According to comments posted at the nookDevs forum, developers have come up with a method for transforming Barnes & Noble's nook e-reader into a web tablet. Demonstrating that where there's a will there's a way, a modification enables the $259 device to become a portable computer featuring free 3G Internet access.
On the downside, cracking the nook's cover voids both the product warranty and the user agreement. Moreover, the modification to the device's internal circuits goes well beyond what the vast majority of consumers may feel comfortable with.
Still, the modification for the nook might become simpler over time. Much the same thing developed with the jailbreaks created to let iPhone users untether their handsets from specific wireless carriers.
'Rooting the Nook'
With a Samsung S3C6410 processor, a Synaptics touchscreen controller, a 2GB Sandisk microSD card for internal storage, and a Sierra wireless data modem, the nook has the minimum hardware for web-tablet functions. Moreover, software developers should find the modification that nookDevs call "rooting the nook" relatively straightforward.
The first step is to crack the machine's cover and remove the internal microSD card on which the device's Android operating system is stored. Next, the card must be mounted in a microSD card adapter that is connected to a PC running Linux or Unix.
After opening the init.rc file stored on the card, the technically inclined user will need to search for the first occurrence of the word "disabled" and replace it with the word "enabled." Then place the modified chip back in the nook, close the case, and power up the device.
The final steps involve downloading and using the Android software development toolkit to make one more software change. According to nookDevs, the modification will prevent Barnes & Noble from sending updates to the machine that could disable the modification or preclude other changes.
However, keep in mind that "rooting the nook" is only the opening phase of the transformation required to turn the machine into a fully functional web tablet. Users of the modified device must also find a way to download web-surfing and security software onto the machine, as well as make these applications accessible on the device's existing user interface.
A Product Differentiator?
The nook modification convincingly demonstrates that the technology is available to produce wireless web tablets at prices below $300. Furthermore, it's clear that the machine's hardware design potentially gives Barnes & Noble the ability to add a browser and other applications down the line.
At first blush, it would seem that any expansion of the nook's wireless capabilities would prohibitively raise the cost of the cellular fees Barnes & Noble must pay AT&T to deliver "free" wireless downloads of books and other content. So we could expect the bookseller to take steps to prevent nook users from exploiting the device's 3G connection for purposes that go beyond what the user agreement permits, such as downloading bandwidth-intensive movies, videos and music tracks.
On the other hand, Barnes & Noble could elect to expand the nook's capabilities while limiting the additional functionality to a Wi-Fi-only mode. Such a move just might provide the bookseller with a way to differentiate the nook from Amazon's market-leading Kindle e-readers. Furthermore, expanding the nook's existing Wi-Fi capabilities, which are currently limited to Barnes & Noble's retail outlets, could give users an additional incentive to visit the company's brick-and-mortar shops.
Posted: 2010-08-10 @ 10:29am PT
According to the nook devs' website, the hack does NOT provide free internet access via the nook's AT&T 3G network. It provides free access only via the nook's Wi-Fi, which offers much less area coverage (and furthermore, not all Wi-Fi hot spots offer free access). The 3G is apparently limited to accessing Barnes & Noble's sites, the restriction is enforced by AT&T's network, and is not something that can be hacked. (Or so I've heard.)