In an elaborate presentation held in Manhattan’s Chelsea art gallery neighborhood, e-book retailer Kobo unveiled a suite of upgraded tablets and e-readers and debuted new book recommendation features and plans for a Kobo Kids bookstore coming in the fall. Beginning today, consumers can pre-order the Kobo Arc 10HD ($400), Arc 7HD ($200) and Arc 7 ($150) tablets, in addition to an upgraded AuraHD dedicated e-reader ($150). The devices will go on sale September 16.
In what served as a reminder that the e-book wars are not quite over, Kobo offered an aggressive suite of upgraded devices and new features as it looks to compete with Amazon, Apple and Barnes & Noble in the e-book marketplace.
Kobo CEO Michael Serbinis was on hand to survey the growth of the e-book market—he said digital reading has penetrated 29% of the U.S. book market—before showing off the Kobo devices. Starting with the AuraHD, a high resolution screen e-ink dedicated e-reader, released earlier this year, he said that the device has since generated 25% of Kobo device sales and said “dedicated e-readers are not in decline.” Designed for the “hard-core reader,” Serbinis said the new Kobo Aura (4GB) will sell for $150 and feature a thin pearl e-ink screen and faster processor.
Next Serbinis presented a suite of Kobo Arc tablets (originally there was only one) that he said are “designed for reading.” The devices feature a “reading mode,” that turns off e-mail and text notifications to avoid distractions and also shuts down some device functions unneeded for reading, which in turn saves power and extends battery life while reading. The new tablets include the Kobo Arc 10HD (16GB, $400) and Arc 7HD (16GB, $200; 32GB, $250), with upgraded, high resolution screens for the 10HD (2500 x 1600) and 7HD (1920 x 1200). The Arc 7 device (8GB, $150) also offers a high performance tablet now reduced in price from its original price of $200. All the tablets feature stereo sound, front facing cameras and run the Android 4.2.(Jelly Bean) operating system and can run Android apps and access apps and content in the Google Play store.
Dividing his announcements into “devices, content, experience and stores,” Serbinis also noted a parternship with Pocket, a digital reading software product that allows readers to save articles they read online and have them show up on their e-reading devices. Kobo is also launching Beyond the Book, a new social reading feature that adds a layer of information (its like having Wikipedia inside your book) that offers in-book links to info about characters, plots, the authors and more, available to readers without having to go to the Web. Kobo is also working with a variety of well-known authors (among them Margaret Atwood) and a variety of celebrities to offer Collections, a feature that provides recommendations to books and other content.
And for the fall, Kobo is launching Kobo Kids, a new e-bookstore within the store, that will offer more than 100,000 kids e-books, in addition to offering kids’ accounts (tied to their parents and restricted to kids titles in the Kobo store), safe search, “fun” reading statistics and awards for kids and an “allowances” feature that allows parents to set a pre-paid budget for their kids to purchase e-books.
Serbinis also unveiled Kobo Guided Reading, a feature on tablets that reformats magazine articles (making use of technology from Acquafadas, the multimedia authoring platform they acquired last year) to make them easier to read on a tablet by reducing “the pinching and zooming” readers have to do to read or see layouts.
With B&N facing declining device sales and Apple grappling with legal restrictions as result of anti-trust violations, Kobo (and its deep-pocketed parent, Japanese global e-commerce firm Rakuten) served notice that it intends to compete aggressively against Amazon.com in what looks like the newest phase of the e-book device wars.