The Nook RT Lives. But Nook Is Dead.

Multiple reports out of China — which should be considered official leaks from Microsoft because that’s how the Chinese roll — indicate that the long-rumored Nook RT is still coming [Google Translate, Google Translate, Google Translate]. Or at least a cheap Windows RT tablet is.

Microsoft hasn’t given up its goal of shoving RT down the throats an OS running on an ARM CPU and has decided to partner with Inventec and Allwinner.

Inventec does crappy industrial design. Allwinner makes second-tier CPUs that require cheating at AnTuTu to sell as tablets.  This time, however, the rumor is that Microsoft intends to put RT on Allwinner’s new octa-core A80 CPU.


Let’s hope that’s true. Because if Microsoft decides to go really cheap and use the Allwinner A31s, it’d be a bigger disaster than the Surface has already been.

The Allwinner A31s CPU, as already stated, is a second-tier CPU primarily being used in iPad Mini clones.

The CPU leader in that space is Rockchip’s 3188, which has an AnTuTu score in the 20,000-range and is reflected in real-world user experience.

The Allwinner A31s — when not cheating — scores in the 12,000-range and that’s also reflected in real-world user experience, with games featuring intense graphics having a bumpy ride.

In addition, going with the A31s CPU would mean that whatever RT apps exist for PDFs would have a very tough time dealing with the massive Google Books PDFs that really stress hardware more than any game does.

So going with the new Allwinner A80 could be seen as beneficial to both parties. On the other hand, even though the A80 is based on Samsung’s design, we have no idea yet of how the chip performs.

Why do I continue to maintain this cheap Windows RT tablet with be headed to Barnes & Noble?

Because their Nook division is dying. They had deservedly-bad sales during the holiday season. Devices and accessories crashed, dropping 66.7% from the prior year’s sales, and Nookbooks also dropped 27.3%.

But Microsoft, which sunk a lot of money into Nook, might still want to try to protect their investment before giving up completely and writing it all off.

The Nook division itself is rumored to have an eight-inch Tegra 4 tablet in the wings. But given that even Nookbook sales are down, it’s clear to me that people are now abandoning Nook hardware.

Look, the brutal truth is that there’s just no reason for anyone other than Nook owners to buy Nookbooks. That’s due to the suicidal DRM scheme Nook has used since its inception.

Amazon has the largest eBook selection and sterling customer service.

Kobo uses “standard” Adobe DRM (as does the near-dead Sony Reader Store).

Nookbooks are the odd man out in many ways.

So, Barnes & Noble sinking more money into a new tablet would be throwing away more money on hardware no one is buying. They just don’t stand a chance any longer with any tablet running Android. All of their non-book competitors have better hardware.

This means any new hardware must be done on Microsoft’s dime. Thus the Nook RT, as I’ve been calling it.

What I’d like to see Microsoft do is be adventurous with this hardware and make it an eight-inch screen at 4:3 ratio. There’s nothing running Windows — RT or 8.x — like that. All current eight-inch tablets run full Windows 8.x and have 16:9 screens. A screen at 4:3 is just better for books and magazines.

According to the reports, Microsoft wants to hit a US$150 price point.

Even so, I can’t see retailers scooping this up — they’ve been seeing firsthand how bad sales have been of their current inventory of the new Surface (RT) 2.

That leaves just one retailer that could be forced to carry a cheap Windows RT tablet — Barnes & Noble.

Imagine two people who can’t swim desperately grabbing onto each other for help and you’ve got a clear picture of this situation.

So, yes, until it happens otherwise, I’m still calling this a Nook RT.

But it’s not going to save Nook or Windows RT.

I don’t think anything can.

22 Comments on The Nook RT Lives. But Nook Is Dead.

  1. Nate: I think this is a solid analysis of the NOOK catastrophe. I guess most of us have wondered whether Microsoft might push harder on B&N to do something beyond having a B&N app on Windows 8. On the other hand, Microsoft is a company that is willing to write off billions: $6.2 billion in 2012 for aQuantive, $1b for Surface, and its upcoming Nokia write-off (on a $7.2b investment).

    I still argue that Microsoft’s investment in Barnes & Noble had more to do with settling some messy legal wrangling than it did because Microsoft wanted back into the ebook business (that it had abandoned a decade before). The argument is long & convoluted so I’ll (perhaps impolitely) offer the post link here:

  2. Surface 2 actually had a pretty stellar Christmas – Chitika has it pegging higher than the Nexus for browser imprints.

    But it’s Mike Cane, so I wouldn’t expect a little thing like facts to get in the way of a good ranting.

    • Link to these stats? I found stats that said “Surface” now has 2.3% of impressions v. Google Nexus 2.0%. However, it doesn’t indicate whether this includes the Surface Pro.

      Also, I feel that since Nexus only released one model of tablet this year (Nexus 7 2013) whereas Surface released two tablets (Surface Pro 2 and Surface 2 (RT)), the comparison is somewhat problematic.

      • Browser usage is not a good measure of tablets, particularly when comparing tablets of different sizes. All of the Surface tablets are 10 inch, most Nexus tablets are 7 inch. People use 10 inch tablets for browsing a lot more than smaller ones. On a smaller tablet, users are more likely to use dedicated apps rather than a browser.

        Also, a lot of Surface 1 tablets were sold around the holidays at fire-sale prices. Microsoft lost a ton of money of the Surface.

  3. Most of my sales on Smashwords last year came from B&N. I hope those readers can find other homes if the ship does sink.

  4. I bought an old Surface RT. It’s exactly what I want, and unbeatable at the price I paid for it. I need Word, Outlook, a good battery life, a browser and a way to read books and watch movies on the go. Perfect. Miles better than the iPad for my needs. I don’t want Photoshop on my mobile tablet.
    Most outlets sold out of Surfaces over the Christmas period.
    I think Microsoft will just pair RT with Windows Mobile and make one lightweight Windows system out of that.
    The Nook was lovely, but at first it was too expensive, then it allowed itself to get outpaced. I agree, it’s on the way out. I have two Nook Colors I should really ebay, but I don’t expect to get a lot for them. They could put the new lightweight Windows system on it and offer it as a cheap alternative to the Surface, but I wouldn’t trade my Nexus 7 for one.

  5. Nate, absolutely agree with you.

    B&N’s Nook is doomed, not because it is bad hardware, but because of DRM.

    The $59 Nook Simple Touch is really appealing, but only because of the memory card slot that allows me to buy anywhere and load books onto the memory card. (Doesn’t matter that the Nook reserves almost all of the internal memory for B&N-only content.)

    There’s no way I’m going to spend any money at B&N’s walled garden where I can lose my books due to DRM.

    If the company would dare to go DRM-free, they would actually stand a chance at competing.

    • BN’s Social DRM can be unlocked using Adobe Digital Editions like any other ADEPT EPUB and read on any device that supports said schema. In addition, as a self-contained DRM (the unlock code is contained in the file itself instead of on an authentication server as with Adobe or Amazon), the files will be able to be unlocked for all eternity, regardless of whether or not BN is around.

      BN’s DRM is easily the most permissive of all the major stores. Mike Cane just doesn’t like it because he had to give out a CC number to purchase a book.

      Facts. They are important.

      • Can DRMed Nook ebooks be read on Kobo and Sony e-ink readers?

        • Yes, you just have to run them through ADE like you would with any other ADEPT EPUB.

          It’s been this way since the beta of ADE 1.8 back in 2010, but certain people like to continue the myth that somehow BN’s books are as proprietary as Amazon’s. They’re not.

      • Barnes and Noble put your credit card number in the DRM key in your ebooks. For all eternity.

        • I don’t know, I’m not at all worried about every single ebook file having my credit card number encrypted inside it… It’s not like 110 million credit card accounts are going to have to be changed because of the Target data breach.

          DRM of all stripes is awful…but investing in DRMd books from a company 1) with a history of ending support for products (Books on Board) and 2) that is likely to go crash and burn soon sure seems like playing Russian roulette.

          My larger point was that B&N has given readers no reason to spend money with them after the hardware purchase.

          1) just sideload epubs bought from other sources on your memory card or 2) on the tablets, install the Kindle app since Amazon is far less likely to disappear and their pricing tends to be better.

    • Actually, this is Mike’s idea and I disagree with him.

      I figure if MS were going to force a Nook RT they would have done it by now. I’m also less convinced that the branded tablet market is worth any attention from Nook Media. they have too many other problems to fix before they venture into that quagmire again. Also it’s pretty obvious that Nook Media can’t do hardware, and I think most of the people at B&N either figured that out or don’t want to throw good money after bad.

      • Maybe they can do what Gamestop does and just sell other people’s tablets, with the Nook app preloaded (but not labeled as Nook). In that case B&N doesn’t have to handle support for the tablets, as that would be covered under the manufacturer’s warranty.

  6. Mike Cane used to comment on this blog, but no more

  7. I don’t think most e-book buyers care about B&N’s hybrid DRM any more than about general DRM. They are unaware of it as an issue. Probably more concerning to them is the long-running doubt as to whether B&N will be here tomorrow and leave them unsupported.

    Re: the Windows tablet, this is a game-changer. Windows on a affordable tablet that runs most Windows programs is huge. Not sure how they’d make them work with touch though. Perhaps include support for a mouse and keyboard.

  8. Personally, I think the only way to save the NOOK brand is to abandon their DRM scheme and come up with a more universal (but still branded) piece of hardware. Something along the lines of what Kobo has done with the Arc and Arc HD.

    On the Arcs, you can install apps from the Google Play store. Yeah, I know you can do that on the Nook HD and HD+, but their modification to the OS still REALLY suck.

    Were I them, I’d launch a closer-to-vanilla Android tablet that comes pre-loaded with stuff encouraging you to buy from B&N (exactly like Kobo has done). If they go the Windows RT route (yuck), then I’d encourage the same–make it fairly vanilla RT with B&N enticements.

    Maybe a discount plan for hardware owners would be a cool idea? Buy a NOOK, and you’re in the NOOK club. Enjoy 10% off any eBook. Something like that.

    • I’m not convinced that the Nook brand can be saved at this point. It’s been tarnished by a couple years worth of mismanagement which has seriously damaged consumer confidence.

      The company, on the other hand, might be salvaged. Probably the best and easiest way would be to sell off Nook Media and slap a new brand on it. That would at least save the platform, customer purchases, and most of the staff.

  9. My Hook HD cost $129, weighs less than ANY of my 7″ devices, and without signing into the GoogleBorg made optionally available after the latest update, runs Chrome, Dolphin, and Rhapsody. (I’m pretty sure The HD’s Google Music streams my favorite radio, but don’t quote me on that.)

    I bought an N2A card for when I want to do more with it, but I’ve left the walled garden on the default storage/boot device as-is for kicks. Of course, the deal-killer is the lack of speaker muscle.

    I guess my point is I don’t get all this glee over B&N’s imminent demise.

    One retail bookstore is better than none.

    As for embedded credit card info — strip the DRM, then search the resulting book for ID-thefty bread crumbs. Seems simple enough.

    They made a great stab in a market loaded with absolute cash-grab crap.

    • Once again, I must point out: B&N and NOOK Media are effectively two different companies. NOOK Media is struggling. B&N isn’t. If NOOK crashes and burns, it only affects B&N on paper, in that its stock in NOOK Media becomes truly worthless instead of almost worthless.

      No money from B&N’s bookstores goes to NOOK Media. The bookstores have always been profitable. They’re not going anywhere for some time to come.

      The College bookstores, on the other hand, *are* part of NOOK Media — the profitable part. If NOOK crashes and burns, there may need to be some deft financial footwork to extricate the College business.

  10. The B&N DRM does *not* embed your credit card number in the e-book. It uses the credit card number, along with your name, as input to a formula that generates the encryption/decryption *key*. None of it’s in the e-book data.

    And by the way, all current DRM-stripping approaches for e-books require that you already have the key. None of the e-book DRM systems has (yet) been cracked for “blind” decryption.

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