The long-awaited day is finally here, Nook Color owners. Today Barnes & Noble will begin pushing an OTA update to your devices that offers all-around enhancements, including the new NOOK Apps store and a built-in e-mail client. This version of the Nook's software -- 1.2, for those counting -- is built on Android 2.2/Froyo, which means even better performance and Adobe Flash in the browser. Plus, the device will help users get more social with the (beta) Nook Friends App. Alongside this update the bookseller has also introduced more content designed for the Nook Color, including both children's and adult books with enhanced features (animations, video, etc.).
The feature most users are undoubtedly going to get excited over is the ability to purchase new apps for the Nook Color. At launch, users will have access to over 125 apps. Paid apps range from around $2.99 to $5.99 (some less, some more), and for now the free/paid split is around 20/80 percent. Given that Android users are seemingly reluctant to pay for apps, will Nook Color users end up being any different? We can only wait and see.
At least the premium apps in the store aren't just lightsabers and fart joke generators (though they can be fun). B&N targeted developers and content companies that made apps which make sense for a reading-focused tablet. For instance, the Lonely Planet Phrasebook app will speak common phrases in different languages as well as act as a guidebook. It will be interesting to see if these paid apps get as much attention as the free ones.
Users will find the Nook Apps in the same storefront as books on the Nook Color. Just as the page serves up suggested titles, it will also serve up suggested apps. Categories include Play, Organize, Learn, Explore, Lifestyle, News and Kids. Some apps you'll see at launch: Goodreads, Drawing Pad, More Brain Exercise, Epicurious, My-Cast, Calendar, Notes, Pulse, my6sense, Flight Control, Angry Birds, Uno, GeoBee Challenge. All are optimized for the Nook Color's interface.
The update will also bring new built-in apps: Nook Mail and Nook Friends. Nook Mail is basically the Android e-mail app made to work with the Nook Color. Those familiar with Android should have no trouble setting it up and adding POP and webmail accounts. Nook Friends takes the social aspect of the Nook Color a few steps further by adding more sharing abilities. Now you'll not only be able to lend books to friends and see which books they have to lend, you can also leave notes for them about the books you're reading and Like books in the store, which will show up as news feed items within the app. Owners can still share passages and notes via Twitter and Facebook as well.
Browse, search, and purchase apps just as you would books. Plus, app icons can be added to home screens, just like books, with recent apps in the scrolling area at the bottom. You can also access app apps from the Apps tab, which replaces Extras.
More apps are on the way. Currently there are over 5,000 developers in B&N's dev community with more coming on board every day. The update also adds Adobe Air to the Nook, giving them even more ways to deliver rich experiences to users. If your favorite app isn't on the Nook Color now, it might not be long until it shows up.
Other New Features
Adobe Flash will come along with this update -- no need for owners to install it themselves. B&N and Adobe have worked closely to ensure an error-free experience for Nook Color users. So fire up YouTube without worry. (We will, of course, test this ourselves soon.)
Aside from this, the company made a few small but significant tweaks throughout the interface: a sliding animation for page turns, battery indicator, shortcut to settings, ability to place files on the home screens, and a battery indicator among them.
Not forgetting that the Nook Color is an eReader, B&N also has some tempting book enhancements. A selection of kids books now have a few extra animations -- not so much that it's distracting, but enough to enhance engagement and reading comprehension. 15 of those books -- including Go, Dog, Go!, Splat the Cat, and Are You My Mother? -- will have new Read And Play features. We saw a demo of this on Go, Dog, Go!, and the "play" aspect is integrated in such a way that kids can skip it and just read or stop to try the puzzles on the page. This makes the 100th reading of a favorite book even more fun.
For adults, Enhanced Nook Books offer the ability to watch or listen to embedded media, such as videos, within a book. We've seen this concept demoed before and think it makes a great addition to categories such as cooking, fitness, and how to. Currently there are 225 enhanced titles with more on the way.
For magazine readers, there are a few touch-ups to the interface here as well. Users can now slide-scroll the magazine thumbnails along instead of having to swipe to scroll. In Article View, you can swipe to move to the next article.
These updates are clearly meant to play up the tablet aspect of the Nook Color while keeping the core eReader idea in view. Does the addition of apps make the device a viable tablet alternative, even without rooting it?
The update will begin rolling out to Nook Color customers today over Wi-Fi. Barnes & Noble says that it could take a few weeks to push over the air to everyone, but users can download and apply it themselves here. If you have trouble figuring out how to do this, click here to see how we applied the last update.