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B&N turns to Google, not Microsoft, for apps base

Nook tablets will now feature full access to Google Play, ignoring ties with B&N's digital partner Microsoft


Published: 3 May, 2013

READ MORE: US | App Store | Tablet | Android

When Microsoft invested in Barnes & Noble's digital business, there was plenty of speculation that a Windows e-reader and mini-tablet would soon emerge. However, as Microsoft is reportedly ready to debut a 7-inch Surface RT model, its partner has introduced the Google Play apps and content store to its Nook range.

So much for a Microsoft/Nook platform, then, but B&N's move could still send a strong signal to its investor - that it's tough competing with a niche software base. Lacking the massive reach and brand power of its direct competitor Amazon, B&N has struggled to establish Nook as a digital product in its own right, separate from its bookselling activities. Opening the gadget up with access to all the Google Play offerings should make the latest Nook models, the HD and HD Plus, more mainstream, and a more direct alternative to other small-sized tablets such as Google's own Nexus 7 or the Amazon Kindle Fire.

The holiday season was a disappointing one for Nook but B&N's CEO William Lynch said in an interview that the support for Play would make a real difference. "It opens up a whole world of content and really gives HD and HD Plus a unique position," he said. "There's no question this is going to accelerate sales."

However, the recognition that users want access to a wealth of content, and to mainstream apps like Facebook - and, even, Amazon Kindle - does cast some doubt over B&N's strategy of differentiating itself with unique content and user experience, It recently pledged to focus more on

digital content, including books, films and popular apps, while beginning to pull back on investment in the digital hardware division.

In the quarter to January 26, Nook revenue declined to $316m, from $426m the year earlier. Lynch said his firm had learned, from that quarter, that "the number one reason for non-buyers in the tablet market, as it related to Nook, was the lack of breadth and apps ... the one area where we were deficient."

Sarah Rotman Epps, senior analyst with Forrester Research, told The New York Times: "You can't change the fundamentals of Barnes & Noble's brand and their customer footprint and the economics of their business, but adding more Android features makes this product more appealing to more customers."

To date, B&N has sold more than 10m Nook e-readers and tablets in the US, since launching in 2009.

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