A lot has changed in the past year in the ebook world; the ePub format has gained a lot of interest and activity as an open format. Open standards are, of course, the reason that the Web has had its spectacular growth and vibrancy as a new medium, so you’d think that the creators of a new reader device would see which way the curve of history is going. I had no idea what to expect from the new nook color, but I did hope that (as an android device) it might be slightly more open than other things on the market.
And, in fact, it is. Very slightly. It is news that you can actually go to a Web site and download an ePub (that is not copy-protected) and read it. The browser (a version of Chrome, included in Google Android) is good enough to be useful. The touch screen is a little balky but not nearly as bad as the first nook.
However, the nook color still makes it hard to get and read books in any other way than the B&N store. To download non B&N books and read them, I can copy them to the nook over USB, but if I download them over the browser they only appear in the “my files” part, not in “my books.” If I download an ePub from a Web site via the nook Web browser, it is placed in the “my downloads” directory. I can go and open it there on the nook, but since I have no way to move files on the nook itself, the only way I can make it appear in the nook “library” is a workaround. That is, connect the nook to a computer, move the ePub file from the “my downloads” to “my books” directory; and only then (after a refresh button-press on the nook) it shows up in the nook “library.”
The nook mounts as a regular mass-storage device, similar to a Kindle, but allows me to see the entire document tree (including the DRM’d ePubs). This is more transparent than an iPad/iPhone at least, but that doesn’t mean I can just rearrange files myself in anything other than the “my files” directory. Maddeningly, if I add or move files to the B&N directory, it doesn’t show them — only the DRM’d files are recognized. And, of course, I can’t get applications from the Android Market for any price (that much I expected).
The small roadblocks that the nook color places in the way of getting and reading non DRM’d files feel petty and stupid. For the price ($250) it can’t be getting subsidized by B&N, so why the desperation? So much work must have gone into ensuring that I can use the device in only one way; if only B&N had just let it be a decently-sized android device in that way only (even sans-apps). At some point someone will make the equivalent of an iPod Touch with Android software that is tied to a good content store (but is a flexible device that I can geek out with). I am surprised that (given the market dominance of the iPod) someone hasn’t.