The walls around Barnes & Noble‘s Nook walled garden are tumbling down.
The company’s Nook HD and Nook HD+ are credible content-consumption tablets — remarkably credible, actually, considering that they come from a 127-year-old bookseller. But they sold so poorly over the holiday season that it raised questions about whether B&N would end up being forced to de-emphasize its hardware business in favor of selling content on other platforms.
The Nooks use Barnes & Noble’s own custom version of Android and provide its own stores for books, magazines, newspapers and apps. And therein lies an oft-raised argument against buying a Nook: the Barnes & Noble application store has had only 10,000 pieces of software — mostly for-pay ones — vs. the hundreds of thousands of choices in Google’s Google Play.
So with one fell swoop, in the form of a software update being rolled out today, B&N is eliminating that downside. It’s giving both Nooks the Google Play stores for apps, music, movies and books, plus key Google apps which the tablets have lacked until now: Chrome, Gmail and YouTube. (Google’s policies for its apps are an all-or-nothing proposition for device makers — if they want Google Play, they also have to pre-install Google’s apps.) New Nooks sold at Barnes & Noble’s bookstores and elsewhere will also carry the updated software.