A little over a week ago, I wondered whether the world needed tablets that were significantly less costly and significantly less fancy than the iPad and its most prominent rivals. A couple of commenters said that such a beast already existed: Barnes & Noble’s Nook Color e-reader. They had a point. At $249, B&N’s Android-based tablet is half the price of the cheapest iPad. Its 7″ color screen and industrial design are quite nice, but it doesn’t have a 1-GHz dual-core processor or cameras or gobs of storage (it has a merely adequate 8GB) or 3G or other features which are becoming de facto accouterments on higher-end models.
Of course, Barnes & Noble has never pitched the Nook Color as an iPad killer. It calls it a “reader’s tablet,” and it gave the device a modified version of Android that doesn’t have the standard Android interface or access to the Android Marketplace. It’s Amazon.com’s cheaper, E-Ink-sporting Kindle that’s been in B&N’s crosshairs.
But when the company released the Nook Color last year, it did say it was working on an app marketplace of its own–a move that would make the Nook Color a little less of a dedicated e-reader and a little more of a general-purpose device. (Already, some geeky buyers had rooted their Nooks to turn them into standard Android tablets.) Today, B&N is launching that marketplace–which is a new section in the shopping area where it already sells books and magazines–as part of the Nook Color’s version 1.2 upgrade. And while it’s sticking with the “reader’s tablet” idea and saying it’ll focus on reading materials and complementary items, it’s also saying that it’s listened to consumers who think that a $249 Nook Color has a place as an alternative to pricier, more powerful tablets.