Were More NOOKcolors Rooted Than We Thought?

(image courtesy Put Me In Coach)

The new NOOK Tablet is out, and slowly but surely more details about how it is different from its NOOKcolor predecessor are being released. For most users, the Tablet is a great upgrade; better screen, more memory, more multimedia options…it’s a win all around. But what about the people who loved their NOOKcolors for their supreme hackability?

According to The Digital Reader, it appears that B&N has locked the bootloader on the NOOKTablet. In english, this means they’ve added an additional level of security, making rooting (and installing the Android marketplace, etc) a far more difficult proposition. It’s hardly the easy sailing it was for the NOOKcolor. Nate, over at TDR Nate, has determined there’s a funky loophole that lets you download Android apps through the browser, but that’s clearly an accident and not an intentional feature.

So why did B&N take away rooting and hacking? I’ve always assumed their lack of a response to the enthusiastic community was that it wasn’t a large number of NOOKcolors being hacked, but it generated positive buzz and so they simply turned a blind eye. But they’ve gone out of their way to block it on the new NOOKTablet. I had a theory, and a recent long car ride with my dad gave me the perfect opportunity to hash it out with him.

I explained the concept of rooting, and installing CM7 (Android Gingerbread), etc., and how B&N had taken away the easy path to replicate this on the NOOKTablet. My dad, being the non-techy voice of reason, wondered if it mattered either way if a tiny percentage of NOOKcolor users would be affected. Since presumably most people buying NOOKcolors were doing so for reading, we assumed maybe 1-2% of the NOOKcolors in the wild were hacked. If we (safely) assume B&N has sold well over one million NOOKcolors, a few thousand being hacked isn’t a problem, and my dad was of the opinion that locking down the NOOKTablet was no big deal.

But I pointed out that B&N had done nothing about the enthusiastic recommendations for NOOKcolors specifically because they could be rooted easily, which made the NO ROOT FOR YOU lockdown a slap in the face to those few annoyed users. Then I laid out this scenario for him:

• Let’s say the NOOKTablet is definitively not able to be rooted. Engadget/Android fansites/Techcrunch bitch and moan about the NOOK Tablet being locked down, proprietary, unrootable.

• CNBC/WSJ pick up the story and report that Techcrunch/Engadget/Enthusiast sites are saying the NOOK Tablet is locked down, more limited than the NOOK Color, etc. (with a lot less explanation on rooting than the tech blog story, because news is nothing but a giant game of telephone.)

• My dad catches the CNBC story while he’s driving home from work or eating lunch.

• He’s in B&N with friends and they talk about the NOOK Tablet. While he can’t remember the specifics, he remembers there was some negative complaint about it on CNBC.

• B&N loses a sale.

Obviously that’s assuming A to B to C to D, but even my dad, who is the first person to tell me I’ve become too hung up on the geeky details, agreed that was a plausible scenario, and wondered why B&N would take a draconian approach that generates more negative publicity than anything else. Why poke the hornet’s nest unnecessarily? That’s when we decided maybe there are a lot more hacked NOOK Colors out there than we originally assumed. It doesn’t make sense for B&N to pull this over a few thousand hacked devices…but it sure does if it’s a few hundred thousand hacked devices.

So was the NOOK Color a success on its own, or was it a success because it was cheap and easy to hack? And what does that mean for the future sales of the NOOK Tablet? This could mean nothing. The release of the Kindle Fire, the positive buzz the NOOKcolor generated, and the demand for tablets this holiday season may outweigh a few annoyed geeks. But admittedly, it’s a big jump to go from open access to locked down, and something seems a bit off. B&N has a bigger investment in apps and content this time around, and there’s a good shot they felt access to the Android Market or (gasp) Amazon’s Appstore would detract from their proprietary offerings. Then it comes back to the discussion above; is it worth the expense and trouble of locking the bootloader for 1%? 2% Or were all those daily deals of the NOOKcolor on eBay and other outlets landing in the hands of rooters, and is the number high enough to make B&N sweat?

We may never know for sure. But does having a locked bootloader change your view of the NOOKTablet? Or is this a tempest in a teapot? Share your take below!

Categories: eBooks, Editorials

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5 replies

  1. I’d say that the NC was largely a success on its own. Relatively cheap, color screen, can load some basic apps, side-load books, read magazines, etc. To most consumers, I think the color and reading aspects make a decent difference.

    For me, my device isn’t rooted, but I sometimes use the ability to boot from the MicroSD card to use the device as a tablet. More often, it’s just a reader for me. While I’m a little disappointed that the rooting process will be harder, it’s not going to make a huge difference to me. So far I haven’t seen too much in the negative side to the new Nook that would make me stay away other than overall price.  Admittedly, I’d love a way to change the default PDF reader on my current NC, but if that’s my biggest complaint, I’d say I’m a pretty satisfied user.

    I understand your logic above, but don’t think that’s the biggest problem. I see the Nook Tablet as having a slight disadvantage with Amazon now offering the Fire if only because Amazon has a larger (even if perceived) online presence. B&N no longer has the only color reader backed by a major player. I think the hardware is probably better for the Nook Tablet and would lean that way myself because of the hardware.

  2.  I bought my NookColor because it was rootable. Replacing the PDF reader was _crucial_.

    My experience with the NookColor was, and remains, very positive.  I’ll never buy an unrootable tablet.

  3. I can’t  say that I have any idea what the percentage of rooted Nook Colors is but as an owner of one of those rooted NCs who was mildly interested in upgrading to an NT for the dual core and other enhancements, I can say for sure that I won’t be buying one if I can’t root it.

  4. I find it ironic that B&N intends their latest device to be used on their ecosystem only, and now a band of users will have to spend their money on B&N’s direct competitor (amazon appstore) instead. And in less than 14 days (B&N’s return policy for the Nook Tablet), returns are gonna hit the shelves due to the inability for the users to customize and install apps as they wish. The irony…


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