Jan. 6, 2011 at 7:47 PM ET
Barnes & Noble has launched a new application to bring its extensive library of digital children's books to the iPad. But while the app is free to download, you may or may not find it worth spending your precious time on.
As a frequent buyer and user of children's interactive books for my iPad and iPhone (I've got a 4-year-old son who loves them), I'm happy to have a wider variety of books to choose from (they can be a life saver on a road trip or airplane flight). And the new Barnes & Noble Nook Kids for iPad app – announced at the Consumer Electronics Show taking place in Las Vegas this week – brings more than 230 picture books to the iPad.
But the newly launched app is glitchy right now (as I quickly discovered) and the books available through the mega bookseller are often far more expensive than most iPad and iPhone owners may be used to.
Barnes & Noble made a big entry into the kids e-book market when it launched its Nook Color tablet in November, a full-color follow-up to its Nook e-reader capable of brightly presenting children's books. Now the new iPad app is bringing Barnes & Noble's catalog of colorful children's e-books – which were previously available only on the Nook Color – to the iPad.
The iPad is certainly a great place for this catalog to land. As msnbc.com's Wilson Rothman pointed out in his review of the Nook Color here, the iPad features a significantly larger screen – and that is especially nice for the little ones.
Sure, Apple's App Store already offers thousands of children's books and entertainment apps that you can download individually to your iPad and iPhone. But the Barnes & Noble app gives you access to digital versions of some really great paperback books you just can't get in the App Store – children's favorites such as "Go, Dog. Go!" and "Skippyjon Jones" among many classics new and old.
That said, my experience purchasing and downloading my first kids book through the new Nook app was a rather frustrating, expensive and time-consuming one.
For starters, in order to download books through the app, I had to not only register through the Nook Kids app itself, I also had to create a Barnes & Noble account through the website it directed me to. That's the kind of time a busy parent often doesn't have.
When using an iPad or iPhone to buy a kid's book through the App Store, it's usually a snappy process. Jump into the App Store, select the book, type your password and download it.
After I finally purchased three books through the Barnes & Noble site – "Bright Baby Colors," "Go, Dog. Go!" and "Sam and the Firefly" – I got an error message telling me they couldn't be played on my iPad.
This B&N customer, posting on the "Bright Baby Colors" page, seemed to be having the exact same issue:
I bought this and another book because it said it would work on Nook kids for iPad but when I went to download it, it said it isn't supported on my device. Either it works for iPad or it doesn't. If it doesn't then it shouldn't say it does.
Eventually the app stopped working altogether. I then uninstalled it and reinstalled it to find all my books – surprise! – in their place on the app's digital shelf. That was good news. But alas, as of this writing, the app is again crashing upon opening.
Though not everyone will have the same problems, I'm not the only one reporting such glitches ... as a quick perusal of customer reviews of the app in the App Store reveals. I chatted with Barnes & Noble's Wendy Bronfin, director of digital products, and she acknowledged that there have been some issues with this brand new application. But she added that they are working hard to make sure everything is operating correctly and said the majority of users are reporting smooth sailing.
But probably the biggest issue iPad users are likely to find with the Nook Kids app has nothing to do with technical difficulties – but rather the price of the digital books themselves. The app is free but "The Polar Express" book will cost you $18.95, "Skippyjon Jones" will cost you $12.99, "Go, Dog. Go!" will run you $9.99 and "Sam and the Firefly" will cost you $7.19.
Yes, "Bright Baby Colors" only costs $3.99 and "Dragon's Alphabet Soup" will cost you $1.99 but the iTunes App Store certainly has Barnes & Noble beat in terms of low-low prices. Peruse the kids book apps available for individual sale in the App Store and you'll find the standard price hovers around $1.99. That means you can purchase the superb books "John Henry," "The Boy Who Cried Wolf," "A Present for Milo," and "PopOut! The Tale of Peter Rabbit" all for what it would cost you to buy “Go, Dog. Go!” through the Nook Kids app.
Then again, you often get what you pay for and many of the App Store books are never-before-heard-of titles of questionable merit. Meanwhile, if you and your kids love "Go, Dog. Go!" (and who doesn't) then perhaps the price of having this timeless gem in convenient digital format is worth the $9.99 price tag.
I do wish Nook Kids books for the iPad were lendable. But Bronfin says that while Barnes & Noble does enable the loaning of some adult Nook books, children's picture books can not be lent.
All of that said, the Barnes & Noble Nook Kids app offers up some quality digital productions of titles we all know and love and that's a welcome addition to the junior e-reading arsenal. Meanwhile if you buy a Nook Kids book for your iPad, you can also read it on your Nook Color if you happen to own one. And that's certainly a nice bonus.
For more on this topic, check out:
Holiday travel ahead? Calm your kids with smart apps
How iPhone apps saved our family vacation
Kindle books can now be loaned