Thursday, May 27, 2010

Barnes & Noble Gets it 90% Right, But Fails Again, with New eReader for iPad App

By Stephen Windwalker, Editor of Planet iPad

Related post: The Cancer Spreads: Can B&N's Periodicals Offering Really Be a Killer Feature If They Can't Be Downloaded?

I so wanted to say something nice about Barnes & Noble, the Nook, and its new B&N eReader App for the iPad. I've been a little harsh at times in the past, I'll admit: even as recently as yesterday.

So, after reading early reviews of the iPad app from a couple of colleagues, and seeing how, as in the above screenshot, it had already soared to the top of all free apps in the iPad App Store, I was ready. I had even written a headline in my mind for the post:

New Reading App from B&N Advances iPad Experience

At the very least, I felt sure, the new B&N eReader App's cool features will put pressure on Amazon and Apple to finish what they've started and deliver on the unrealized potential of the Kindle for iPad and iBooks apps.

Then I had to go and ruin it all by actually trying the thing out myself.

I'm sorry. I hate to be a grump, a curmudgeon, or all the other names that B&N fans might be thinking of for me just now -- names that I'm sure I richly deserve -- if they are thinking of me at all, which is doubtful.

I downloaded the app. It was free. It took about 20 seconds, and then it only took me another few seconds to delete two earlier iterations of B&N eReader apps that were not iPad-optimized, and which frankly I had not used much. All good so far.

I downloaded Dracula, one of the free books offered right there on the home screen and was charmed by the nicely realized feature set including all manner of font sizes, font styles, margin settings, background colors, page layouts, page numbers, and the furthest advances yet with respect to annotations and highlighting in an iPad-optimized reading app.

So far, I thought, they've raised the bar dramatically, although the lack of selection, while lights years ahead of the iBooks catalog, remains embarrassing compared to that in the Kindle Store.

Time to try to buy something!

Maybe I'm cheap. Maybe it was just my bad judgment, to try to buy a newspaper that I wanted to read for 49 cents rather than laying out $10 or $15 for an ebook (when, after all, I've got dozens of books already in my Kindle account and not enough time to read them all on my Kindle, iPad, iPod Touch, Mac, Blackberry, or PC).

I'd already heard from blogging colleagues that, unlike the Kindle for iPad App or the iBooks App, the B&N eReader App would allow me to buy a newspaper and read it! Perfect for the iPad, I thought, and very convenient since after watching the last night's NBA playoff game I wanted to see what my local Boston Globe writers had to say about elbows, concussions, and gratuitous technical fouls. But I digress.

I clicked on "add books" and was transported to the B&N ebook store.

I clicked on eNewspapers and finger-flicked my way down to the fourth row to find the Globe. There it was, ready to buy, with a big fat "Buy Current Issue" button and a nice graphic of the iPad and a bunch of other gadgets right next to the words "Works with any computer or mobile device."

My mouth was watering, and I will admit that I was wondering why Amazon was so slow to offer periodicals and blogs (yeah, like this one!) in all its various Kindle apps, and why Amazon was so slow to bring obviously needed upgrades including some of the features mentioned a few paragraphs up to its Kindle for iPad app, and why Amazon this, and why Amazon that. But, yep, I digress. This isn't flippin' Ulysses, after all, and I do not need to be boring you with my interior monologue.

I tapped the Buy button.

The credit card I had on file with B&N had expired a couple of years ago, so I was prompted to enter my credit card, my name, my address, and even the little three-digit security code that Amazon has never ever asked me for from the back of my credit card. I gave it all up willingly, perhaps even gratefully. Take that, Mr. Bezos! And you, too, Mr. Jobs!

Might I be well on the way to becoming a B&N guy? A Nook Man?

I might, I might! It might be something less than a fundamental reordering of the U.S. economy, but the thousands of dollars I have spent with Amazon and Apple over the past few years might soon be redirected to "the bookstore I grew up with," as Barnes & Noble's latest marketing message so generously puts it in describing a store that didn't exist until I was in my 20s.

An email appeared almost instantaneously in my inbox confirming my purchase. The 49-cent charge appeared magically among the somewhat larger pending charges in my online credit card account display.

I was close to newspaper-reading bliss!

Back to the home screen, then, where I tapped on the Globe image that had already appeared there.

And here is what I saw next:

Technical difficulties.

I winced. I tried again, exited, re-entered, tapped and tapped again, searching for some way around the little glitch that, ever the optimist, I was sure would soon be set right.

Finally, at long last, a different message appeared:

Aha. Everything was explained.

"This item is not yet supported on this device."

And not only that! Also, "We are sorry."

Okay then.

How about, "Click here for an automatic freakin' refund!"

Or how about "Not only are we sorry, but here's why we're sorry: we just wasted 5 minutes of your time because nobody on our incredibly lame team bothered to take 5 minutes for quality control before we rolled this out."

Nope. Because this is Barnes & Noble, which used an old Edsel launch manual for its Nook roll-out in November, and has continued to foul its own bed with nearly every step it has taken in the ebook arena.

Sure, they will fix it sooner or later, maybe tonight. Everything gets fixed sooner or later, doesn't it? And true, there are a lot of cool features in their new app, which will certainly accelerate the work that the serious players in this arena must do to catch up.

But the bottom line is that B&N has screwed up again. I could be more generous, I'm sure. I could take a step back, take a deep breath, and conclude that I just happened to hit on the one minor screw-up in this latest launch, that there would probably be no others.

But, you know, it's Santayana and the history thing. We've been there and done that:

You know the quote from Santayana: "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it." Actually, on a certain level, you could say that B&N seems to learn very well from "history." As I said in a post yesterday, "the best way to predict what Barnes & Noble will do at any given time is to look at what Amazon did two or three years ago."

But I didn't get that exactly right, did I?

To be more precise, what Barnes & Noble will do at any given time is to take what Amazon did two or three years ago and figure out how to screw it up.


  1. Woah - that's sort of harsh. I agree with you - they need to fix it asap. But the app overall is has some great advancements that the Kindle and iBooks app should adopt ASAP. I have all 3, with most of my collection in the Kindle app, but I drool for some of the features in the B&N app in my Kindle app.

  2. Oh - now I'm going to be harsh. My main B&N pet peeve is Fictionwise is a B&N company. But your fictionwise books don't work in the B&N app (iPhone or iPad). That is a major oversight IMHO.