|New Nook Color from Barnes & Noble|
When I first heard that Barnes & Noble was promoting their new Nook Color device for child readers, I hoped this meant they had added parental control features. They have a whole page on their web site dedicated to promoting the Nook Color for use by children.
However, the fact that picture books look great on a Nook Color is completely irrelevant when the Nook has wide-open access to the World Wide Web – no parent in their right mind is going to buy that for an elementary school child whose favorite Google search keywords are “butt” and “poop.” Furthermore, when it comes to downloading content to the Nook, parents like me are concerned that our second-graders might browse the unfiltered online bookstore out of curiosity and impulsively purchase and download all kinds of questionable content without parental knowledge or approval – and we’d get an unpleasant surprise when the credit card statement came in the mail. Allowing at least the OPTION to password-protect internet browsing and/or purchasing new content on the Nook (adult users who found the feature annoying could perhaps turn off the password protection) would make the Nook the ONLY truly child-friendly e-reader on the market. If the Nook Color had those features right now, I would pre-order them today as Christmas gifts for my two sons, as would countless other like-minded parents of school aged children.
There is a huge untapped market potential here. Parents are already buying children similarly-priced Nintendo DSi personal gaming systems, yet the potential educational benefits of an e-reader device makes the price tag a lot more palatable to parents. We feel guilty about allowing our kids to play video games too much, but so many parents are really struggling to find ways to get our children reading more. Look at how successful the Leapster and Leap Pad technology has been for preschool aged children – an e-reader with parental controls would be a logical next step for beginning readers, something kids could use from kindergarten through college.
Kids love electronics and take to them intuitively, and do not have the same biases towards “real” books that keep many adult readers away from e-readers. Furthermore, I really believe that e-readers are the way of the future, and suspect that my sons will have most if not all of their textbooks and supplemental reading on a digital device by the time they get to college, so it makes sense for kids to get comfortable with the technology now. I let my boys play with the Nook at the bookstore, and they thought it was SO cool. I was really disappointed that no one at Barnes & Noble seems to have considered a child end-user when designing the Nook.
1. The schools today are prescribing nightly reading – 30 minutes per day – as part of students’ homework. If the nook could track how long a child has been reading, or how many words he or she has read, both during the current session as well as an “all time total,” that would help with tracking reading for homework and would also be really motivating to the kids (“You have read a total of 836 minutes and over 500,000 words!”).
2. I don’t know whether the Nook has this capability yet or not (I know that when I use the Barnes & Noble reading app on my iPhone I have it), but the ability to point at a word and get a definition instantly would be enormously helpful to children who are supposed to go get a dictionary to look up unfamiliar words, but they never do because it’s too much of a hassle and who knows where the dictionary is, anyway?
Of the major players in the e-reader arena, Barnes & Noble is probably my favorite for kids because of the ability to share material between devices. Right now, if I buy a traditional paperback or hardcover book (who am I kidding – I never buy just one!), as soon as the first boy has finished it, his brother wants to read it. Sharing is a huge plus for families with more than one child, because we don’t want to have to pay two or three times to download the same Magic Treehouse book to two or three different devices.
I last blogged about e-Readers for children back in April (click here for that post in case you missed it) , and I’ve been amazed to see how many people have landed on that blog post after searching the internet to find an e-reader that would be appropriate for their children. Just today someone emailed me about that post, wondering whether I knew if the new Nook Color would have parental controls or password protection. After calling Barnes & Noble Technical Support to confirm, I was very disappointed to learn that we still can’t buy Nooks for children. There is definitely an unserved market here. Please let me know if or when you release a child-friendly Nook, because I want to be first in line to buy two of them!
Update, December 2011: We ended up buying Amazon Kindles for our boys about six months ago, and you can read about how they're working out for us here.