Barnes & Noble adds Google Play app store in bid to improve Nook
* Will bring number of "apps" to 750,000 from 10,000
* Move is an improvement, though not a "game-changer"- analyst
By Phil Wahba
May 3 (Reuters) - Barnes & Noble Inc aims to make its "Nook" tablets more appealing to consumers by offering buyers access to Google Inc's apps store, hoping to generate interest in a device that has made little headway against Amazon.com Inc's Kindle and Apple Inc's iPad.
The top U.S. bookstore chain, trying to reverse a drop in sales last holiday season of its Nook devices, which include e-readers, announced it would add Google Play to its Nook HD and Nook HD+ devices as of Friday.
The move will bring the number of apps on the Nook HD and Nook HD+ tablets, which first came to market in November, to 750,000 from about 10,000, or roughly the same as the iPad, in an effort to remedy what the company recognizes is the Nook's Achilles heel: a limited selection of "apps" or software.
"This deal is about plugging that gap. Consumers told us they wanted more apps," Barnes & Noble CEO William Lynch told Reuters.
Nook HD and Nook HD+ devices sold in stores as of Friday will already have Google Play installed. Existing customers will be able to download it at Nook's online store and via an automatic over-the-air update.
The tablets will also have Google services like Gmail, YouTube, Google Maps, and the Chrome web browser.
"It's a positive product enhancement- adding the android features is a great step. It makes this device competitive," said Sarah Rotman Epps, a senior analyst with Forrester Research, who nonetheless said the move was not a game changer in the fight against large tech giants whose devices have more visibility.
Google Play is expanding its offering quickly: in the last year, it has rapidly closed the gap with Apple's market-dominating apps store in terms of sheer quantity, with both expected to hit 1 million soon.
The collaboration with Google comes as Barnes & Noble is seeking to reignite customer interest in its Nook, the core part of its Nook Media unit. The bookseller is considering spinning off the Nook Media unit and has already attracted investments from Microsoft Corp and Pearson LLC.
The Nook, launched in 2009 to compete with the Kindle, has been the cornerstone of Barnes & Noble's strategy to benefit from the shift by many readers to digital books.
The retailer sold fewer devices during the crucial holiday season, with revenue in the overall Nook business including content falling 12.6 percent.
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