But “we’ve done a lot of analysis,” he says, “and while we may lose some sales to Google, a rising tide carries all ships.” In other words, it hopes to sell a lot more Nooks, thereby giving it a lot more customers for its content. (And B&N’s own stores remain hardwired into the Nook interface in a way which Google Play will not be.)

I wasn’t even sure whether what Barnes & Noble is doing was technically possible on devices with interfaces that depart so sharply from standard Android. But it is, and it’s hard to see any reason why this isn’t good news for Nook owners and potential Nook owners. It also draws a sharper distinction between the Nook and Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets, which don’t have Google’s stores and offer no straightforward access to Google’s apps.

It’s way too early to know whether B&N’s gambit will help end the Nooks’ sales doldrums, but it’ll be fun to watch — and offhand, I can’t think of any other strategy with better odds of paying off.

Oh, and one odd side note. Microsoft is part owner of the Nook business, having invested $300 million in it. As part of its ongoing, Google-bashing “Scroogled” campaign,  the company is currently telling consumers that they should find Google Play’s policy of sharing users’ names, e-mail addresses and zip codes with developers of paid apps to be deeply unsettling. The whole campaign is a counter-productive embarrassment, and I can’t wait until Microsoft figures that out. But I wonder how the company feels about the fact that products it owns a piece of will be, um, Scroogling people?

[UPDATE: Droid Life reports that Google is in the process of rolling out a Google Wallet update which doesn’t share customers’ names and e-mail addresses with developers. Microsoft’s Scroogled campaign is still saying that it does, though — in fact, I just saw one of the ads on MSNBC.]

12 comments
dldorogi
dldorogi

How do you download this update?


dpritzos
dpritzos

Is it possible to get a Google play app to work on a older Nook Color?

LauraVanHook
LauraVanHook

i purchased a kindle on Sept 11, disappointed in it. 10/22/13 returned the Kindle and bought the NOOK HD- happy with it from the very first hour.  has google play +... about to get the "kindle app" for it as i have a large collection of amazon books that i have yet to read...Great Job Nook. Very happy with you barnes and noble :)

kjs215
kjs215

So, I'm still not clear. I want/need google play on my Nook tablet. How do I get it? I have been trying to download a "sync" but I can't till I have google play, and I can't get that. What can I do?

HerbSchoonover
HerbSchoonover

I just bought a Nook HD and I don't see the Google play app!  How do I update this thing?

valeriodaniela9
valeriodaniela9

Are they saying that if you buy a nook now, it will have google play? If they are, CURSE THEM! Why couldn they have thought of that before?!??!! I got a nook tablet supposely an e reader but you dont even get GOOD ebook for FREE. And it doesnt even hav ethe popular games teenagers and kids like. Such as temple run, subway surfers, sims freeplay, and happy jump. All the other people at school have iphones and apple tablet and have awesome apps. But then i look at my nook tablet and say: "this is lame!" I want to be able to get google play. I got my nook tablet for christmas. It was about 130 dollars or something. Why couldnt i get an i phone or any kind of phone close to an u phone for two hundred like my mom has?!!? But if they are not saying that nooks being sold now have google play, CURSE THEM ANYWAYS!!! They could have thought of making something like google play. How does google play make money? Um people get their apps but still most of them are free! And the nook tablet would have been the best thing ever as a fact and not opinion i fit was an ebook and a regular android tablet at the same time! Oh look im so smart. Barnes and noble should have thought of that. Tthinking what didngoogle play do to get money and do their buisness stuff. Thumb sup if you agree with me. WE NEED GOOGLE PLAY ON NOOKS! NOOK TABLET OR NOOK COLOR! WE NEED GOOGLE PLAY!!!

FreddyJason
FreddyJason

I think this is an attempt to save their business. They need someone powerful to keep them alive. Author of the 5-Star Business Networks Vivek Sood just mentioned on his blog that innovation is important and so is strategy. I think what B&N is doing is a very bold strategy to win people for the business

dfjdejulio
dfjdejulio

This only mentions the HD and the HD+... any details on the others?  Sometimes they get new stuff (eg. Netflix), and sometimes they don't.

tomsabella1
tomsabella1

I own a Nook and have been extremely frustrated with B & N approach of not granting access to the Google Play store. B & N is too late doing this for me as I bought a Google Nexus 7  to replace the Nook and find it a much better option than the Nook at the same price (I have given the Nook to my wife to do crossword puzzles on).   Not only did B & N lose me as a Nook user, I would never buy another thing from them do to their prior policy of blocking the Play store and  access to other content providers.

rkhalloran
rkhalloran

Are there any plans to make the Google Play Store available on the "legacy" Nook tablets like the Nook Color?

aelfwyne
aelfwyne

In regards to the sharing of "private" information on the Play Store with developers, that's no longer the case. The new developer console no longer shares that information. This change was made weeks ago. You should really be up to date on an industry you're writing about.

harrymccracken
harrymccracken moderator

Less than a month ago, Google acknowledged that Google Wallet does give this information to the developers of paid apps If they've since changed that, it's news to me. But to repeat myself, I think Microsoft's attack on the policy is silly.