Will Nook Color owners read Kindle Books?

The Kindle has to watch out for the Nook Color. It’s a pretty impressive Reading Tablet – not to mention the only reading tablet.

However, there’s a silver lining. Nook Color is easy to root, and it has a very good browser. That means there are two entry points for Kindle Books to worm their way on to the Nook Color.

Two ways Nook Color owners can choose Kindle Books

Interestingly, two of the Nook Color’s strengths make it vulnerable –

  1. It has a surprisingly usable browser. That means when Kindle for the Web debuts, Nook Color owners will be able to access Kindle Books easily.
  2. Nook Color can be rooted to work as an Android Tablet. The developers at Nook Devs have already made it reasonably easy to root your Nook Color. If you’re a little tech savvy, and willing to risk your warranty, you can turn Nook Color into an Android Tablet. At that point, you have access to Kindle for Android.

So the only question left is – Will Nook Color owners take advantage of this? Will some significant portion of Nook Colors be turned into Kindle clones?

Actually, there’s a rather interesting answer.

Rooting your Nook Color is rather overwhelming

Note: This was just experimentation to see what it’s like, to try and root Nook Color. Not saying it’s OK to root the Nook Color, and based on my experience – definitely not recommending it.

There are some problems with the process of turning the Nook Color into an Android tablet –

  1. The process is not straightforward. You need a SD card reader to get things to work. You have to download files, and the process on Windows require a special software, which lets you write an image to a microSD card.
  2. You risk your warranty. The Nook Devs team has a notice up warning you of everything that could possibly go wrong. Most users will run away when they see that notice.
  3. You have to undo things, to get future versions of the Nook firmware. Which means that when B&N sends out a version of Nook Color firmware that introduces the Nook App Store, or a version with fixes and features, you have to re-do the whole rooting thing. Can’t see users going through the process multiple times – For users who are not tech savvy, it’ll be a nightmare.
  4. The rooted system is not at all suitable for non-technical users. You get lots of good options, but it’s very confusing. Things like superuser settings will short-circuit most users’ brain cells.
  5. It’s not easy or straightforward after you’ve rooted your Nook Color. It’s taking two completely separate design philosophies, and two completely separate product philosophies, and trying to integrate them.

There are also problems when using Kindle for Android –

  1. It hasn’t been optimized for Nook Color.
  2. It’s just a strange experience – Kindle for Android is a bit awkward, perhaps due to the way apps work on rooted Nook Colors.
  3. There’s a security issue. Who knows what information the rooted Nook is sending to whom?
  4. What about legal issues – Aren’t users agreeing to some contract when they buy a Nook Color? Perhaps the contract includes something about not hacking your Nook Color, or something about not using the Kindle Store.
  5. Android is just a different world. Users who are used to protected ecosystems, like the ones Apple and Amazon and B&N have, will struggle mightily. 

These two sets of problems stack up, and make using Kindle for Android on Nook Color a rather painful experience.

Rooting Nook Color and using Kindle for Android doesn’t cut it

At the moment it just isn’t easy enough, or good enough – plus the end result is far from satisfactory.

We can split users into two categories –

  1. Those who buy a Nook Color to root it, and run it as an Android Tablet. Perhaps 20% of total sales.
  2. Those who buy a Nook Color as a Reading Tablet.

Less than 5% of the latter will root their Nook Colors. B&N is not going to lose its target customers to Kindle for Android. People who buy Nook Color for its potential as an Android Tablet, were never customers. They were probably going to get another Android Tablet, and run Kindle for Android on it. This way, at least B&N is selling more Nook Colors, and might be able to hit economies of scale earlier.

The danger of Nook Color being rooted on a massive scale just doesn’t exist for people who buy Nook Color as a reading tablet.

Kindle for Web is the sole remaining threat

At the moment, Kindle for Web isn’t out, and we don’t know what it’ll be like to read Kindle books in the Nook Color’s browser. However, we can make a few safe guesses –

  1. Nook Color’s browser is very usable – Which suggests that a decent experience might be possible.
  2. B&N might disable some functionality in the browser, such as changing brightness, and thus hamper the ‘reading in the browser’ experience.
  3. B&N could simply lock out Amazon’s servers.
  4. Amazon is going to have a very tough time creating a reading experience in the browser that’s comparable to the reading experience in the Nook Color’s in-built book reader.
  5. The difference in ebook prices between Kindle, Nook, and Kobo stores, isn’t enough to justify choosing the browser reading experience if it’s significantly worse than the reading experience provided by the Nook Color’s in-built software (which does a really good job).
  6. With browser-based reading, you can’t really get the ‘your books are on the Nook Color’ experience, which you do get with the in-built reading software. That sense of ownership is lost. B&N could very easily limit the number of files that can be cached in the browser, and thereby severely limit the ability of browser-based Kindle books to have an impact.
  7. Are people really going to switch over to a PC-like, ‘reading in your browser’ experience? The whole ‘reading in the browser’ experience is contrary to the crux of reading devices. We want a device built from the ground up for reading – The browser isn’t built for reading.

Basically, the ‘Kindle Books in the Nook Color browser’ experience will be only 60% to 70% as enjoyable as reading Nook Books using the in-built reading software. For 5% to 10% of people that’ll be enough – For everyone else, it won’t.

A grand total of 10% of Nook Color owners are under threat

Let’s say 80% of the people who buy a Nook Color, are buying it because they want a reading tablet. Less than 10% of those 80% will go for Kindle books. The rest will either be very wary of hacking their $249 Nook Color, or they will not be satisfied by the degraded reading experience the Nook Color’s browser provides for Kindle books.

The other 20% are immaterial – They are simply looking for a cheap Android Tablet. They wouldn’t buy the Nook Color if it couldn’t be rooted, and they aren’t really B&N’s target demographic.

B&N will still have 72% of Nook Color owners buying books from the Nook Store. In effect, they will lose a minuscule 8%. That’s a very small figure – It’s not even worth B&N’s time to block hacks. B&N could simply focus on the 72% of Nook Color owners who are good customers, and make a lot of money by selling those good customers Nook Books and Nook Color Reading Tablets.

The default reading software on the Nook Color is almost perfect (talking about the software features and polish), and there’s little danger to B&N at the moment. Nook Color’s strengths open up areas of attack, and those attacks aren’t a serious threat because of Nook Color’s other strengths.

Nook Color impresses me more and more every day. The Kindle Tablet has changed from a nice-to-have, for Amazon, to an absolute must-have – unless Amazon doesn’t mind ceding 80% of the casual reader market to B&N.