Ina Fried

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With Update, Barnes & Noble’s Nook Color Gets More Tablet-Like

Starting on Monday, Barnes & Noble is delivering a promised software update for the Nook Color that will further tilt the device from being a multi-purpose e-reader into a full-fledged Android tablet.

The free update will add an email program, as well as support for a variety of third-party programs that have been customized for the 7-inch device.

“Frankly, most of the things they have asked us about are very popular tablet features,” Barnes & Noble Director of Developer Relations Claudia Romanini said in an interview last week. Email, she said, was the single most requested feature. The email program that comes free as part of the update supports programs such as Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo Mail, while a paid app will allow syncing with an Exchange Server.

Among the other apps going on sale on Monday are games such as Angry Birds and Uno as well as cooking title Epicurious and phrasebooks from Lonely Planet. Some titles, such as a calendar and note-taking program, are free, while others will be paid, with Barnes & Noble getting 30 percent of the sale price and the remainder going to the developer. Barnes & Noble says it will have at least 125 apps when the store launches on Monday.

As part of the update, users are also getting other features, including faster browsing, support for books with embedded video clips and an update to the Froyo version of Android, which gives the Nook the ability to support Flash 10.1. Also, kids’ books will now be able to embed included activities, such as mini-games, within the book.

For a while now, some users have been hacking the device so that it can run Android apps, a process known as “rooting.” Barnes & Noble hasn’t commented other than to note that this process does void the warranty.

With the latest update, though, the bookseller clearly hopes to give users the tablet features they want without forcing them to take such drastic measures.

Those that want the update immediately will be able to download it to their PC or Mac on Monday and then sideload it onto their Nook Color. Those willing to wait can have it pushed directly onto their device over time, using its Wi-Fi capabilities. The company plans to start pushing out the update in the coming week and the update will come over the following week or two, provided the device is registered and connects to a Wi-Fi network.

Barnes & Noble has been expanding its work with developers ahead of the launch. All of the apps for the Nook–which are sold in the same Nook shop on the device that sells books–have been optimized for the larger screen and fewer buttons that separate the Nook from Android-based phones.

Romanini said that Barnes & Noble also isn’t supporting all imaginable features of Android, such as telephony. In other words, don’t expect Skype any time soon.

“I wouldn’t expect that,” she said.

In addition to boosting the Nook Color’s attractiveness against the current e-reader and tablet competition, the move to open up to developers could serve the company well if Amazon makes a move to offer an Android tablet of its own, something many expect it to do. Amazon has already opened an Android app store, has music and video services that work on Android and also last week launched a version of its Kindle reader software that is optimized for tablets running the Honeycomb version of Android. Amazon has declined to comment on any tablet plans.