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.

Kindle, Nook Color, and value for money

The Kindle at $189 is great value for money – you get free 3G Internet, 3G and WiFi, the new eInk Pearl screen, free public domain books, cheap ebooks (sometimes), text to speech, and a lot more.

The Nook Color at $249 is also great value for money – you get an IPS LCD color touchscreen, you get a great browser, you get a cheap Android Tablet if you’re willing to root the Nook Color, you get ebook lending (which Kindle is supposed to add soon), and you get support for library books.

Let’s start by looking at the concept of value for money itself.

What is ‘value for money’ – as applied to eReaders and reading devices?

When we talk about the ‘value for money’ an eReader provides we instantly jump into a mixture of hard to quantify things –

  1. There’s a component of what we’re paying for the eReader, and what we feel the eReader is worth. The looks, the build, the features, the coolness, and the feeling of ownership. 
  2. There’s a component of whether or not we’ll save on books, because of the eReader.
  3. There are features that are core and add value – portability, similarity to reading a book, an ability to help us focus on reading.
  4. There are features that will provide additional value for money – features such as text to speech, and ebook lending.
  5. There are add-ons that might provide value – such as an in-built store, and the convenience it offers.
  6. There might be a big, huge bonus like free Internet access.
  7. There might be ‘the ability to do more than one thing’ which is generally assumed to provide extra value. It’s an interesting equation – Reading has x value, ‘things other than reading’ have y value. You add them up, and you get more value than a device that only allows reading – provided the price is similar.

There are a myriad of things that add up to one abstract quality – ‘value for money’.

How much value do we get for the money we spend? 

If the abstractness weren’t enough of a challenge, we also have the fact that different people ‘value’ different things, and come in with different expectations.

Value for Money is different for different people

Let’s say Harry reads mostly at home, and has WiFi, and reads mostly at night. Sally, on the other hand, reads mostly at lunch-time, on her commute, and at the beach, and almost always during the day.

Things that Harry will value, and Sally will probably find irrelevant include –

  1. WiFi support.
  2. Backlight or Reading Light.
  3. Ability to adjust the brightness of the screen easily.

Things that Sally will value, and Harry will find probably irrelevant, include –

  1. Readability in sunlight and bright light.
  2. Portability.
  3. Stability and steadiness.
  4. 3G support to get books anywhere.
  5. Free 3G Internet.
  6. Resistance to water and sand.
  7. A tracking feature in case the eReader gets lost.

If Harry met Sally, and they started having a rather inappropriate conversation in a cafe, about the value for money each eReader provides, they would find themselves quite lost.

For Harry, the ability to read in sunlight is completely worthless. Yet, he hears her say – This feature is priceless. He’s almost embarrassed Sally would claim such a thing in public.

For Sally, reading at night doesn’t really have any value. For her, an eReader that is great for reading at night, is providing zero additional value over one that can’t be read without external light.

So, we just took an intangible, hard to quantify thing like value for money, and added a little twist – Not only is it hard to quantify, the method of quantification varies from person to person.

What value for money does Kindle provide?

Well, these are all things that might or might not classify as value for you –

  1. You get an eReader with some good technology – the new eInk Pearl screen, fast page turns, etc.
  2. Portability, Compactness, and Lightness.
  3. Ability to carry thousands of books in one device.
  4. Ability to change the font size, and to have the book read to you.
  5. Ability to read in bright sunlight.
  6. Free 3G store browsing and 60 second book downloads in the US, and in 100 countries around the world.
  7. The Best eBook Store.
  8. Millions of public domain books for free from Internet Archive. 20,000 or so from Kindle Store.
  9. Free Internet browsing in the US and, for US Kindle owners, in 100+ countries around the world.
  10. Free Kindle Reading Apps so you can read your ebooks on a range of devices.
  11. WhisperNet services that sync your place in a book across all devices you read on.
  12. An experience very similar to reading a paper book.

There are definitely other features that add value – incredible battery life, customer service, a good return policy, liberal return policy on ebooks, and so forth.

Amazon does a very good job of taking 3 domains – the eReader, the eBook Store, infrastructure and supporting services – and delivering good, solid value across all three. It’s now exploring a fourth domain with the Kindle App store – Kindle apps might end up providing a lot of value for money too.

What value for money does Nook Color provide?

Nook Color also has quite a few value-add things going for it –

  1. It’s a reading-focused tablet, and is also pretty good for a few other things – surfing the net, looking at photos, reading magazines, children’s books, etc.
  2. Nook Color has a color touchscreen with resolution as good as the Kindle’s (i.e. much better than iPad’s screen resolution), and is IPS LCD. It’s a quality screen to get in a $249 device.
  3. It has a decent store to back it up.
  4. It has access to a lot of free public domain books – Google Books, Internet Archive, etc.
  5. It supports ePub and thus you can get books from any eBook store – except Kindle Store.
  6. Support for ePub also lets you use library books.
  7. It can be rooted to run as an Android Tablet. You can also set it up such that you can choose between operating systems – Your choice of Reading Tablet or Android Tablet.
  8. B&N has begun to catch up with Amazon in terms of providing reading apps for other devices, and services such as syncing.
  9. B&N provides a bunch of in-store benefits – real people to talk to in person, read any book for free for up to an hour per day, offers.
  10. Nook Color has a lending feature. It even has a LendMe app which lets you check what books your friends have available for lending.
  11. Nook Color has a very good music player that lets you create playlists and play music exactly how you want to.
  12. A LCD screen means benefits like reading at night, instantaneous page turns, and no ghosting.

On top of these, Nook Color provides additional benefits – password protection on purchases, Pandora music streaming in the US, a photo gallery app, and so forth.

Nook Color does a very good job on two critical dimensions – device and store. It’s beginning to add value in a third critical dimension – infrastructure and support services. Like Amazon, it’s trying to add value via a fourth dimension – apps. The Nook App Store hasn’t launched yet, so it’s a little behind Kindle in this area.

The competition to provide more value for money

The Kindle and the Nook Color are very different devices, that are trying to cater to two intersecting groups of customers.

The Kindle aims to be everyone’s reading device. It is, however, focused on reading.

The Kindle provides a lot of value to travellers, people who read a lot, people who read in long stretches, people who read everywhere, those without WiFi at home, those who like audiobooks or have low vision, it’s great for people with arthritis or weak hands. It’s a long, long list – you’ll have to figure out whether the value Kindle provides, is what you value.

Nook Color aims to be a reading tablet. A device that is great for reading, and can also be used for other things. It wants to expand reading from just books to websites, children’s books, magazines, and newspapers.

It’s perfect for people who like reading at night, or for those who have WiFi at home. It’s also great to have as your reading Tablet, provided you don’t care much about having 100,000 non-reading related apps. Nook Color is probably going to focus on reading, magazines, the Internet, and reading related apps.

The most pivotal customers might be those at the intersection of the Kindle and Nook Color’s target markets. People who read 1 or 2 books a month.

Kindle is trying, with the Kindle App Store and social features and reading apps, to become more of a Reading Plus Plus device. Nook Color is trying, with the help of its focus on reading related apps, to become more reading-oriented and less Tablet-oriented. B&N is trying to leverage software and apps to overcome the hardware advantages Kindle has for reading. At the same time, it’s leveraging the hardware advantages the Nook Color has to expand into all types of reading.

Readers who read 1 or 2 books a month will, in all likelihood, decide the future of eReaders. If they think Kindle provides more value for money, and pick it, then Kindle wins the eReader Wars. If not, the Reading Tablet gambit will have worked spectacularly.

A little worried about writing a Nook Color Review

The Kindle has always been the #1 eReader in my opinion. There was a tie between Kindle and Nook, before Nook came out, but then Nook turned out to be slow and buggy. There have been eReaders that have been close and there still are (Sony Reader Pocket Edition).

However, the Nook Color threatens to upend that.

Why the Nook Color has a shot at being a better ‘eReader’ than the Kindle

Have played around a lot with Nook Color, have finished Alice in Wonderland, and am about to finish Kraken by China ‘Agency Model’ Mieville.

Those two books have highlighted a few things –

  1. When a book is good – It’s not as big a difference in reading experience as you might imagine. There is a difference – But it’s easy to rationalize it away, because you have great Internet surfing, and color photos.
  2. For reading stretches of 30 to 60 minutes – The Nook Color is almost as good. It isn’t eInk, but there aren’t a million distractions, and it is, despite protests to the contrary, a reading tablet.
  3. The size is perfect. It’s a better screen size than Kindle, and the weight, while not ideal, is manageable. If you have weak hands – stick to the Kindle.
  4. Touch makes a difference. It makes a big difference when browsing the Internet, and it makes a bit of a difference when searching for books. Zero difference when reading books.
  5. Color makes a difference. Not for books – for everything else. It’s also a nice bonus to have your photos look marvellous on the Nook Color.
  6. Longer stretches of reading, especially at night, are a pain. Got a bit of a headache after spending 3 hours reading at night. The strange thing is that it’s OK. It’s still not like iPhone or iPad where it makes you want to stop reading on them completely. It’s almost like Nook Color is in between Kindle (zero headache) and iPad (noticeable headache).
  7. The loss of sleep part is true too – Just the act of reading at night means you’re not sleeping. Additionally, the backlight, even at 20% brightness, keeps you awake. However, even that is fine for some reason.
  8. It comes back to the quality of the book. All the 3-star books you read will be painful on Nook Color. On Kindle they’ll be fine. The 5-star books will be fine on either.

It’s a strange situation.

You’d never pick Nook Color over Kindle for reading, but you might pick it when buying

There’s this HUGE paradox.

If you owned both, and there was adequate lighting (or a Kindle Lighted Cover) you’d ALWAYS pick the Kindle for reading books.

At the same time, there’s just no way you could tell, when looking at them side by side for the first time, that the Kindle is better for reading, lets you focus on reading, and will get you to read more.

Nook Color is a salesman’s dream – Whether going up against Kindle or iPad.

For Kindle, it’s color, touch, memory card slots, and Android’s infinite promise of infinite something. For iPad, it’s half the price, easier to hold and carry, and more open.

No one is going to spend a month with each, and take the time to realize that Kindle is better for readers.

Nook Color is what the iPad was trying to be – when it comes to reading

You might argue that everything stated in favor of Nook Color, holds true for iPad. It doesn’t. Nook Color is a much better size, it’s slightly better for glare than iPad, it’s half the price, and it has MUCH better screen resolution.

It narrows the quality of reading experience gap between Kindle and Tablets. The ‘Reading Tablet’ really is a reading tablet.

It’s cognitive dissonance for me. Because the most straight-forward answer I could give would be –

  1. You’re going to look at Kindle and Nook Color side by side.
  2. You won’t know Kindle is better for reading.
  3. You’re likelier to buy Nook Color. You still won’t know Kindle is better for reading.
  4. You know what, the difference isn’t large enough for it to be a big deal.
  5. There won’t be much regret.

That last part, 4 and 5, is the one that should scare Amazon into action. With the iPad, people were soon running into regret – It’s too big, I’m not really reading on it, there are too many distractions, it’s not worth $500, reading is better on the Kindle.

A lot of that is gone with Nook Color. The only thing that remains is – Kindle is better for reading. The other sources of regret (price, size, weight, distractions) are gone.

Nook Color probably passes Mr. Bezos’ Regret Minimization Framework

Here are the things you might regret if you buy a Nook Color as a reading tablet –

  1. Can’t read it in bright sunlight. There’s some glare in bright lighting situations. 
  2. The reading experience isn’t as good as on the Kindle. 
  3. It’s on the heavy side.
  4. Your eyes get tired after an hour or so of reading on Nook Color – when there is noticeably less light around you, than coming from the screen.

Here are things you won’t regret, but would with an iPad –

  1. The price.
  2. The fact that you’re reading even less than you did earlier.
  3. None of the features are tailored to people who read.
  4. It’s too awkward to hold.
  5. It’s too heavy to hold. Nook is a bit heavy but manageable. Again, if you have weak hands – stay away.
  6. You have to use another company’s ebook store, and do the song and dance that entails i.e. shop in the browser, then read in the app.
  7. It’s just too big to carry everywhere with you. Not to mention it’s a huge security issue as everyone knows it’s $500.

To further minimize your regret we have a LOT of the benefits the iPad was touting –

  1. You can do more than just read. If you’re so inclined, and tech savvy, you can root it, and use it as an Android tablet.
  2. You can use ePub with it i.e. other eBook stores.
  3. You can use library books with it.
  4. Color. In fact, the screen resolution is much better than iPad. 
  5. Touch.

Missing out on the Kindle Store really sucks. However,

  1. If you root it, you have access to Kindle for Android.
  2. Nook Store is not bad – It’s quite close behind Kindle Store when it comes to selection and price.
  3. You don’t get Kindle Apps – But there’s a Nook App Store in the works.

That leaves us with our last big source of regret – The free 3G Internet, and store browsing, that Kindle provides. Nook Color only has WiFi. Add on international 3G store browsing, and free Internet (for US Kindle owners), and we have a big, real source of regret.

Consider the two things-you-will-regret lists. They total up to a considerably smaller list than the regret list if you choose iPad over Kindle. The fact that you can root Nook Color means you can have your cake and eat it too – A Reading Tablet with Kindle for Android.

Lab 126, we have a problem

This is what my assumption was on Day 1 with Nook Color –

  • If you read, get a Kindle. If you read rarely, get a Nook Color.

This is what it seemed to be after a week or two with Nook Color –

  • If you read 2 or more books a month, get a Kindle. If you read 1 or fewer books a month, get a Nook Color.

After 3 weeks, and actual reading in a variety of situations, this is what it might end up at –

  • It doesn’t really matter which one you get. You could get Kindle and have zero regret because of the free 3G, great eInk screen, great store, and great infrastructure. You could get Nook Color and have zero regret because of color, touch, the promise of Android, the fact that it is a reading tablet focused on reading, and ePub.

There’s a HUGE difference in the first and third assumptions/feelings. We’re effectively saying  – You could toss a coin and not go wrong.

Kindle vs Nook Color = Pick either. It’s not going to matter very much.

When two fight, a third wins

Add to the previous section, the fact that Apple’s Internal and External Marketing Departments have endlessly attacked the value proposition of dedicated eReaders. It means that most of the Kindle’s huge strengths (eInk, freedom from distractions, focus on reading) are undervalued.

We have people thinking Kindle is not that different from Tablets. The ones who buy an iPad realize it’s not as good for reading, and then they get a Kindle.

With Nook Color, at the time of buying it, people will still be under the impression that Kindle isn’t that much better than a reading tablet. Except, this time, it’s true – They won’t really have any reason to get a Kindle in addition to Nook Color.

Nook Color has managed to fill that imaginary void Apple’s marketing departments created – A Tablet that isn’t that much worse than Kindle for reading.

What can Amazon do to counter Nook Color?

At the moment – Nothing.

It does have a few big advantages –

  1. It’s going to take 3-6 months for people to realize Nook Color really is a big deal.
  2. iPad 2, or one of the Android Tablets, might compete in Nook Color’s reading tablet niche. Fragmentation might mean that the Kindle vs Nook Color debate disappears.
  3. Nook App Store doesn’t exist. It’s barely out of the conception shell. Kindle App Store already has 20 or so apps out.
  4. Amazon has their ultra-secret Android Store in the works.
  5. Amazon has the ‘Kindle = reading’ association.
  6. It has the best eBook store.
  7. It has the lead in eReaders, eBooks, and Reading Apps.
  8. There are a lot of Kindles out, and lots of people are seeing it everywhere.
  9. It’s doing very well in the UK, and is available worldwide.

The big threat of the Nook Color is, if there isn’t a Kindle Tablet out within 6 months, the Nook Color is going to eat through the eReader market like Kobayashi.

The second big threat of the Nook Color is, if the Nook App Store takes off, it could mean that Nook Color + Reading Related Nook Apps make for a better overall experience than Kindle + Kindle Apps (none of the latter, at the moment, are reading related).

There are a lot of Android developers – So, it’s not out of the question that Nook Apps could add more value than Kindle Apps. However, it’s something Amazon must find a way to avoid. And it can’t avoid it unless it embraces Android, and gets Android developers to develop for it, rather than for Nook Color.

The only solution is an Android based Kindle Tablet. There’s no other option – Either Amazon releases an actual Android based Kindle Tablet, or it hopes and prays B&N runs out of money before Nook Color has totally over-run the eReader market.