Technology wants to be used (a look at the Nook)

I have seen the future, or more precisely, little pieces of the future protruding into the present. Barnes and Nobel Nook e-reader Barnes &Nobel has unwrapped its e-reader, dubbed "Nook," which is intentionally crippled by its corporate masters. But it won't stay that way.

Here's how it's crippled: There's no Web browser. I get it. The Nook connects to download books and periodicals from B&N's online store through AT&T's 3G digital wireless phone network. The cost of that service is included in the purchase price (and in B&N's bookselling business model).

AT&T is already hurting from high 3G usage by iPhone users. And B&N wants you to buy pay books, not read BoingBoing.

At any rate, no Web browser means no Web browsing. It also means you can't use the built-in Wifi alternative from your hotel or airport lounge, because you need a Web browser to authenticate.

Crippled. But this will not last. I expect to see a Wifi-only Web browser on this device before long, and if B&N doesn't do it, somebody will jailbreak it.

The Nook is based on free, open software: Linux with Google's Android user interface. Regardless of what AT&T and B&N might wish, within five years you're going to see Chinese factories flooding the marketplace with open, Web-friendly, Android-powered devices that look pretty much like this and connect through any Wi-Fi hub. There's already an iRex device headed for your local Best Buy.

Technology wants to be used. E.Ink, which owns the high-resolution/low-power display technology, stands to make a whole lot more money from hundreds of millions of open e-readers than from tens of thousands of closed e-readers. Factories want to build and ship products. People want to do things, not just read.

At this point, devices like the Nook and the Kindle are slow and therefore best used as readers of fairly static content. A PDF-like periodical is more at home on these devices than a Web page with 187 embedded images, Flash movies, CSS and Javascript files. This will change, too; the ARM chip will continue to improve and the displays will get faster and connectivity will be ubiquitous.

So the Nook shows us a glimpse of the future, but it is not the future. We will see cheap, fast, reliable, easy-to-use and most especially open tablets hanging from blister packs at Target stores. That's the future, and it's only a matter of time.


...that their exec thinks the ability to share books w/ friends gives this reader a competitive edge. Because that worked so well for Zune (I guess temporary sharing of books makes more sense than temporary sharing of music, but still...)???

I beg to disagree. Sometimes technology needs a simple, single purpose to be understood and used, and I think this (and the Kindle) are examples of that. Not every gadget wants or needs to be a PC. The minority of phones sold in the US, for example, aren't smartphones, they're just phones. Perhaps people want phones to be phones, without all the fancy stuff they can get elsewhere; I know plenty of people who think that. A PVR could have added functionality to browse the web (what a big screen it's connected to! What potential!) but it's not really happened -- people want them to record and play TV programmes, and that's that. If the Nook or the Kindle was to enter (or create?) the tablet market it would be a very different proposition, addressing a very different group of people, and would exclude the potential book buying consumers that B&N are aiming for. (I suspect the book focus also dictated hardware choices which prevent it getting a web browser... the slow screen updating which allows much longer battery life, for example. But that's getting away from my main point.) So I don't think the Nook is crippled; I think it's targeted. Mind you, I bet we can agree on one thing. I reckon we both want it to succeed. -- Nik Silver

I couldn't find your email address, but wanted to drop you note regarding your post from when my aunt, Connie Conroy, passed almost 2 years ago. I googled her name today becauise i think of her often and i found your post. Thank you for writing such kind words about her. She was taken too soon.