Nook Color's Jailbreak: What Does it Mean for Barnes and Noble?
When the Nook Color was first announced, I pointed out that it was more than an e-reader. With the ability to browse the Web, edit Office documents thanks to Quickoffice, and run apps approved by Barnes and Noble, it's really a basic tablet that doubles as an e-reader for a price well below other tablets.
Yesterday, the potential for the Nook Color exploded as folks of XDA announced success in rooting the device (modifying it to allow the injection of additional or altered code). As proof of their success, they offered pictures of the Nook Color running Angry Birds and with other items added to the device's Extras screen.
Although there is no video of how well the game runs on the Nook, Engadget's initial review included a statement about seeing Angry Birds running on a dev unit and reported that it runs as smooth as on a Galaxy Tab or iPad.
Instructions to root your Nook Color are available on the nookdevs wiki, but so far there doesn't appear to be too many users duplicating the feat. That's probably wise as the instructions require a fair level of technical confidence and comfort and are at a very early stage of development. Given that a mistake might brick a device (and would almost certainly void the warranty), a slow and cautious approach would be wise for most users.
I have no doubt, however, that the instructions will get cleaned up eventually (perhaps in short order). I also wouldn't be surprised to see a simple rooting tool created for the Nook in the future. This has been the general road that rooting options for other Android devices and jailbreaking options for Apple iOS devices have taken.
What does this mean for Barnes and Noble?
Depending on how Barnes and Noble reacts, this could actually be very good for them. If the retailer casts a blind eye to the rooting community (not endorsing the process but not actively preventing it - along the lines Microsoft is taking with Windows Phone 7), it could end up selling more Nooks. After all, if the device can be turned into a capable Android tablet (which technically it already is) easily, the $250 price tag certainly beats out some of the competition. If the capability of rooting a Nook Color becomes somewhat mainstream, that could mean a lot of additional sales.
On the other hand, the company could engage in the same cat-and-mouse game that Apple does with the iPhone/iPad jailbreaking communities - patching exploits used for rooting in each software update. If Barnes and Noble takes this path, it will end up pushing the number of rooted Nooks to the margins, but it will also be an ongoing battle to keep the Nook Color locked down enough that rooting isn't possible or is too much hassle for most people. This won't encourage sales, but it will allow Barnes and Noble to maintain tight control over the platform and keep the Nook Color from being just another Android device. Given the limitations built into the Nook interface and lack of access to the Android Market, this will probably be the way Barnes and Noble goes.
Even if Barnes and Noble fights to prevent rooting of the Nook Color, it could take some lessons from the rooting community. By following why people are opting to root their Nooks (aside from the geek thrill of being able to do it), the company could fashion a strategy to add features. That could allow future Nooks to be better products and give users fewer reasons to root them at all.
All in all, rooted or not, the Nook Color is a good product. As we see more details about how rooted Nooks perform running different kind of applications, the Nook Color could really prove that solidly designed and capable low-cost Android tablets are possible and profitable.