cartoon-bucket-on-head-sitting-on-the-fence-undecided-576x272This cartoon from Edward Lear’s Laughable Lyrics perfectly illustrates my feelings about the recent Nook Color (NC) software update: A man, sitting on a fence, with a bucket over his head.

When it comes to technology, sometimes I feel exactly like that: Blind, frustrated, and living out a giant crapshoot.  Case in point: The Barnes and Noble Nook Color, version 1.2.  Between Monday when I got the email notification to Friday, when I handed in this blog, my emotions sort of went like this:

  • Monday: Excitement
  • Tuesday: Ecstasy
  • Wednesday: Disenchantment
  • Thursday: Resentment
  • Friday: Resignation

Why am I making such a big deal out of a software update?  I’m a book reviewer, not a Gizmodo wannabe, honestly.  But here’s the thing: The update turns the NC into a full-fledged tablet, and includes, among other things, the following:

  • Android 2.2, which provides a much better browsing experience.
  • An app store including Angry Birds, Epicurious, and an email extension on the home screen.
  • Adobe Flash.  Take that, Mr. Jobs.
  • You can add side-loaded files, not just NOOKBooks, to the home screen.  About time.
  • More enhanced books capabilities, with video and whatnot, particularly geared in children’s books.

But all this nifty stuff comes at a price.  The highlighting is a beauty – but you can’t do anything with it.  Copy and paste?  In your dreams.  You still can’t bookmark in PDFs.  And why the bleeding hell is page orientation such a problem?  Let’s say I want to read while the NC is charging – well, I can’t, because the bloody cord is in the way, and I can’t rotate the screen 180 degrees.  They found time for Angry Birds, but couldn’t be bothered with any of that?

I have to wonder if Barnes & Noble know where they’re going with this.  Even with this update they’re not going to grab the tablet consumers – the device is just too far behind.  And they might alienate readers who liked things just the way they were, thank you very much.

One thing I really admire about the Kindle is that it has gone through five iterations, including the DX, and has totally resisted going color or touchscreen (at least for the time being).  It’s like Amazon remembers that the primary purpose of the Kindle is to read books, and it develops – and sells – the product accordingly.  The NC hasn’t quite lost sight of that – the only buttons accessible from anywhere, any time, are still Settings, Home, and Currently Reading.  But it also has frills that prove a small but undeniable distraction to the reading.

And you know what?  All the extras in the world won’t be able to make up for a reading experience that has gone downhill.  This hasn’t happened quite yet with me – at least the reading isn’t worse, and there is a lot that is better – but I think if B&N continues to neglect the reading in favor of the extras, then they seriously need to sort out their priorities.

Do you think an eBook reader like the updated NC would be too much of a distraction?  Is Barnes & Noble trying to do too much by heading in the tablet direction?

– Jean AAR