Barnes & Noble has been intimating that Android applications for the upcoming color version of its Nook e-reader will be different from those already downloadable from Google’s Android Market. But exactly how? For one thing, people accessing Android apps on the Nookcolor tablet won’t necessarily even need to know–or care–anything about Android, explained Claudia Romanini, the head of Nook developer arm Nookdeveloper, in an interview this week.
Instead, developers creating apps for the Nook e-reader will be urged to build “reader-center apps that will blend in seamlessly with our reader’s tablet environment,” she told me.
Actually, apps already up there in the Android Market will operate on the new Nook, anyway. “We’ve tested them. They run well and behave fine,” Romanini acknowledged. But the Nookcolor won’t have the Android Market, and those existing apps for smartphones and other tablets aren’t optimized for the color Nook, which will be running a custom build of the Android 2.1 operating system when its first delivered in B&N stores on or about November 19th.
While B&N won’t really have be an iPhone-like app store, B&N versions of Android apps will be downloadable, and they’ll also show up in an “Extras” folder on the Nookcolor. The first rendition of the color reader tablet will come bundled with Extras that include chess, crossword puzzles, Soduku, and a Pandora digital music player for Internet radio.
Later on, though, Nookcolor users will start coming across more Android apps when they’re downloading books, magazines, and newspapers from B&N’s online bookstore.
Romanini sketched out what she called a “one-click process” involving a recommendation engine. She gave a few hypothetical examples as to how the scenario might unfold. For a travel book, the recommendation engine might tip you off to a foreign language phrase app, or a video travelogue about a travel spot, for instance.
Alternatively, for a cookbook about Indian cuisine, the engine might suggest an encyclopedia of Indian spices, or a cooking conversion chart to help you switch the amounts of ingredients to the right proportions.
Romanini admitted that some of these tools–such as cooking conversion charts — are also accessible on the Web through search engines like Google. But, she contended, leaving B&N’s book content behind to enter a Web search environment would interrupt the reading experience.
At least for the foreseeable future, the Nookcolor will be a “reader’s tablet,” rather than a “multifunctional everything” along the lines of Samsung’s new Galaxy Tab, she said.
“For our applications, we’re focused on the reading experience, in particular. There are lots of types of content that might interest readers. But [users] might not want to bother to understand what Android is, and they shouldn’t have to do so. We don’t want to have to explain to them what an application is, either, [although it’s just] another type of content,” she told me.
B&N hasn’t yet fleshed out all the details around its plans for working with developers. Yet just as with the apps included in Google’s Android Market, developers will be able to charge users for apps. They’ll also be permitted to offer apps free of charge, monetizing through “standard methods” such as paid advertising.
B&N is now actively seeking out third-party content and application developers, and the book seller certainly doesn’t want to discourage any development activity. “But the kinds of applications we’re looking for need to be reader-centric, and they need to be well deployed. There are some apps that will be more relevant. We hope that developers will spend some time thinking about what the relevant ones will be, and that they’ll see this as an opportunity,” she said.
For instance, location-based apps won’t make much sense, since the Nookcolor is enabled for W-iFi only, not 3G, according to Romanini.
Instead, B&N is seeking apps that either “enrich book content by helping readers get more out of their books, extend book content by helping readers to further explore their interests,” or “expand beyond reading’ with games, puzzles, and other things to do when taking a break from reading.
“I think the possibilities for engaging, casual games and other ‘snackable companions’ are really kind of infinite,” she predicted. Beyond displaying “deep, rich content,” the color Nook will also be an environment for “building synergies” between books and other merchandise, including software apps.
Whether or not B&N will “curate” the apps depends on what definition of “curate” you’re using. “But there will be a process for making sure [an application] is appropriate for the [B&N] bookstore,” I was told.
Barnes and Noble has already put up a Web portal for developers. Interested developers can sign up there now. Within the next few weeks, B&N plans to post a software developers kit (SDK) and other tools, including documentation, developer guidelines, “hints and tips,” and an emulator that will demo how existing Android apps will run on the Nookcolor.
Tweaking an app for the color Nook platform won’t be all that tough for a developer, according to Romanini. “I want to emphasize that this won’t be a port, [and that] developers won’t need to start all over again,” she maintained.
She described B&N’s Nookcolor SDK as an add-on which will run on top of the Android SDK from Google, which is used by developers to build Android mobile apps for smartphones and tablet PCs. B&N’s SDK add-on will “optimize navigation and the UI (user interface)” for the color Nook.
But while the Nookcolor will be available in time for this year’s holiday shopping season, the same won’t hold true for the first crop of downloadable B&N-flavored Android apps. B&N expects that developers will begin submitting their software applications early in 2011, according to Romanini.