Barnes & Noble is stepping up its competition with Amazon in the digital tablet space by adding support for hundreds of thousands of Android apps to its latest tablets. The somewhat surprising thing is that B&N is doing that by adding support for the Google Play Store to the NOOK HD and NOOK HD+.
While B&N has been releasing Android-based tablets since 2010, up until now all of the company’s NOOK hardware has run a modified version of Android with a custom user interface and access to the B&N Shop for digital books and apps.
Up until recently, you’ve had to root NOOK devices or install a custom ROM if you wanted access to the Google Play Store.
Giving up a little control over where customers are able to purchase their content could be a smart move. The NOOK HD and NOOK HD+ are 7 and 9 inch tablets with pretty great hardware and pretty great prices (starting at $199 and $269, respectively). But since the selection of apps available in the B&N Shop have paled in comparison to the number of apps available in the Amazon Appstore or Google Play Store, there hasn’t been a lot of reason to choose a B&N tablet over a competitor’s. Even if you’re a loyal B&N customer, you can always just install the NOOK app on a Nexus 7.
On the other hand, not only will users be able to download free and paid apps from the Play Store, but they’ll also be able to buy eBooks, rent or purchase videos, and buy music from Google Play. That means B&N will basically be installing a competitor’s book store side-by-side with its own book store app, making comparison shopping a little bit easier.
The move also means customers won’t be quite as tied into the B&N ecosystem. When it comes time to buy a new tablet in a few years, all of the apps you’ve purchased from the Play Store will be available on nearly any Android device you move to — and they’re already available on any Android phone. So you’ll be able to easily decide whether you want to buy hardware from B&N or another company.
That might actually be fine with the company — as long as you continue buying books from the NOOK store. After all, B&N doesn’t make a lot of profit by selling cheap eReaders and tablets. The goal is to convert those sales into customers for its digital media store.
On the other hand, now that the Play Store is available, there’s nothing stopping customers from installing the Amazon Kindle app and buying Kindle books on their NOOK.
Barnes & Noble will continue to offer its own app store, but any apps downloaded from that store will have a small n on their logo to make it clear which store they came from. This can come in handy if you’re trying to keep your apps up to date, since you won’t have to drive yourself crazy trying to figure out which store they’re associated with — this is something that periodically happens to me with apps I’ve downloaded from the Amazon Appstore on my non-Amazon phone.
A software update bringing the Play Store to the NOOK HD and HD+ should roll out to existing users soon. Folks who pick up a new tablet should have the latest software already installed. The update will also bring a few other Google apps and services including Gmail, Google Maps, and Google Chrome.
Interestingly, it looks like B&N may have also given the 7 inch model a spec bump. It used to ship with a 1.2 GHz TI OMAP 4460 dual-core processor, but the product page now says it has a faster 1.3 GHz TI OMAP 4470 dual-core chip.
The NOOK HD+ has a 1.5 GHz TI OMAP 4470 processor.
Unfortunately there are no plans to bring Google Play to the older NOOK Tablet and NOOK Color. You’ll have to do that yourself.