It was just Monday that we reported that Android hackers rooted the Barnes & Noble Nook for the first time, and already we're seeing apps show up. I suggested the first thing we'd see was a browser, but it turns out I was wrong. The first app (that I've heard of, at least) is Pandora, the popular and rather awesome streaming music site that just announced that it passed 40 million registered users this month. [Update: Though a browser apparently wasn't far behind.]
So on the face of it, this is great news. Nothing like a bit of relaxing background music to accompany your reading, right? But there's a fly in the ointment here. A post at Gizmodo implies that the Pandora app works not over Wifi, but via the AT&T 3G connection that lets you buy a book on the Nook anytime, anywhere. Suffice to say that streaming music is going to use a lot more bandwidth than buying a book, and AT&T isn't going to be pleased. They'll no doubt lean heavily on Barnes & Noble to make the Nook more hack-proof in order to conserve their bandwidth (understandably, I suppose).
Now there's lots of caveats to this story. First of all, it may just be flat out wrong. I can't find confirmation that Pandora is using 3G and I don't have a Nook to test with. [Update: Please check the comments. Someone identifying themselves as robbiet480 from nookDevs says that Gizmodo did in fact get it wrong. So for now this is more an intellectual exercise than a real problem.] Second, for now at least, rooting the Nook and running apps is still very much a geek experience; you have to void your warranty, crack open the casing of the Nook, and have a linux machine with a microSD reader just to do the rooting, and then you have to install and run apps from a command line [details here]. Not something the average Nook user is going to be doing. Third, Pandora over 3G (on normal Android devices) isn't as slick as Pandora over Wifi. Depending on your coverage, it can take a long time to start streaming when the app first starts or when changing channels. So presumably the ideal is to get the Pandora working over Wifi on the Nook, and that's how most people will use it.
But the bottom line is that at some point Barnes & Noble, under pressure from AT&T, is going to have to push some kind of update (or introduce a new revision of the hardware) that prevents (or at least, attempts to prevent) rooting Nooks in order to protect that 3G bandwidth. Sure, the hackers will find a way to work around the update, but then another update will break rooting again, and so on. We'll see a see-saw battle of B&N pushing updates to shut down "homebrew apps" and then the hackers working around the shutdown and then B&N shutting down the shutdown. We've seen this kind of "battle" with devices like the Sony PSP, and no one wins.
A Nook that can run Android apps in the bottom screen is simply more interesting than a Nook that can't, which is why I find all this rooting news so intriguing. But ideally installing apps should be easy to do (and not warranty-voiding). So what's the solution? At one point B&N spokesmen implied that some kind of app support could be coming further down the road. B&N needs to embrace this idea and move forward with these plans sooner rather than later. Offer a way for regular users to install apps that can only access the web via Wifi, not 3G. Sure, hackers will continue to hack, but the general public won't bother. We'll just happily use the system Barnes & Noble provides, and live with the Wifi-only limitation. We'll get to make our Nooks our own (adding value to the devices) and AT&T stays happy with their bandwidth only being used to buy books. Everybody wins.
So what about it, Barnes & Noble? When do we get our apps?