Nook Tablet update breaks 3rd party app installs

December 20, 2011
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The original Nook Color was a veritable toy box for Android modders, and remains a popular platform for  custom ROMs and other Android tablet modifications. Barnes & Noble's newer Nook Tablet has proven a tougher nut to crack, with a locked bootloader and just 1GB of user-accessible space. But Nook Tablet users with an eye for modding could at least take advantage of a loophole in the modified Gingerbread software, which allowed any app downloaded from the Tablet's browser to be installed via Android's built-in installer. The eBook Reader reports that with the latest Nook Tablet firmware release, 1.4.1, Barnes & Noble has closed this loophole, making advanced modification much more difficult for any user who updates.

Considering the locked bootloader, this change in the Nook Tablet's software is not unexpected. Barnes & Noble is certainly aware of how popular the Nook Color was and is as a modder's cheap tablet, and have not raised any serious objections thus far. But as pieces of consumer electronics, the Nook Color and Nook Tablet are sold on extremely thin margins with the expectation that users will buy books and other media from Barnes & Nobles and its partners, justifying the low profits on the hardware itself. Every user who buys a Nook without the intention of using it primarily as a reader for Barnes & Noble's ebooks is undermining their business model. Since advanced users aren't breaking any laws, the best that the company can hope to do is frustrate their aftermarket efforts.

The solution for those who want to keep modding their tablets is simple: don't upgrade to version 1.4.1 on the Nook Tablet's software, at least until another work-around is found. Those who have already updated can flash to the original retail image and work forward from there. Strangely, third-party apps that have already been installed on updated tablets are still working, so users who already modified the Nook Tablet and gotten it to their desired level of functionality will probably be able to wait it out until someone finds another weakness in the device's software armor.

When this sort of thing happens to an Android smartphone, I tend to get very irate. But remember that the Nook series of tablets only uses Android as a means to an end - Barnes & Noble is using these readers to keep their entire business relevant as the world shifts to ebooks. It's hard to blame them for protecting such a forward-looking business model, even if it does mean that a much loved avenue of Android modding is closed off.


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  • B126687

    I understand B&N’s motivation in attempting to restrict Nook owners to their ecosystem, given the relatively low price of the tablet itself.  That said, with so very few apps available in their own app store, when compared with the marketplace (and even amazon’s store) the choice to close it off to sideloading is, I feel, remarkably foolish.  I now regret, wholeheartedly, my purchase of this product.

    • Vance Decker

      Most users don’t want and won’t buy anything outside of B&N’s ecosystem. In the end by restricting a small minority of users who do, all they have done is sacrificed free nook tablet fanboy’s marketing their product for them.

      In the end, their attempts to control everything will result in them controlling nothing.

      • http://www.killfive.com Killer

        The more you tighten your grip, B&N, the more evangelizing nerds will slip through your fingers.

  • Florida Phil

    I bought a Nook Tablet as my first ever e-Reader, but also as my first tablet. That was the promise. I have already spent nearly $90 in eBooks since November 18th – so B&N have made money the very first month I owned my device. I also bought Blu Ray disks from B&N online, plus a case for my Tablet. Now we’re up to $125+

    The app selection at B&N is extremely poor however I still bought 2 apps from them, another $5.

    The tablet part of Nook Tablet is severely limited as it comes from the factory, particularly the very basic browser and email clients. B&N don’t even offer a decent email client, tabbed browser, music download, launcher, office software, keyboard replacement etc but not to worry, I just rooted my tablet and downloaded what I needed from my Android phone. Excellent! I had a fully functioning tablet that was ‘dual-usable’ as either an eReader or a functioning tablet.

    Now, B&N have closed the small loophole that lets more advanced users as myself use the tablet as a real tablet, without providing any of the apps that transform an eReader into a tablet.

    So I guess my tablet gets returned to B&N and I will not buy my wife the one I had intended to gift her in January. I can access the books I have bought on my laptop or on my Android phone using the Nook app and I will wait until the market has matured a little more.  Way to go B&N. You have transformed someone who was becoming a loyal user into someone who won’t hesitate to tell everyone of the little bait and switch game you have pulled.

    This is such a stupid move I can’t imagine what B&N are thinking. It feels very similar to the Netflix fiasco from earlier this year. I predict a similar outcome.  

  • Scotthoing

    I am in almost the exact same position as Florida Phil.  I bought a Nook to replace an older Kindle ereader, and I spend about $300-500 annually on ebooks at Amazon which I planned to shift to BN when I bought the tablet.  The promise of the tablet was just that — it is a TABLET with strong ereader functionality.  That dual combination was perfect for me; the ability to switch back and forth b/w a great ereader and a tablet (to check mail, surf, and do myriad other things).  In fact, I thought it  was so great that I bought one for my daughter and her husband.  The inbility to sideload apps that make the tablet useful as a tablet eliminates its value as a tablet and makes it a ridiculously expensive ereader (regardless of any promises of a vibrant app store in the future, let’s face it, BN’s app store is sorely lacking).  Both of us are incredibly frustrated by this and both of us plan to return our Nook Tablets as a result.  I don’t have any problem with companies like BN locking people into their ereaders b/c that is how they are advertised.  However, when you sell a tablet, it should function like one and not be retroactively crippled.  It’s a shame b/c the tablet hardware is very nice and BN would have had at least two new long term customers in our case.  When I return the Nook, I will be gone as a customer for good.

  • wkc2001

    Their “business model” is flawed.  This Nook Tablet was sold a s a tablet as the name implies and granted it is not as expensive as an iPad, but it is not cheap either particularly after one invests in an extended warranty, a case and other accessories.  there were also certain expectations of functionallity given the fact it was marketed as a tablet.

    They knew at the time they marketed it that the “loophole” was present and that people could make use of it.  (It actually is not a “loophole”, it’s part of the OS.)  People also expected that they would be able to sideload stuff and other apps – and who cares if some people put a Kindle app on it!  Is B&N that paranoid about their place in the market?  If so this behavior is going to hasten their demise.

    This is no doubt another example of overstatement as when they screwed up in regard to the “16 gigs of storage” in the Nook Tablet which actually turned out to be13 gigs for B&N-only content and “1 gig” for user content; or the fact that the HD screen is really not HD….minor details.

    What really sends me though is the references in their “terms of service” where they refer to the device as “your Nook” meaning the owners Nook.  The way they handle the device it seems that even though we have paid for it they still think that they own it and can do whatever they want to it software-wise.

    They should make *improvements* to the software available to their customers, but I draw the line at them taking away functionallity and euphamizing the action as doing it “for security purposes”.  Talk about huberis and gall and some might say outright lies.

    The only thing this action guarantees is that there won’t be too many repeat customers.  I’ve learned my lesson and I purchased 3 of these Nook devices over the past 3 years - but never again – and I’ll share my opinions with everyone who will listen to me.  I think generic tablets are the way to go and that way one can pick and choose the apps they want to use or not use.

  • Acassell111

    Was totally surprised by the update.  EVERYTHING works the same after
    the update except that the 3rd party box in settings gets unchecked and
    Google Market Place will not work.  All Google apps still work fine
    (they did not work prior to root).

    Ran settings and checked the
    3rd party apps box.  Amazon now works fine.  Homepage still works and
    does not revert to the old Nook crap.

    Will try to revive google marketplace. 

    Need
    some time to see what else comes up from Indirect and the others.  May
    have to re-root and then set up the OTA prevent.  But with most
    everything working no real hurry.

  • Vance Decker

    As usual, short term corporate control freaks trump long term results. Barnes and Noble executives are clearly delusional as to why was the nook color was so successful.

    Primarily the emergence of a strong hacker/modder community and their product evangelism made the nook color a success, now they have removed that from the nook tablet. Whether or not most users want to fiddle with their nooks in this manner is irrelevant as the word of mouth is priceless, especially in a largely undifferentiated market such as this.

    Later these same executives will be tasked with trying to understand why sales of the nook tablet didn’t hit expected forecasts and simply blame Amazon.