Nook Color Firmware Update Moves it from Kindle Competitor to iPad Competitor

Recent news regarding the Nook Color‘s new features should go a long way toward illustrating the direction that the mini-tablet is likely to take in the near future.  While many have never viewed it as serious eReader competition for the Kindle, this seemed to be the hope that Barnes & Noble(NYSE:BKS) had for the device.  It seems they’re coming to their senses a bit and realizing the real potential of their affordably priced tablet.

To sum the situation up a bit, a recent offering on the Home Shopping Network let slip certain information about upcoming features for the Nook.  Most notably, it will be the first tablet on the market to include Flash support.  In addition to this, there will finally be support for email, as well as an app store to expand the capabilities of the device.  It seems that a viewer managed to capture the segment and post it on YouTube, which then prompted Barnes & Noble to issue a press release confirming the email, though not yet the Flash.

This definitely seems like a divergence from the previously staunch position that the Nook Color must be seen as a reading device first and foremost.  It makes a lot of sense.  Users seem largely to value the newest Nook incarnation for either its tablet capabilities or its color screen rather than any percieved inherently superior reading performance.  Really, while I’m not a fan of it as an eReader, this should make Barnes & Noble into a major player in the tablet competition.

The press release also emphasizes the importance of the Nook platform’s magazine and children’s book offerings.  Since these are the areas where the color screen really shines, given the shortcomings of a monochrome display for such applications, it definitely makes sense to see the focus turn this way.  I think there’s a lot of future in the marketing of children’s books in particular, things along the lines of NOOK Kids, for the less expensive and versatile tablets on the market today even if they fall short in other areas.  Great for actually getting in the hands of kids.

The effect of these upcoming changes on the Kindle in the end seems destined to be fairly negligible.  There’s a good chance that this will end the direct Kindle vs Nook Color comparisons for many, since it indicates an emphasis on non-book aspects of reading as well as non-reading applications.  That’s something.  Really, though, it feels like this is more an indication of how successful the Kindle has been than anything else.  The rush to a color eReader hasn’t succeeded because it meant a number of compromises that Amazon didn’t make, so they’re moving into a slightly different field.  It could also be that this is meant as a means to get a jump on Amazon in light of the rumors that have been going around about a potential Kindle-related line of tablet PCs.

The software update is supposed to drop in April, by all accounts, so be on the lookout for it.  I believe that this will breathe new life into the Nook Color for existing users as well as bring in a large new audience.

Nook Update 1.5 Released!

The fairly strongly anticipated(by Nook owners at least) Version 1.5 update for the Barnes & Noble Nook has made its debut.  To put it briefly, I’m impressed.  I’ve missed the Amazon vs B&N back and forth lately, and I’m still a huge fan of the original Nook.  They overcame a bug-laden launch to become the second most popular eReader on the market.  Even now, with the screen technology lagging behind slightly, I still find myself pulling out my Nook on a regular basis.

Barnes & Noble(NYSE:BKS) is advertising this as the most extensive update for their eReader to date, and it certainly seems to be a big one.  I had a few problems getting it installed, but that was mainly because their servers were a bit overloaded.  If you still need it, just open up your My B&N Library page and click on “Check For New B&N Content”.  It will take a minute to download, then run you through an install and reboot.  Basically, after you click the button and it starts downloading, you can just set it down on a table and come back in 10 minutes.  If you run into an error when you try to download, just wait a few minutes and try again.  Like I said, the servers seem pretty busy.

Anyway, here’s what look to be the main features that the Nook 1.5 update came up with, in no particular order:

Faster Screen Refresh

I personally stopped caring much about screen refresh speed on my eReaders about the time it got to be faster than I could ever hope to turn physical pages regularly without ripping them.  That said, the update made me realize how much better things could be.  Seriously, I think I sometimes blink more slowly than the page now turns.

Library Search & Organization

The new Shelf organization that came along with this patch is quite nice.  I got to go down a list that included items from both the B&N Library and My Documents, organized by author, and tag things as I went.  It’s fast, simple to use, and makes a lot of sense(and, of course, bears a striking resemblance to the Kindle’s Collections).  Even if you don’t feel like doing that sort of housecleaning, though, the improved search functionality lets you find any book or author quickly and accurately.  As much as I have tried to keep my documents folder pared down to a manageable number, the Nook gets overloaded and up until now hasn’t been nearly as easily navigated as the Kindle.  Now, it’s a toss-up.

Improved Battery Life

As with screen refresh speed, we’re kinda hitting the outer limits of things you can complain about in terms of battery life.  I can set down my Nook after four hours of reading and pick it up a week later for another four hours of reading and it’s barely taken a hit.  Still, more is better!

One thing that’s not much talked about in this line is actually probably my favorite change though.  As of Nook 1.5, the device will turn itself off after 72 hours on standby.  Sometimes I put down an eReader for a month instead of a week and come back to find it dead.  I don’t like that.  Never had to worry about it with the older Sony Readers when I first got into all this.  Now, it shouldn’t be an issue, and that’s a relief.

Password Protection

More security on a portable device like this is always a good thing.  Bad enough for your Nook to walk off without you, you certainly don’t want to find out that it’s been charging books to your credit card after wandering away.  Now, you get a couple options.  You can require a password for any purchase.  You can also set it to require a password whenever it wakes up.  Either way, totally worth the slight extra hassle.

Cross-Device Syncing

The new Nook 1.5 software will sync wirelessly(assuming it has a connection going) with your other Nook programs.  If you were reading something using your cell phone with the Nook for Android app(which, coincidentally has also had a small update), you’ll now start from where you left off if you switch to your Nook eReader.

Full-Function Web Browser

That’s right, the Nook browser has come out of Beta!  What does this mean for Nook owners?  Well, if you’re like me and really only use that feature to head to Project Gutenburg or check your email, then it won’t have much of an effect.  It certainly seems to be faster and more responsive, though, and other than that there’s nothing to complain about besides the limitations that the technology itself imposes.

Barnes & Noble has really left us with very little room to complain about the software function of their device.  If I had to choose in a direct Kindle vs Nook comparison, I’d almost certainly go with the Kindle, but only because of the improved hardware at this point.  Even the better screen might not be enough of a selling point anymore with the gap so narrow and the Nook offering the EPUB support that so many eBook vendors require.  This update, if nothing else, encourages me to think that, in spite of the NOOKcolor, B&N hasn’t completely given up on making a quality eReading-specific device.