4 reasons Windows would boost the Nook

May 3, 2012, 7:11 PM UTC

FORTUNE — When Barnes & Noble announced a strategic partnership with Microsoft earlier this week, they set tongues wagging. It wasn’t only because the Redmond, Washington-based software giant will invest a whopping $605 million in the Nook business over the next five years. What technophiles frothed over was the idea of a revamped Nook line: e-readers running off the company’s tablet-friendly Windows 8 operating system, due out late this year.

For its part, Barnes & Noble (BKS) hasn’t made any related hardware announcements. Windows 8 has yet to launch, and the Nook line itself has largely received favorable reviews from outlets — Fortune included — but if such a marriage of software and hardware took place, a Windows 8 Nook could prove a compelling new device. Here’s why.

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Unique looks. Although the final consumer version of Windows 8 may not see the light of day until October, the operating system has already earned more than its fair share of positive and negative criticism, largely because it will sport the same square and rectangle-based Metro-style user interface first introduced in Windows Phone 7. It’s a look that has advocates and critics. “A lot of people in the UX [user experience] community seem to have initially good impressions of the Metro UI [user interface],” says Catriona Cornett, a senior user experience designer at The Archer Group.

Still, Windows 8’s tile system is unique and destined to grace desktop computers, smartphones, tablets and even Microsoft’s Xbox game console. That means a mega audience and user base. It could also arguably help Barnes and Noble-branded tablets stand apart from the myriad of me-too devices built atop Google’s (GOOG) Android and the now ubiquitous iOS interface on iPads.

Contextual gestures. Although Apple (AAPL) set the standard with the iPad’s intuitive pinch, tap, and swipe gestures, Windows 8 wants to up the ante with gestures that bring up different results based on what a user is up to. For instance, if a user has multiple apps running and swipes from the left, they can switch between apps, similar to how the iPad’s four-finger swipe. But swipe more slowly, and you can display two apps side-by-side.

Notifications. Although the notification system on iOS has come a long way since it launched in 2007, it still has room for improvement. Windows 8’s tiling system offers the potential to alerts users in several ways, including a “badge” system, wherein the tiles on the homescreen may update to display weather, appointments, and status updates without users having to actually tap and dive into an app. “I think that’s one of the challenges I have as an iPhone user,” says Jason Brush, Executive Vice President Creative of Possible Worldwide’s User Experience Design Group. “The notifications are kind of a layer on top of the UI and can get in the way of it.”

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Authorship. During a recent interview with Fortune, CEO William Lynch outlined a hypothetical scenario where authors could get a boost. “Imagine an integration where an information worker, student, author, consumer, creates something in Office and has it immediately published for sale through the Nook book store,” he said. “It starts to open a lot of exciting possibilities.”

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