Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Barnes & Noble's New Nook Color STILL has No Parental Controls or Password Protection

New Nook Color from Barnes & Noble
Someday, someone is going to come out with a genuinely child-friendly e-reader device -- but sadly, it hasn't happened yet. By child-friendly, I mean the device must have some means of allowing parents to control access to the internet and the purchase and download of new material to the device. It could be as simple as adding the option of password protection to access these features on the device, or more sophisticated parental control options that would restrict access only to adult themed or inappropriate content. Whoever comes up with this truly child-friendly device first is going to make a LOT of money.
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.

The "Read to Me" feature on the Nook Color is a great idea for early readers, but that's only the beginning of what electonic reading devices could do to help children with reading.  If Barnes & Noble does decide to make the Nook more child-friendly, there are a couple more features on the wish lists of parents like me:

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


Paul said...

We were considering a Nook for our daughter so I wrote B&N tech support. Not only are there no parental controls, their tech support is worthless. I wrote about my experience here:

Of course, the Kindle doesn't have parental controls either but I've found Amazon's tech support to be more competent.

Our router (from Verizon) allows me to set parental controls for devices (though I'd have to create my own list of keywords and sites, a true chore I'm sure) but that doesn't solve the problem of public wi-fi hotspots, such as at the library.

Maybe B&N will get the message that they're losing sales because of this, and they would have a true competitive advantage over Amazon and Sony if they included parental controls.

Unknown said...

You must not have called the right people then! My nookcolor is locked at all times. I have a code to keep people out of my nook AND a code to prevent purchases. No there isn't a parental control yet but be patient! They take customer comments very seriously and I wouldn't be surprised if they had it by the next few months. And I've tried Amazon's tech guys too and I'd rather NOT chance getting an outsourced guy from another country who can't even understand me. B&N keeps their tech support here where it should be. Kindle is garbage anyway. You're stuck buying from amazon the whole time. I check out library books as well as shop several other stores other than b&n on my nook. So please give it a chance!

Rebecca Grace said...

Josh, how does the lock feature work? Is the device TOTALLY locked, like a locked cell phone that can't be used at all, or could I just lock the purchasing and web browsing features and allow a child to read on the nook while it was locked? BN tech support guy that I talked to was totally clueless; it was obvious he did not have kids. :-)

nookcoloradvocate said...

Rebecca, you can set a lock for the "home screen" to completely lock the device, and/or set one for pruchases. For the author, the nook does provide instant word search/look up features and provides the user with the ability to DISABLE wifi. There are App's out there tha will assist in providing additional parental controls for Android Devices too.

Good Luck...

Rebecca Grace said...

NookColorAdvocate, I wasn't able to reply to you directly, but your timing is perfect. I haven’t looked at the nook again recently, but I just had to take my 11-year-old’s kindle away AGAIN because of all the “active content” (games) he was purchasing with it without my permission. It’s so frustrating – he has an iPod and a Nintendo DS for playing games; I wanted him to have an e-reader so he could READ! I've just about had it with the Kindle. I’m not rushing out to buy him anything new right now, while he’s punished, but I might have to look into the nook after a respectable amount of time has passed. Do you work for Barnes & Noble, or do you have one for your child? I'd love to learn more about how the parental controls work for the nook. Is the nook considered an Android device?

Thanks for the info!

Anonymous said...

I have the nook color with update 1.4.3. It has the ability to lock our web browsing, and require a password to make any purchase. Those locks are behind a parental PIN, separate from the device screen PIN.

What I'd like to see is a NetNanny for Nook. Only the HD version has anything close.