Responding quickly to Amazon’s Kindle Fire e-reading tablet, e-book retailer Kobo is releasing Kobo Vox, a seven inch, full-color, multimedia digital reading device for $200. Reminiscent of both the Kindle Fire and B&N’s NookColor, the new device runs the Android 2.3 OS and offers access to 15,000 free apps.
The new Kobo Vox is available for pre-order and offers all the functionality—read books, magazines and newspapers, play games and use apps, listen to music, watch videos and movies—consumers expect from tablet devices. It also looks like B&N’s NookColor has really set the standard for competing in a tablet marketplace utterly dominated by the iPad. B&N’s notion that a seven inch, reasonably priced tablet (half the price of an iPad) with full multimedia functionality; designed for a targeted range of media consumption, seems to have hit a sweet point in the digital marketplace and is driving the development of these new reading/media devices.
The new device supports Kobo’s Reading Life, a social media application that lets you see what your friends are reading, keeps stats of your reading habits, offers amusing badges for reading accomplishments. The device also supports Kobo Pulse, a more recent addition to Kobo's reading social media that allows readers to start conversations with other readers on any page of any Kobo e-book. The device also allows users to web browse and access their email.
In a phone interview, Kobo CEO Michael Serbinis said Kobo believes in “open platforms” and the Android 2.3 operating system will support standard Android apps—including other reading and selling apps. “We're an open platform and the Android 2.3 OS we're using is not locked down. Of course we expect people will use the Kobo reading app,” he said. Serbinis said the devices can be pre-ordered right now and shipping will begin late next week.
Kobo Vox will have a branded app store offering 15,000 free apps optimized for the Kobo Vox, including pre-loaded apps from RDIO (streaming music), Zinio (magazines, including 12 free promotions), PressReader (newspapers) and social media (Twitter and a Facebook app on the home screen). There are pre-loaded apps for games and an installed dictionary as well as more content (including comics and graphc novels, cook books and other color illustrated works) and more applications through both the Kobo app store and Android Market. Serbinis said the Kobo Vox app store will eventually offer more for-pay apps optimized for the device and that developers can develop and submit apps for the device.
Serbinis acknowledged that Kobo Vox also offers more opportunities for self-publishing, a service which Kobo does provide although it is not marketed. Currently Kobo does not offer the easy self-service approach of Amazon or B&N’s self-publishing services. “Self-publishing is an exciting category,” Serbinis said, “We do some self-publishing and its growing but we don’t have a self-service program. We’ll have more news coming on self-publishing but no announcements today.”