Nook e-readers and tablets have always been closely linked with Android. The operating system powers Nook tablets and is the basis for the software used by the company’s dedicated e-readers.
Recently, though, Nook’s parent company Barnes & Noble has been going through a difficult period, reporting net losses of $118.6 million (€90.4m/£78m) for the February to April quarter. This is more than double the loss recorded during the same period last year.
The difficulties being experienced by Barnes & Noble has lead to some speculation that the company could change course with Nook, or possibly withdraw the product line altogether. Barnes & Noble has since made it clear that it will continue to develop e-ink readers in house, but seek a partnership with a consumer electronics company for future tablet releases.
Unlike Amazon’s Kindle, Nook uses the open EPUB format for its ebooks. This means that books bought from Nook’s digital store can also be read on rival e-readers, such as those made by Kobo.
So whilst the current range of Nook e-readers and tablets is heavily reliant on Android, the company could use an alternative operating system for future devices. The software that powers Kobo’s dedicated e-readers, for example, is based on Linux.
Now few expect the next range of Nook e-ink e-readers to be based on anything other than Android. Moving to another platform would offer few – if any – benefits and would require extra resources to be dedicated to software development at a time when money is tight.
Future Nook tablets are a different story, though. In declaring their aim to partner with a third party manufacturer, the company left a lot of question unanswered.
Having developed a distinctive user interface and app store, Nook tablets offered a very different experience to other Android-based rivals. But the strategy of remaining separate from the main Android ecosystem appears to have come to an end, with the announcement back in May that the Nook HD and Nook HD+ were to gain access to the Google Play store.
Opening up the Nook HD and Nook HD+ to the wider Android ecosystem has paved the way for the company to work with a third party on the release of future tablets. It is now quite conceivable that Nook branding could appear on a future Acer tablet, for instance, running a version of Android with minimal modifications to the stock ROM.
Of course, the Nook Android app would need to come pre-installed, although few other software changes would be necessary. In fact, a more standardised version of Android would make the process of providing technical support more straightforward.
It is possible that future tablets may even be co-branded – Nook by Acer, for example. Whichever manufacturer Nook partners with would then benefit from Barnes & Noble’s marketing efforts, whilst the bookseller wouldn’t be burdened with the costs of developing new hardware.
It is true that Microsoft owns 17% of Nook and probably isn’t overjoyed by the company’s reliance on a rival operating system. There is little that Microsoft can offer as an alternative, though. The prospect of some kind of Window-based e-reader tablet appears fanciful at the moment, particularly in the wake of struggles to shift stock of the Surface.
An iOS-based device is even more of a crazy idea, given Apple’s focus on its own digital content stores. Alternatives such as Ubuntu Touch aren’t currently an option either, as they would require even more development and resources than Nook has had to invest in its Android tablets.
There simply aren’t any other credible options on the table. By seeking to work with a third party manufacturer on future tablets, Nook has effectively reaffirmed its commitment to Android.