There's a lot of e-reader news going around lately, but one company we didn't really expect it from is Kobo. The dedicated e-reader manufacturer this week unveiled a new version of its low-cost alternative to the Kindle and Nook, adding touch-screen technology for the first time and incorporating a handful of new features.
Kobo CEO Michael Serbinis described his company's entry into the e-reader market as a "David v. Goliath" battle, saying it was an extremely competitive space and no one expected a new start-up could even make a dent in that market.
But it has proven its worth, reaching nearly four million units in sales. That doesn't put it anywhere close to the number of Nook and Kindle sales, but it's well more than enough to be taken as a serious contender.
Serbinis pointed out that Kobo has an advantage in a couple different areas. First, it is the cheapest e-reader option out there. Second, e-reading is the only thing it does, and therefore it has the energy and motivation to innovate.
One such innovation is a feature called Reading Life, which is kind of like Facebook for reading. Users receive all sorts of updates about their reading habits, telling them how fast they're reading, when they do the most reading, etc. There's also a whole slew of "rewards" users can unlock, for achieving such accomplishments as turning a total of 10,000 pages. They can then post these accomplishments to their social networks directly from the device. This feature was rolled out to the Kobo apps on Android and the iPhone earlier this year, and has been integrated into the new Kobo Touch models.
The Kobo is also the most accessible e-reading device because it does one thing and one thing only. The Kindle may claim to do the same, but with its built-in keyboard, Wikipedia access, and addition of other content like games and apps, it really isn't just a reading device anymore. The Kobo is, and that's where it differentiates itself.
Kobo began in partnership with Borders, but unlike Barnes & Noble with the Nook, Kobo was and remains a separate company. So despite the fact that Borders's future looks pretty bleak, Kobo's most certainly does not. In addition to strengthening its partnerships with other retail outlets in the US, the company plans to make a big splash in international markets, where the e-reader craze is still in the nascent stages.
The Kobo Touch will be available next month, in time for Father's Day, for $130.