The Nook Color's built on top of Android but seemed limited in its potential to be a killer Android tablet by the way it'd run apps. Well, the reality is, it could be a solid little Android tablet after all.
At the Nook Color announcement, Barnes & Noble wasn't super clear about how apps and its own app store would work in relation to the larger Android ecosystem and Market. But now that we've talked to them about the development program a little more in depth, things look peachier.
Barnes & Noble is going to run their own app store for the Nook Color, distributing and selling applications. It's a "curated" experience, meaning they'll have to approve apps for the store, which developers can start submitting in "early 2011", with apps approved "within weeks" of submission. So the apps that we saw at the launch, like Pandora, is all that'll be available for a couple of months. (They won't disclose how they're splitting revenue with developers but said they're using a "familiar" scheme, so the standard 70/30 probably applies.)
The Nook Color won't run apps straight out of the Android Market, but that doesn't mean it can't run them - in fact, they've done a lot of tests on apps from standard Android smartphones and they "pretty much run on Nook colour", which has Android 2.1 under the hood. (The Nook's native interface and apps are just standard Android application layers.) Barnes & Noble's special Nook SDK runs on top of the standard Android one and gives developers access to exclusive extensions and APIs for the Nook and its interface. So porting Android apps isn't difficult. B&N says it's more like "optimising" them for Nook than porting them.
While Barnes & Noble really doesn't want the Nook Color "to be perceived as a multipurpose device," and their goal is to "extend the reading experience through applications", their definition of apps that do that is quite elastic. In fact, they don't have to be text-y at all. I posited a Netflix or other video service app, and B&N's Claudia Romanini said they'd probably fly. "Is it attached to a book? Maybe not. But when I'm looking at content, I'm looking for multiple touch points. The fundamental question B&N is asking of apps is, "Would that reading user be interested in consuming that content?"
Frankly, most of what I use my iPad for is reading - RSS, books, newspapers, email - and Netflix. If the Nook Color can deliver that in a slick way, well, that's all I really want out of an Android tablet. But given that it's plain ol' Android underneath, I won't be surprised when the more enterprising Android nerds make it capable of doing a lot of other things too.