Analyzing Kindle vs Nook Color for developers and apps

The Kindle is supported by a fledgling Kindle App Store. There are 10 or so apps so far and they’re all games.

Today, B&N released the Nook Color SDK. This will let developers build apps for Nook Color (not for Nook) and also port over Android Apps.

Kindle vs Nook Color suddenly gets a whole new dimension. We’ve already reviewed Kindle vs Nook Color vs iPad and established they’re three different devices aimed at three different markets.

Let’s see what things developers should keep in mind when considering the Kindle and Nook Color as platforms. After that, let’s try to guess which will get better apps.

Kindle vs Nook Color – The opportunity for Apps

Pros and Cons of making Kindle Apps

Here are the reasons making Kindle Apps makes sense -

  1. There’s a captive audience of somewhere between 3 and 6 million. Perhaps another 1 million Kindles get added after Oprah’s Kindle recommendation on Monday.
  2. There’s little competition – Amazon is letting in apps slowly so you have few competitors.
  3. Amazon knows how to sell. You have to assume that if you make a good app it’ll sell well.
  4. Some of the apps released so far have done very well – Scrabble and Solitaire both spent a lot of time at the top of the charts.
  5. Electronic Arts must have found something for it to keep developing apps. It has now released 4 apps – If it wasn’t making money you’d think it’d stop after the first 1 or 2.

There definitely is an opportunity – We just don’t know exactly what it is and exactly how big it is.

Here are some of the things to keep in mind -

  1. Kindle owners are buying the device primarily for reading books. Apps are an add-on.
  2. Kindles use eInk and don’t support color or animation.
  3. You have to test on 4 devices – Kindle 3, Kindle 2, Kindle DX, Kindle DX 2. Kindle WiFi and Kindle 3 are similar enough that you can leave one out. Basically, you’ll be limited by the speed and processing power of the 1st Kindle DX and the Kindle 2 US version.
  4. No one knows any of the numbers involved – We don’t know how many Kindles have been sold and we don’t know how many Kindle Apps have been sold.
  5. It’s a completely separate SDK. It’s based on Java and it’s quite easy to learn – However, it’s still a completely new SDK.

It’d be good to hear some details from Amazon – Revealing sales figures for the successful apps would encourage more developers to jump in.

Pros and Cons of developing apps for the Nook Color

Here are the reasons making apps for Nook Color makes sense -

  1. Nook Color is meant for apps. B&N might say no – However, after playing around with it for a couple of weeks, let me assure you this thing needs apps like England needs the World Cup.
  2. There are estimates that Nook Color might sell 1 million units by end 2010. Sales are definitely good – as are reviews.
  3. At the start it’ll be a less competitive market.
  4. There’s just one device to develop for. This is hugely significant when you consider testing time and cost.
  5. Existing Android Apps can be ported over.

Nook Color is an App-Bereft Tablet and not a Reading Tablet. Additionally, it’s very well suited for apps due to having an IPS LCD touchscreen.

Things to keep in mind -

  1. There might just be 1 or 2 million Nooks at the time the store opens.
  2. At least 25% of users are going to root their Nook and get Android Apps for free. They are ruled out as customers.
  3. B&N wants to limit apps to reading related apps.
  4. There might be very strong Android tablet competitors arriving in 2011 which might slow down Nook Color sales.
  5. B&N is selling this as a reading tablet so 25% or so of the audience might not be interested in apps. That’s another 25% of customers lost on top of the 25% that root it.

Basically you’re looking at only 50% of Nook Color owners being potential customers for your apps. If Nook Color sells at a good pace it won’t matter – However, if sales are slow then the market is just too small.

The biggest challenge for B&N is that users are needed for developers to get interested but apps are needed for users to get interested in Nook Color. How are they going to get over this chicken and egg problem?

The Crux

Kindles are a huge market (relatively) but with the limitations of eInk and with users that might not be interested in apps. Nook Color, at the moment, is a small market but with users that will probably be interested in apps (at least 50% ought to be) and a device that has a LCD color touchscreen.

It’s a trade-off. It might not be a bad idea to make 1 or 2 apps for each and then pick the market that’s more fun to work in.

My Recommendation: If you’re an Android developer – make Nook Apps. If not, then start with Kindle App Store and then later try Nook App Store. Read all the terms carefully – There are things like bandwidth costs and a focus on reading related apps which you MUST keep in mind. Both stores are very clear about what kinds of apps they want and the market is, in both cases, full of people who are reading-oriented.

Kindle vs Nook Color – Which will get better Apps?

This might seem like a trick question. Isn’t the Nook Color going to get far better apps – It has color and a touchscreen.

However, the motivations for developers are varied -

  1. The market opportunity.
  2. How well they get treated.
  3. The challenge.
  4. The freedom they’re given.
  5. How good the Development Kit is and how easy it makes things.
  6. What the review process is like.
  7. What the users are like.
  8. A match between developers and users’ interests.
  9. The ethos and values of the App Store and the App Store company.
  10. How much fun it is. This is probably the key determinant.

So a developer is factoring in all these aspects and picking one or both app stores. And all along the way he’s fighting reality i.e. money, rules and regulations, deadlines, the need to eat food, etc.

Reasons Kindle might get better apps

There are actually a lot of reasons why Kindle might get the better apps -

  1. There’s probably going to be more money in Kindle Apps for at least the first 1 year.
  2. Kindle Apps have a head-start. The number of apps out might be small but developers have been working on apps since January and some partners like Electronic Arts from before January.
  3. Kindle users are buying apps.
  4. Kindle users don’t have a fall-back like Nook Color users do (the latter can root their Nook and use Android Apps).
  5. Amazon seems to have a good quality bar – None of the apps released so far have been terrible.
  6. There’s a pretty big challenge – Any developer who can make a good app on eInk is going to get a lot more satisfaction than on LCD. The challenge also forces developers to be a bit more creative.
  7. Developers are very invested. By making it a limited Beta, and making developers wait to get in, Amazon’s made it a bit of a prize to be developing Kindle apps. 

The biggest two things working in the Kindle’s favor are definitely the possibility of more money and the head start the Kindle App Store has.

Reasons Nook Color might get better apps

The first problem here is that there might not be that many developers willing to work on Nook apps. That’s B&N’s biggest challenge.

That being said there are still a lot of reasons Nook Color might have the better apps by end 2011 -

  1. There’s just one device. As a developer can’t explain to you how significant this is.
  2. You have color and animation and video and a pretty powerful processor and a decent amount of memory. Nook Color is good, solid hardware to work with. 
  3. B&N is not doing a limited beta. The benefits of a limited Beta are that developers who get in, especially those who wait and then get in, are very invested. The downside is that you can’t predict the winners so you might be keeping out hundreds of rock star apps.
  4. Android apps can be ported over easily. There’s a big, huge supply of apps available. All the Nook Color needs is one big hit and then hundreds of companies will start porting over their apps.
  5. Nook SDK is based on Android. There are a ton of developers who are very familiar with Android, and more importantly, love it.  
  6. Nook Color only has WiFi. This means developers never have to worry about wireless charges like they have to with the Kindle.
  7. B&N is fighting for its life. It’s going to give developers more leeway and it’s going to take bigger risks and that increases the chances of both great apps and great failures. 

Android Apps are the biggest potential wildcard – If one developer makes $500,000 in the Nook Color app store there will suddenly be 10,000 Android Apps being ported over.

The second huge wildcard for Nook Apps is that everyone gets a shot – Developers that no company in their right mind would pick for a ‘limited beta’ might be the one to make the ‘Angry Birds’ of the Nook App Store. Plus you need really bad apps to better highlight the really good apps.

My prediction – The first big hit on Nook Color will open the floodgates

There are tens of thousands of Android App Developers waiting to see how apps for the Nook Color do. The first big hit and they jump in. At that point two things happen -

  1. Nook Color pretty much bows out of the Reading Tablet category. The Apps will take over.
  2. Kindle App Store gets left behind but Amazon’s position in the eReader market grows stronger.

Kindle is not under threat from Nook App Store at the moment. The real threat will be if the Nook App Store takes off and then B&N opens it up to Nook 1 and releases a Nook 2 that works well with Apps.

My prediction: Kindle App Store will have better apps until 5 to 6 months after the first Nook App makes more than $250,000 in profit. After that the Nook App Store will become huge and hugely powerful. The Kindle will actually see a relative increase in sales as apps dilute Nook Color as a reading Tablet but eventually the upsurge in Nook Color Apps will trickle down to Nook 2 and Nook 1 and cause huge problems for Amazon.

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