One of the cool things about the Android operating system is how many places it shows up these days. What started as an embedded offering on the T-Mobile G1 has grown phenomenally. Android has become the best-selling smartphone operating system, as well as the digital mojo that powers numerous tablets, set-top boxes, and some very well known e-readers.

In a previous TechRepublic post, I discussed my first-hand experiences with the Amazon App Store. More recently in several of my posts, I shared some of the obstacles and solutions my son and I encountered as we worked at creating our first Android game. My major motivations were to teach him a bit about coding and to give myself an excuse to play around with Android’s graphics and sound libraries.

However, writing a great app is only a part of the equation for being a successful app entrepreneur. With all of the bugs worked out, my son and I have turned our attention to marketing our creation. We immediately launched our game in Google’s Android Market, and shortly thereafter in the Amazon App Store. Then after seeing a post on my Facebook page about the app being available for Kindle Fire, my friend Susan wrote on my wall: “too bad I can’t get it for my Nook.”

Nook, huh? I don’t own a Nook, but I remembered reading a while back that for at least a couple incarnations now, the popular Barnes & Noble (B&N) e-reader was running Android under the hood. What could be the harm in doing some digging? So I set out to uncover what it would take to get my latest app onto a Nook.

From a technical perspective

It turns out there are two versions of the Nook hardware that can run Android apps: Nook Color and Nook Tablet. Targeting either device is fairly straight-forward. The Nook Color runs Froyo (Android 2.2) and the Nook Tablet runs Gingerbread (Android 2.3). Much like Amazon’s Kindle Fire the Android e-readers in the Nook family have a medium density display resolution (MDPI-160) with a pixel count of 600×1024. If you are used to the Android mantra of trying to support every display, resolution, and device under the sun, you will find that only worrying about a single device profile is quite nice.

Besides the fixed display, the Nook has a few other technical items that are unique to it; mainly, there are features that are not supported. These features include:

  • LocationManager (with or without GPS)
  • Bluetooth
  • Microphone
  • TTS
  • Camera
  • Messaging (SMS/MMS)
  • HDMI
  • 3 Axis Gyro

The B&N team have made available to Nook developers a Nook specific emulator image, as well as a few add-on libraries for accessing their store and some of the DRM mechanisms in use by B&N. Those libraries are nice, but certainly not essential. I was able to test the application just fine using my own emulator, and I managed to get along without the add-on libraries.

Read more about this process.

From a business perspective

The first time you log in to the Nook developer page you will notice the primary difference between what B&N is doing vs. what Amazon and Google are doing. On Nook, you have to first apply to be a developer. I don’t know what criteria they use when deciding whether to take on an applicant. I do know, however, I don’t remember required responses like the following when submitting my app to the Android Market and the Amazon App Store.

  • Briefly describe the vision for your application business. Provide details of your strategy for growth and or expansion, of your application/s, opportunity, importance to your overall business plan, etc.
  • Please briefly explain how you see your application will appeal to the Barnes & Noble customer and your application’s fit with the NOOK Color as the “Reader’s Tablet.”
  • Briefly describe your target customer – by demographics, age, gender, interests, etc.
  • What is your published turnaround time for support questions?

Requiring a person to approve a developer before granting access to the app developer website is one of many examples of the concerted effort B&N is making to closely curate and monitor the content available for its device. Another is that it doesn’t allow apps supported by ad networks like AdMob in the store. I get it. In a crowded market a lot is riding on the ability to differentiate, and it appears the powers that be at B&N believe one key difference is that its name is on the device and to some extent each and every app that runs on that device.

It only takes a quick look at the Nook Apps page to see that the number of apps available for the Nook comes nowhere close to what is available to the Android community at large. It stands to reason if the marketing image is focused on quality over quantity the process for getting your apps in the store is more involved.

Don’t expect to finish your app tonight and have it on the Nook tomorrow. There are multiple steps, including an awkward two-part submission process that first requires your application metadata and pricing structure is approved before an actual upload and technical review of your APK can even be started. From start to finish it took me about two weeks to get my app approved for the Nook. This for an app that was already available in the Android Market and the Amazon App Store.

Thoughts on the Nook developer portal

My feelings about the Nook developer portal run hot and cold. After using Google’s dev portal and Amazon’s quite a bit, I was immediately struck by how much cleaner and eye-pleasing the Nook developer portal was.

However, my fondness for it fleeted when I found a number of items to be quirky. For example, if you type your login information incorrectly, instead of suggesting you try again, you are immediately thrown into the form for applying as if you were a new developer. Another annoyance was that the developer portal sometimes seems to lock up, requiring you to kill your browser altogether. A few features, like the marketing badge maker, never worked.

Even with its issues, more times than not I preferred the Nook developer portal over Google’s and Amazon’s. There was one exception: A lot of time in the Nook app approval process is spent waiting. You apply to be a developer and then wait for a response. You submit your banking data and wait for verification. You submit your app’s metadata and wait for review. And finally one day your app is actually uploaded for technical review and that too requires waiting on a response.

This process lends itself to an email now and again to update the developer on the progress. Something telling me I’ve been approved for the Nook development program, that my app’s metadata needed to be reworked because the border included transparent pixels, or that my app passed the technical review. Instead, in every case I found myself having to log in to the portal a few times a day and check on the progress.

Maybe this was just a glitch, but I didn’t get any notifications and I made a point to check through the junk mail folders as well. As best I could tell, you are responsible for logging in to the portal several times a day, checking the status, making changes when necessary, and then resubmitting your last request. It’s an incredibly inefficient use of time and slows down an already lengthy process.

Eureka! My app in the Nook Apps store

My first pass at getting my app into the Nook Apps store came back as a no-go after about 48 hours. I was asked to remove the ads from the game’s main screen, and it was also strongly recommended that I charge something for the app. My guess behind the reasoning is that B&N doesn’t want to pollute the platform eco-structure with the expectation by users of free content on the device. Also let’s be honest, frequently apps that cost even 99 cents are higher quality than those that cost nothing. Another consideration is that ad-supported apps need massive numbers of users to make the developer any money, and the number of Nook users accounts for a small percentage of the Android user base at large.

About 14 days after starting the process, Who Moved My Cheese–the game was approved for listing on Nook Apps. Unlike Amazon and Google’s stores, the available inventory (even for digital content) does not get published immediately. The B&N webpage seems to get a refresh about every 48 hours, so depending on when your application is approved, it may take another two days before it shows up.


If you are looking for another outlet for an Android app, I recommend giving the Nook a try. When it works as intended, the developer portal is nice. While the process of getting your app published on the Nook is more involved than other application venues, it feels good to know you’ve made the grade. Furthermore, from a technical standpoint, if your app already runs on Froyo and Gingerbread devices, there is little if any effort needed to make it compatible with the Nook.

Since my son and I did not develop our game with the intention of making a profit, I can’t speak as to how the B&N platform stacks up against Google’s and Amazon’s in terms of sales. In terms of downloads, it seems to be a fraction of what we are seeing elsewhere. That said, there is no cost in making your app available to Nook users other than an investment of time and a little bit of persistence. If you’ve even considered it, I say give it a try — especially if like me you’ve had someone ask for your app on the medium.

Speaking of requests I say now to my friend Susan who sent me off down this road in the first place: “Are you happy? The app is officially available for your Nook, so don’t let me find out you still haven’t downloaded a copy!”