With a few new entries into the market recently from Android tablet providers there’s been a lot of noise in developer circles about the potential of the new platforms. For instance, the Nook folks had appeared at the Appcelerator developer conference and done a Mobile Monday recently to tell us how much they love developers and want us to be successful. And they spun a pretty decent tale about how developing for their platform is a good way to cut through the noise and hit some unique demographics – there are a lot of compelling conceptual points. So I figured I would put that to the test. If you’re looking for the short version, the punchline is they didn’t do well at all. And I would not recommend to anyone trying out the platform in the shape it’s in now. If you want the longer version read on.
A lot of times it’s tricky to get real information about a platform. The folks who really understand the internals have a vested interest in seeing the platform succeed in market, and they’re concerned with their relationship with the platform provider. Lots of developer programs are actually run by marketing departments, so they can do a really good job of tempting folks to a platform. And unfortunately there isn’t always someone there to call bullshit and save independent developers from dumping their time into a lost cause. That doesn’t really seem fair at all. Thought it might not seem like it I am actually sorry to harsh on B&N. I’m sure there are some good folks over there who genuinely want to make the world better. But as it turns out I feel way more obligation to the developer community than I do to a retail outlet.
The way this actually started out was my curiosity about what application distribution numbers on the Nook devices would look like. I have visibility into stats from lots of different apps across different platforms, devices, and markets. But I had absolutely no info about the Nook. I do however have a few super simple testing apps sitting around, and some of them are already Android versions. So I thought: “How about I just package up one of the Android ones and release it for the Nook just to get myself some numbers?” Seemed like a simple enough proposition. So I grabbed myself a Nook Color and checked to make sure the stuff I was thinking about releasing wasn’t an exact clone of something already in the market. Nope, it wasn’t.
My first tip off that things weren’t going to he happy shiny in Nookville was the signup process. Just in order to signup as a Nook developer there was a really detailed set of questions to fill out. It was free though, so I just wrote the process off as them being hungry for information about their developers. And I was approved within the timeframe they predicted (I forget how long, important thing is that it wasn’t a surprise). It’s all Android stuff, which I’m pretty comfortable with. So despite some hiccups with their developer mode activation and this completely oddball multibutton process they have for launching sideloaded apps, it only took me an afternoon to get an app together, tested on the actual hardware, packaged up, and ready to go. That’s where it went all sideways.
When I first went in to check on the binary uploader it said I couldn’t upload anything cause my account was pending. I assumed that was just a quirk of creating a new developer account. But as it turns out it was cause I had to enter detailed user account and banking info, even after the details from the initial signup, and even though I only at this point wanted to distribute a free app. So I filled out the details and submitted them. And waited. And waited. And waited. Eventually I started up a support ticket to try to figure out what went wrong (screenshot of an excerpt below). As of right now it’s been a month since I started trying to get my app out, and the support ticket has been open for 24 days. Apparently there’s actually nothing wrong with my info. They just can’t get their systems working.
I’m just assuming at this point that my account is never going to get approved, and that B&N is just going to shut down their Nook experiment well before they get around to clearing up the developer account queue. So just keep this in mind when you’re thinking it sucks having to deal with Apple or Google: at least those systems work.
Since I wasn’t able to actually get an app released I don’t have any hard numbers to share. But there were a bunch of really obvious shortcomings in poking through what was there if you’re planning to build a business. It’s possible that these shortcomings are undone by the power B&N has in marketing your app. They really tout their physical world presence, and their ability to feature apps in-store in addition to on the device. They could be right about that making a difference. They also have an audience that skews female, which could be really interesting if you were able to get an app released. But I suspect the winners on the Nook platform are going to be the ones that have a strong brand already, with “must have” apps getting put in front of a new audience for the first time.
In terms of obvious problems, in giving up the Marketplace you also give up in-app purchase. So the model that almost everyone has adopted to make a profit on the dominant platforms isn’t going to apply if you want to develop for the Nook. It’s paid distribution and thats it. Another glaringly obvious missing feature is remote push notification. You can always hack this in with a background thread polling for updates the way we did pre-Froyo. I haven’t tried that, but I assume it works. It might not really be an issue however. The business reason for drawing users back to an app in terms of revenue model is to expose them to advertising (hopefully not your MAIN reason for drawing them back, but that’s a whole other discussion). However, cause Nook is a closed system that doesn’t allow for promotions for services outside of the Nook marketplace, I assume you’re not going to be able to run any of the existing in-app advertising solutions. Maybe you could run mobile web ads only?
So as far as I can tell this isn’t going to be a winning platform for the average mobile dev. It’s probably a profitable distribution strategy for folks who have a lot of recognition and are looking to get maximum coverage – like Rovio. But most of us are not Rovio.
What about the obvious final question: what about your Nook Color Miker, do you actually like it? Well, now that it’s running Cyanogenmod 7.1 instead of the stock firmware, why yes, I do like it! I’ve been running CM from the SD card, which makes it easy to swap back to booting stock. I’m pretty sure I’m going to be flashing the rom to internal memory though, since I see no reason to boot back to stock any more.
UPDATE: Looks like there are a bunch of issues, and they might even spin off the Nook business unit.