June 26, 2013

Does Nook Still Have a Chance?

Yesterday Barnes & Noble announced it was shutting down color tablet manufacturing, a sign they were ceding the battle to other tablets such as the iPad, Nexus and Kindle Fire. CNET does a nice high-level breakdown of the problem the Nook faced leading to this decision.  One key thing that has bubbled to the top is that Barnes & Noble will work with third-party manufacturers.  It seemed while reading the original statement yesterday that these third parties would be licensing the Nook technology and perhaps form factor, re-badging with their own brand similar to what Asus does with the Nexus 7. Today however it seems they may be using those third parties to continue making the Nook tablets. If this is the case the brand would theoretically survive, at least for a while. My prediction is that the Nook brand will still die, and these third party manufacturers, if they do take over and continue the Nook, won't be able to do it for long, and won't have much success. The brand is dead, even if Barnes & Noble won't admit explicitly yet.

June 25, 2013

The Nook is Dead

Much has already been written about the Nook lowering their prices first for Mothers Day (Nook HD dropping from $199 to $149, HD+ from $269 to $179), then Fathers Day (Nook HD $129, HD+ $149). Plenty of people wondered if there was more to the story, such as if Barnes & Noble was planning anything further regarding their fledgling tablets.  Today that shoe was dropped as Barnes and Noble announced they were simultaneously killing off the Windows Nook program and their Nook tablets, instead opting to focus on their ereaders and open up their Nook tablet blueprints to allow others to license and create low-cost tablets using their mold.

First of all, this news isn't particularly surprising. It was really just a matter of waiting. To be fair: the Nook was a good attempt by Barnes and Noble to capitalize on a growing trend in their industry. It made sense. They should have been able to gain a substantial portion of this market, sharing it with Amazon if nothing else. As the two dominant physical book sellers they had every expectation of capturing the market. But their insistence, almost up to the end, of offering a "cultivated" experience (read: walled garden) left most users looking longingly at their friends with other tablets. The Nook, in all it's tablet configurations (including the Nook Color), was the tablet also-ran (and most would argue their strict ereaders are too). People flocked to Kindle's ereaders and tablets, as well as the iPad and the Nexus. But not the Nook. It simply didn't offer enough and couldn't compete. It was almost like Barnes and Noble didn't understand the actual wants and needs of the tablet market by continuing to offer a watered down experience.


Secondly, the Nook itself was never the top-tier player it needed to be and was always second fiddle to the Kindle in terms of the eReader experience and the iPad, Nexus and Kindle Fire in terms of being a tablet. It seemed that whenever the Nook wandered in to a new area and tried to make a name for itself it was overshadowed by the big boys. While the Nook Color was the first color reader/tablet, it didn't enjoy its moment in the sun for long. The Kindle Fire soon burst upon the market, almost instantly capturing more attention and affection. Nook tried to fight back with software upgrades, then dedicated tablet devices (Nook HD, Nook HD+) but still couldn't get the formula right. Add to this the fact that new spectacular devices like the Nexus 7 were introduced which did everything right and basically redefined what a top tier tablet should do, and the Nook fell farther behind. The introduction late last year of the iPad Mini meant that even Apple was moving onto its turf. And some would say the Nook's nosedive went into overdrive.

To be fair, they tried a late Hail Mary that probably would have worked a year or more ago: they opened up the Nook HD and HD+ to the full Android market. But it wasn't enough to stop the bleeding. There wasn't enough time to re-build fan devotion or gather new customers. It was over, and finally today Barnes and Noble announced they were pulling the plug.

My personal experience with Nook goes back to the Nook Color. While not explicitly being marketed as a tablet they did indeed mention the forthcoming apps and that you'd be able to do lots of things with it in addition to ereading. I picked it up, not yet having the options of the Kindle or Nexus 7. The initial experience was good mainly because of the lack of competition. But as time went on, the lack of good apps and Barnes and Noble's frustrating walled garden approach left me wanting more. Much more. I contacted representatives who told me it would open to the full Android market "very soon". That didn't happen.  It never happened. I ended up rooting the device (an easy root, using an N2A card) which gave me some satisfaction but ultimately introduced system instability and slowness as apps were upgraded and the hacked OS couldn't handle it.  In the end my Nook Color was abandoned, left sitting on a shelf while I eyed and eventually purchased an iPad Mini. It did everything I wanted out of the box, and had the full app store I would need for further customization and extensibility. All these were things the Nook needed. At the end they finally gave it to the Nook HD tablets, but it served as a cruel reward for a losing fight.  It was almost as if Barnes and Noble said to Nook, "You did good kid. Now here's us opening up your OS to the full Android market like we promised."

You can almost hear the Nook HD saying, "Gee thanks. Maybe a little sooner would have helped."