A great article by Brett Arends was in the WSJ (inside joke: sorry, JT) about his desire to not pay $500 bucks for an iPad, much less $400 (or, as my pal Scott Rose of ScottWorld.com has pointed out, $349 for a refurbished iPad.) What did he end up paying? "Less than $200... and about 20 minutes of my time."
How'd he do it? Arends explains:
I bought a Barnes & Noble Nook Color tablet (for $190 plus tax from a temporary online promotion, down from the usual $250). And then I downloaded a very simple, perfectly legal software fix from the Internet that turned it into a fully functioning tablet running on Google's Android platform. The fix, known as a "rooting," unlocks Barnes & Noble's proprietary overlay. The instructions came via Ars Technica, a reputable site devoted to technology, and were pretty easy to follow.
I wasn't really expecting it to work. I tried it as an experiment. But the results were remarkable.
The Nook Color, which was designed mainly for reading books and magazines, is about half the size of an iPad or a Xoom. It weighs about 30% less. It runs on WiFi, but not 3G. It has an absolutely superb screen. And, once you've unlocked the software, it runs many Android applications, from email to news readers TweetDeck to, yes, Angry Birds.
It even, ironically, runs the Kindle app from Barnes & Noble's rival Amazon.com. So I can now use my Nook Color to read Kindle books.
Be aware that you perform this software hack entirely at your own risk. Barnes & Noble says it invalidates your warranty. The process ran smoothly for me, but when I read the Internet chat rooms, I found at least a few people had had problems. If it goes wrong, you're on your own.
Of course, it's hardly the same as an iPad or a Xoom or a Galaxy. It doesn't have any cameras. It has a slower processor. It's not for power users. The video support is pretty limited. A few Android programs still won't run on it. And dedicated gamers will doubtless find it frustrating.
But as a basic tablet, it's absolutely fine for me—and, I suspect, a lot of people. Indeed, I happen to prefer it to bigger rivals, because it actually slips into my overcoat pocket. (I hate having to carry things around.)
Arends concludes with some observations, the first one being that the Nook is underrated and B&N needs to turn it into a tablet. On this score, he's 100% correct: it appears B&N has been caught up in its own idea of what the Nook should be used for rather than realize what the customers want to use it for. The winners in business realize that the customer's desires always trump their own plans. B&N is hurting: they need a winner, and Nook, if marketed as a cheap but effective tablet, is a winner.
His second point, however, is even more important, that "tablets are probably going to become cheap, near-commodity items, and maybe sooner than you think.
Think about this. Barnes & Noble — a company that is, ahem, hardly in the forefront of technological innovation — has managed to put together a pretty good Android tablet from scratch in short order, and is selling it for $250 (and even less if, like me, you catch a promotion). It's not a top-of-the-range model, but it does include a superb screen — and analysts will tell you that's typically one of the most expensive parts of a tablet.
Investors in Apple, Motorola Mobility, Samsung, Hewlett-Packard, Research In Motion and others are hoping for great things from tablet computers. It's all anyone wants to talk about—the huge profits to come from all these tablets and the "cloud computing" services they use. Apple alone is the second-most-valuable company in the world, with an enterprise value of more than $300 billion.
Count me as deeply Missourian about the long-term profits likely to come from this entire industry. In the short run, there may be fantastic money to be made. In the long term, tablets will be a dime a dozen. Every platform will have all the apps you need. Any brand or model is going to have a tough challenge maintaining a competitive advantage over another. Someday we're going to look back and laugh at the day when people thought tablets — or smartphones — were exciting and profitable businesses to be in.
If Barnes & Noble can do it, anyone can."
Move Over, Apple! My Tablet Cost $200
MARCH 9, 2011