Barnes and Noble is delivering the WiFi version of the NOOKcolor (Fig. 1) for only $249. This Android-based tablet is powered by one of Texas Instruments' OMAP processors. The NOOKcolor runs an OMAP 3621 that is based on Arm's Cortex-A8 It is one of the first substantial Android tablets. The initial target market are Barnes and Noble's current book customers but the platform, like most tablets, offers much more. In fact, most have suitable web browsers and wireless connectivity to make them useful user interfaces to other embedded devices. Likewise, these platforms can run other Android applications providing an even better user experience.
You will be hard pressed to find the specs on the NOOKcolor's particular processor chip. Greg Burke's blog, One for the Books..., provides some authoritative insight into the NOOKcolor from TI's pespective. Still Texas Instruments' OMAP 36x (Fig. 2) line shares a number of similarities in addition to the Cortex-A8 core. Some of the key features include the image signal processor (ISP) and the 2D/3D graphics accelerator. Clearly the NOOKcolor can handle more than e-books. Some of the interfaces, like the camera interface, are not used but the NOOKcolor has plenty of other features in use to deliver 3G and WiFi connectivity.
The NOOKcolor's 7-in touchscreen has a wide, 178° viewing angle with a resolution of 1024 by 600 (169 dots/in). The screen is backlit. It uses a capacitive touch interface. As with most Android platforms, it has an accelerometer allowing automatic portrait or landscape viewing.
The unit itself is 8.1-in by 5-in by 0.48-in. It weighs in at just under a pound (15.8 ounces). WiFi supports includes 802.11/b/g/n. The standard unit has 8 Gbytes of flash plus a MicroSD slot. The NOOKcolor has a micro USB socket and a 3.5mm stereo jack to complement the on-board speaker. The rechargable battery is stated to last 8 hours
Barnes and Noble includes its own apps designed for browsing their online store and providing viewing of content including e-books and videos. The web browser is not restricted so the NOOKcolor can be used to access almost any web-based device. The apps are standard Android applications and, in theory, other Android apps could be run on the NOOKcolor.
This is where things get a little murky for developers looking to put a more custom interface on a device like this. The question of how to get the apps on the device is one issue. Luckily the issue of compatibility is lower as most applications for Android platforms are written in Java and target the Android environment.
Some Android tablets will be very open in terms of adding new applications. Still, a platform like the NOOKcolor is low cost, high performance and readily available. A developer would be hard pressed to duplicate this type of platform without having the marketing power of an outfit like Barnes and Noble.
What will be interesting to see in 2011 is how many platforms like this thrive and how compatible they will be with each other from a software perspective. In addition, it remains to be seen how the distribution mechanisms like the Android Market are adopted by tablet vendors. The other issue will be enterprise support from a service and security standpoint. The model may follow that occuring with Android smartphones now or it may not. In any case Android tablets like the NOOKcolor provide an opportunity to employ them as a user interface for embedded network devices.