Kobo’s eReader launching Saturday: An entire platform, not just a device

Kobo’s eReader launching Saturday: An entire platform, not just a device

The Kobo eReader book library display screen - Photo: Fabrizio Pilato

The Kobo eReader book library display screen - Photo: Fabrizio Pilato

Kobo launched in Dec 2009 as a division within Indigo books. They later spun off and have operated as their own company. That doesn’t mean Indigo is no longer part of the picture, as a matter of fact they plan to launch the Kobo eReader Saturday May 1 across Canada. Borders in the USA is expected to also carry the eReader, but that is about a month away.

Since the beginning, Kobo was a platform. The eReader hardware only came in to the picture later on, as a way to affordably introduce people interested in the technology. Kobo eReader is already available for the Apple iPad, and they intend to release their app for other platforms like Android. Eventually making themselves known as an eReader OS for third-party devices sometime this summer.

The standard for eBooks and newspapers is epub. This is essentially an HTML file, epub and pdf books are accessible from the Kobo platform, this covers 99% of books on the market. The first iteration of Kobo eReader will not support your own word or powerpoint files for example, but they plan to bring other formats to the eReader down the pipeline.

eReaders on the market today are around $300 and up. Kobo wanted to give users an opportunity to get in to eReading at half the price, and eventually bring that down to even $100. According to Michael Serbinis, CEO of Kobo Inc. the average consumer buys a book a month. “We wanted to bring out a device that was affordable, physically great to hold and to have, not looking like a piece of cheap electronics, and a device that would be a great experience for that single piece of reading.” Serbinis told Mobile Magazine in a telephone interview last week.

This means Kobo is not going up against any specific hardware device, as they will be deploying across various styles of eReaders in the near future. That alone changes the companies perceived business model up until this point.

The Kobo future will be an app (like on the iPad) and also a complete OS/firmware package. It will support Wi-Fi/3G for connectivity, some of these tablets have gorgeous screens, LCD or OLED, not just E-Ink. Certainly color is far richer and higher resolution screens will make more appealing devices, but that will just allow Kobo to really make a richer user experience. The OS that is on the Kobo eReader has the ability to support embedded video, audio, animations, a richer style of content. That doesn’t make sense for a bestseller novels, for richer content like cookbooks or kids books, text books, and magazines it begins to be relevant. The majority of magazines released so far on eReaders have been the text kind, New Yorker is one of the few supporting different formats, “multimodal.” Serbinis says. Kobo’s book store will allow you to take these books to other devices that support their platform, not lock you in to one piece of hardware or device.

My one gripe about the Kobo eReader device itself is the refresh. You get a black animation sweeping across the display, this is just an artifact of the eInk screen, the next generation of Eink screens will remove that. So until then we just have to live with it. Freescale and Marvel have apparently figured out engineering solutions for the hardware to get around this problem. “I think we will see the next gen of eInk be even easier on the eyes, and will have even longer battery life. The huge advantage of the device is 2 weeks on one charge. The power down will be updated with new firmware update to power up much quicker, right now 30-45 seconds to get the screen.” Added Serbinis.

The Kobo eReader's E-Ink display caught in between refreshes - Photo: Mobile Magazine

Bottom Line
The Kobo eReader is an introductory device to the world of eReading. If you compare it with other multi-functional tablet’s, its going to get killed. But looking at it from the perspective of a taste test, affordable for many, and scalable. You will understand its potential. The hardware has a nice design, the screen is a bit smaller but does not feel like an electronics device while reading it. The quilted back is smooth and supple, making it a pleasure to hold on to. Loading and accessing pages could be a bit faster, as the ability to search and bookmark would be helpful too. I really like the “standy” mode, how it shows the cover of the book you are currently reading. This uses no battery power at all, since eInk only uses juice when changing pages. But as CEO Michael Serbinis told us, we can expect more features and devices to come down the line from Kobo.

The Kobo eReader sells for $150 beginning this Saturday at Chapters and Indigo stores across Canada. Borders in the USA in a month or so. Check Kobo’s website for detailed specifications and other information.