Android Phones

Barnes & Noble opens Nook Developer program: we’re not building app store, just enhancing book store

October 28, 2010 | by Andrew Kameka

Android Devices, Featured post, Tablets


Nook Color is more of an Android ereader with “extras” than it is an Android tablet. Barnes & Noble makes it clear that this is a reading device first and foremost. Naturally, they want apps that will enhance the reading experience or provide something extra to entertain its target audience.

Today’s announcement of the Nook Developer program, complete with SDK and learning tools, is the first step in Barnes & Noble’s efforts to get great apps on the Nook Color. Claudia Romanini, who runs the Nook Developer program, spoke with earlier today about how it will treat developers, explained B&N’s goals, and revealed why not every exciting Android app will – or should – be ported over to this Android 2.1 device. What is the Nook Developer program?

Claudia Romanini: One thing that I want to stress is that this is not a closed, proprietary implementation at all. It’s very standard to most developers. They are developing their Android apps on the standard SDK and many manufacturers make extensions to the SDK that enables them to target specific features on a device. That’s exactly what we’re doing, so [developers] will need to have the standard Android SDK running and they’ll load on top of that our tool set, which will enable them to understand better how the device works. There will be an emulator included where they’ll be able to load their applications to run them and test them.

We do expect that most developers who have built apps compatible with Android 2.1 will run on this device. We do expect that they’ll optimize them so that they are more focused to the type of user that will use Nook Color. There are definitely applications that will lend themselves better to our device…we’re inviting developers to think about what a reader-specific device is like and think of their application in that context. Not just in the content they deliver but the UI, navigation, and how the user might interact it once they download it.

Nook Color runs Android 2.1, but is there a roadmap to get later versions of Android like 2.2 so that apps that require those functions can run on your device?

We haven’t published any road map but we will continue to offer updates to Nook Color. I can’t speak to any releases or schedules, but I can tell you that Nook was built on an earlier version of Android and we have updated it with new features. We continue to look at the platform and how it’s evolving for the device.

How would you say developing for this particular device differs from a standard Android app creation?

I have personally tested about 10 Android applications from our partners and many of them essentially ran without significant problems. The areas where developers should focus is we have a hardware specification that we are publishing so they can see what exactly [we can support]. For example, if their application is location-enabled, that’s something that would not lend itself well to Nook Color because it’s not location-enabled from a GPS standpoint. Most of the basic hardware is supported, so I don’t think there will be major things to do except a lot of the communication protocols are not supported obviously because this is not a smart phone. If your app is content-focused or database-driven, their app can run on our device very easily and there won’t be many problems.

But what’s the incentive for developing for the Nook if that’s the case? Someone could develop an app and work on 5-50 devices. Developing for Nook locks you into one device.

It’s not really locking them into one device. We’ve been speaking very actively for the last three months to developers and getting their take of what it’s like to take their existing Android application and we really do not expect – and I’m saying this because I’ve spoken to these developers and we’ve done our own tests internally – that it will take a lot of effort or investment to optimize their app for Nook Color. In that sense, they’re definitely not locking themselves into a platform and having to do a bunch of re-work.

As far as what the opportunity is, if they extend their application beyond what smartphones do and into the ereader, the benefit is huge. They have access to all of the customers that we reach every day through our bookstore channel.

[Ed. Note: We experienced some difficulties at this point in the interview, but Romanini later expanded that B&N reaches millions of readers online through its bookstore, and these same people will eventually discover that they can purchase apps as well, which opens up developers to a sizeable mass-market audience.]

I read that your app store will be curated. Can you shed light on what type of things won’t be allowed?

I wouldn’t go along with that terminology. “Curated” sounds like we’re trying to restrict things and that’s really not what we’re trying to do. Our goal is to get developers to feel that their apps are fitting for our customer and reading-centric experience that we’re focused on. I understand that this is a new learning experience for them and we’re both learning together for what we’re trying to achieve. What we’re doing is suggesting the types of applications we feel will be most appropriate for the reader, in terms of what they’re looking for. We’re not creating an app store. I just want to be clear, we’re extending our book store to sell and market applications through the book store.

The same way people buy periodicals or books, we want to create an experience for this content. For example, in the Cookbooks space, which is a big area for us and our customers, we’re looking for cooking tools. Maybe apps with cooking conversions, ingredients, knowledge bases, or information that allows our readers to learn more about cooking and learn more about what interests them. We’re going at it a little differently than most people in the app store world. The submission process for apps is going to be as streamlined and easy as we can make it.

My only concerned about that is what will happen if someone makes an app that competes with something in your store or favored by your company?

…At the end of the day, we recognize that there are multiple touchpoints. In our children section, there are favorites among our customers who want a particular plush toy or a book or game. This extends itself very well to applications. We believe at Barnes & Noble that when customers look for an experience, they do want multiple touchpoints and choices. I don’t see [blocking competitors] happening the way you’re suggesting. If a customer comes in to buy a travel guide and there’s an application available, that to us is a natural extension of what customers might be looking for. I don’t think we’re going to run into many circumstances where we feel like applications are competing with something we have established.

Other important notes from the conversation:

  • Barnes & Noble will soon release more details about what apps are likely to sell well and work with developers to help them build their apps toward the target audience.
  • Certain apps will be merchandised and marketed in physical stores as a way to promote apps.
  • Certain apps may not be “appropriate” for customers and are less likely to be marketed. That means you’ll see more Sudoku than shooters get preference.
  • Developers will be able to sell their apps or make them available for free. However, B&N is still working out the details for how it will deliver those apps through its store.