Yesterday we brought you news that a surprising new deal between Microsoft and Barnes & Noble would see the latter’s NOOK e-reader and e-book library spun off into a subsidiary. The subsidiary, to be named Newco, will be getting a $300 million investment from Microsoft. The deal also settled an ongoing patent lawsuit between the two companies by licensing several of Microsoft’s patents to Newco. The deal will also see a NOOK app available for Windows 8 when the operating system is launched later this year.
Following the deal, Barnes & Noble CEO William Lynch sat down with CNN Money. During the interview, he discussed the deal and revealed some interesting details about what’s coming next in the NOOK pipeline. Perhaps the most interesting part of the interview was his statement that upcoming models of NOOK would be getting NFC (near-field communication) technology by the end of the year.
When asked what Barnes & Noble’s NOOK business could be doing better, Lynch discussed offline-online integration, and how the primarily online NOOK experience could be more tightly integrated with Barnes & Noble’s brick-and-mortar retail experience. As an example of how the company would do that, Lynch revealed that upcoming versions of the NOOK would have NFC chips built in. The company would then work on deals with the publishers to put NFC chips inside the hardcover editions of their books. Stored on the chips would be things like editorial reviews. A customer who brought their NOOK into a Barnes & Noble store would be able to tap the cover of a hardcover book with their NOOK and instantly get information about that book.
NFC technology has been slowly working its way into the mobile space over the past few years. The most common implementation of it – the one you’re likely most familiar with – is contact-less payment systems. Examples of this include MasterCard’s PayPass system, whereby customers tap their card on an NFC-capable reader rather than swiping it. The technology has started to make its way into a number of smartphones, including the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. NFC-capable Android-based smartphones can use Google Wallet to tap the same sorts of readers used by systems like PayPass to make mobile payments. They can also use Android Beam to pass a variety of data back and forth between NFC-enabled phones. There have also been rumors that the next iPhone will be getting NFC technology as well.
The inclusion of NFC in an e-reader is an interesting decision. Thus far most of the applications for NFC have revolved around the exchange of information between electronic devices, as with Google Wallet, Isis, or Android Beam. The kind of Barnes & Noble apparently has in mind for it is both unique and promising. It shows that the applications for NFC are far broader than the technology’s implementation thus far would suggest, and it promises, as Barnes & Noble obviously hopes, to unify the company’s online and in-store experiences in a novel way.
Though Lynch did not say that the NOOK would be getting NFC before the end of the year, his comments hint that it will. He did not say which NOOK models will be getting NFC. It will certainly be coming to the NOOK tablet. The interesting question is whether it will also be coming to the e-ink NOOK Simple Touch or the NOOK Color. Apart from potential cost issues, there is no reason Barnes & Noble couldn’t put the technology in either device.
What do you think? Is NFC in an e-reader a good idea? Would it make you more inclined to buy a NOOK over a Kindle? Let us know in the comments.