Archive for October, 2011
iStoryTime, the leading publisher of children’s interactive book apps and more recently, the publisher tapped for producing Apple’s first-ever venture into EPUB3 interactive and animated children’s books, is slated to launch its newest children’s title for iOS devices on the same day that the movie upon which it is based is set to premier in theaters around the country.
With book apps like those developed by children’s publishers, especially interactive titles that feature content from popular movies and TV shows, the length of time between the release of a popular film and the following release of a novelization or children’s book is dramatically reduced. In the case of iStoryTime’s most recent release, Puss In Boots, that time period is reduced to literally nothing, according to a press release issued by the parent company, zuuka.
“iStoryTime, the largest library of mobile children’s book apps, today launched a unique and innovative Puss In Boots storybook for iPhone and iPad. The interactive story is available starting today in the Apple App Store for $2.99. The book app features several in-story activities and is the only way parents and their children can get a full retelling of the film with images and audio from the movie until the DVD is released next year.”
One of the greatest aspects of digital publishing has been the nearly instantaneous launch to market that books of a variety of topics and genres have enjoyed, and licensed characters for juvenile readers are no exception. Titles such as these are no longer limited to words on a digital page, as the interactivity of the title means actual screenshot footage, voiceover narration from the actors in the movie, and the ability to bring the story to life through bonus features, a crucial step in the process of developing a reading fluency by drawing on prior knowledge and a high-interest subject to the young reader.
Earlier this year, GoodEReader.com reported frequently on the developments that led to the digital day-and-date feature of DC Comics’ relaunch with the New 52, a move that enabled digital consumers to access titles on the same day that the print edition was released. To date, DC Comics has released numbers that reflect 5 million sales since the launch on September first, a powerful statement from the reader fans about the importance of having content in a timely manner. Other comics and graphic novel publishers are now following suit with similar initiatives to bring content to the fans as fast as possible.
CEO of Kobo Michael Serbinis and Markus of Good e-Reader walk through the main features of the new Kobo Vox e-Reader! This device is being released in the next few days and this video serves as a worldwide exclusive on what to expect. Make sure to check out our full written review if you have any questions or want to know more about it!
Are you a movie bee and love to have flicks in your pocket? Then here is a crackling haute news just for you. New Fandango movies for tablet applications have just been released and its replete will all that a movie buff will ever like to have. Just as Fandango movies hit and rule the big screens at theaters near us, they would now tap the windows of our tablet PC screens too. Whenever you feel like going for a flick, you can do all you want from your own tablet. And this is not all as Fandango even offers HD movie trailers for your 7 and 10 inch 1280 x 800 resolution tabs.
Its users cannot resist from considering themselves blessed as they can now browse movies at nearby theatres, search for the nearest theatre with Google maps, read reviews, watch HD movie trailers and even buy their tickets all by just tapping their tablets. It’s not that Fandango is a new kid on the block as it has been there for quite sometime now and has built on a steady fan following since then. Its just that Fandango is now out to make its presence felt in the tablet world as well which should appeal to a lot of tablet users out there.
Why so? Well, Fandango does not only update their users with movies coming soon, but also provide them with a variety of options. Apart from this you can even find and preview and flick of your choice with full voice search. Using your credit card or Fandango bucks or gift cards you can even purchase movies right inside the application. It is basically huge, enormous stuff right within the realm of your tablet device.
Lastly, and perhaps the best part of it all is that the Fandango app comes free. So there is no reason why you shouldn’t atleast try it on your tablets.
XOOM 4G tablet with LTE wireless radio pre-installed are now available for those interested. This is a precursor to the second generation XOOM from Motorola which is yet to come by. The XOOM 4G should also appeal to those who had held up from sending off their XOOMs to have the 4G thing installed. Instead buying a new 4G enabled XOOM might be a more attractive option for them.
Coming to to price of the tablet, an outright purchase of the XOOM 4G would cost $699.99 while the same with a 2 year service contract attached is a bit more soothing at $499.99. For connectivity the tablet would have LTE wireless network support.
Everything else with the XOOM remains exactly as it was when it was first unveile. So the basic features of the tablet if one looks at is a 10.1 inch display with a 1280 x 800 pixel resolution. The tablet is based on a 1 GHz NVIDIA Tegra 2 dual core processor with the operating system being Google Android 3.1 Honeycomb. The device also has two cameras — the front facing being 3 megapixel while the one at the rear does better with a resolution of 5 megapixel. It has built-in storage of 32 GB with 1 GB of RAM. It is therefore very clear that this is the same specification as that of the tablet that has been available since February albeit with a 4G capability.
Meanwhile, a Motorola tablet had recently been at the FCC and while FCC listings are generally high on cryptic aspects, what does seem evident is the emergence of the much rumored XOOM 2 might not be too far away.
All that we have come to know of uptil now is that the sequel to the original Transformer has been named Transformer Prime (and not Transformer 2) and that it will make its debut on November 9th. We have come across a few other tit bits as well pertaining to the new Transformer including the fact that it also stands a chance of becoming the first tablet to run Android Ice Cream Sandwich. However, what was missing so far were clear shots of the upcoming tablet as the ones doing the rounds were not satisfying enough. The dearth seems to have been taken care of with the emergence of a few pic depicting the Transformer Prime in a better light.
The Transformer Prime was first confirmed by Asus chairman Jonney Shih who had also shown off the product at the recently held AsiaD conference. The Chairman however had not allowed for a closer look at the device and nor did the company allow pictures of the device to remain for long on a Chinese forum that had hosted the same for a while. Notebook Italia though, had managed to grab some of the pictures before they were deleted from the forum.
So what does the new images reveal of the Transformer Prime?
Well, the second iteration of Transformer which happened to be the most popular among Android tablets continues with the same form factor complete with a detachable keypad dock. The keyboard boasts of multifaceted functions namely a touchpad and expansion ports. Another useful aspect of the keyboard is that it comes with its own power source, which in combination with the tablet’s battery will serve for twice the number of hours. Also, the layout of the optional keyboard is such that the buttons are placed below the touchpad area itself.
As for its looks, the Transformer Prime does look stunning with its concentric brushed aluminium finish. The company logo is also placed at the center of the tablet’s back so that the overall looks mimics the Asus Zenbook and its siblings.
However, while detailed specifications of the Transformer Prime has been kept under wraps as of now, what has come to the fore is that the rear camera is now accompanied with a LED flash. Further, the Transformer Prime has already been confirmed to feature NVIDIA Kal-El quad-core processor at its heart while the overall thickness will be no more than 0.33 inches. We will have to wait for a couple of weeks for the final thing to emerge.
One of the key features of the iOS 5 is the inclusion of the newsstand feature and publishers are already reaping huge profits. Like Conde Nast — publishers of magazines such as Allure, Brides, Glamour, Self, GQ, Golf Digest, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair and Wired — that has reported a huge jump in digital subscriptions, a whooping 268 percent for subscriptions and 142 percent for single issues.
“We couldn’t be happier,” said the company’s EVP Monica Ray. “It’s clear that the focused attention and greater discoverability Newsstand provides our brands has been embraced by the consumer.”
“While we recognise the spike in sales is in part fueled by the attention the launch received, we are very optimistic that we will see a consistently higher level of growth going forward than we did prior to the app’s introduction.”
As for the Newsstand application, it essentially presents a single window for iPad users that allows one to subscribe to or purchase magazines. Newsstand also helps
to keep things organized as there is a separate section for newspaper and magazine subscriptions.
Future Publishing too is all of praise for the Apple newsstand and has also reported “exceptionally high levels of activity.” Similarly, Exact Editions co-founder Adam Hodgkin has stated its sampler apps has been downloaded 14 times more often while sales too has doubled “across the board.”
We have had a lot of iPad 3 rumors prior to this and here is another one. The much talked about high density display from Apple is supposed to be one more revolutionary input from the California based company. The iPad 3 is believed to be coming with a super high 2048 x 1536 pixel resolution display and which places it high in the ranking of such high density screens not only in the tablet segment but also in the smartphone genre as well. Now rumor mill has it that production of the screens is supposed kick off at LG and Samsung plants from November but there could possibly be an issue in the yields that such a screen could generate.
“They have production plans for 2,048 x 1,536 displays. Starting in November. But those are only plans at this point,” revealed a source while referring to LG and Samsung.
“It’s not a question of making just one. That, of course, can be done. The challenge is making lots of them,” the source further added. “This is a quantum leap in pixel density. This hasn’t been done before.”
Apple would fall back on the 1600 x 1200 dpi screen in case the yield factor does not play up to its part.
Also, with 550 nits of brightness, the display would not compromise on brightness in spite of the high pixel density and would compare favorably with the typical notebook displays that generally top out at 350 nits. The technology that would be applied for making the screen is not yet known and it could be either the IPS panel or the LTPS (low-temperature poly-silicon) or Super PLS-based IPS based screen. Chances of it being based on PLS which is a Samsung patented technology is less as Samsung does not wish to part with the technique as of now.
Apple has given enough hints on their intent to go for the 2048 x 1536 resolution display with enough modifications introduced in iOS 5 to support such high levels of resolutions. However, Apple is not the sole player here as there are others too aiming for a super high resolution display. Like Samsung has also made their intentions clear by showcasing a display having an even better resolution of 2560 x 1600 pixels. They had put this screen on display at the FPD conference though there also are reports of them facing similar problems with devising a suitable production plan of the displays. Toshiba on their turn have also announced coming up with a screen that would be denser for their 6.1 inch device.
Its no secret Apple is aiming to introduce Retina Display on its future iPad tablet and it remains to be seen if the upcoming iPad 3 could be the first to feature the high resolution displays. Apple defines Retina Display as “pixel density so high your eye is unable to distinguish individual pixels.” Also what high resolution tablets means to its makers and specially Apple is that with print media now being transferred to the tablets there are chances of more people preferring the electronic device to the paper material for reading their magazines and other such print content.
Kobo will be releasing their first tablet dubbed “Vox” this Friday at Chapters/Indigo locations and from their website in the USA. It will be competitively priced at $199 vs. the Kindle Fire. We just got back from Toronto, where we were at the Kobo HQ and got a full hands on review a few days before it officially comes out!
The Kobo Vox features a 7 inch capacitive multi-touchscreen display with a resolution of 1025×600. The colors absolutely pop on this unit and the entire interface of the new apps the company released are optimized to fit the screen. Many of the apps, books, and menus maintained Landscape/Portrait orientations, but the main screen did not switch.
It has 8 GB of internal memory and you can expand it up to 32 GB via the MicroSD card. This seems like a fine amount of space to store your video, audio, and books. Most Kobo devices just have a simple drive that you insert your card into. It does not have a protective clasp made of rubber or anything else so dust does not get into it. I wish they would have thought about that small level of protection, because people frequently take their device out on holidays, exposing it to all different kinds of elements.
Things move fast with the 800 MHZ CPU processor and 512 MB of RAM. Scrolling through various menus was very snappy and apps seemed to load fairly quickly. I did notice graphics intensive books, such as graphic novels, comics, and PDF files sometimes took a while to load up. When they did load, page turn speed was fast.
Let’s take a look at the form factor and the physical buttons on the unit. At the top there is a speaker on the right hand side. It is a single mono speaker and does emit fair quality music or audio books when turned to maximum. You might want to take advantage of the 3.5 mm headphone jack on the bottom. There is a single press down power button and not the slider variant you see packaged with most e-readers and tablets.
On the right hand side of the unit is your volume button to physically adjust it. On the left hand side there is a microSD port and button includes Micro USB to charge the unit and facilitate a data connection.
The front of the unit sports physical home touch panels for the standard Android fair. You have the options for Back, Settings, and Home. I like these sorts of buttons on the unit because frequently tablets are made to be purely software driven. If things start to slow down or crash altogether you have to physically reboot it. Some of the nagging problems are solved with physical buttons to press.
The back of the unit is fairly clean and simplistic. You are greeted with the standard quilted background that is popular with the Kobo Touch and WIFI. The quilt on the Vox honestly looks more polished and does not look cheap. It does not seem to be made of the same material as the ones found on the e-ink variants.
The Kobo Vox feels slick in your hands and really reminded me of the original Samsung Galaxy Tab that was released last year. That is a good thing, it was my favorite Android device of 2010. It quickly went from landscape to portrait mode and the hardware made menus load fairly quick.
The Kobo Vox runs the Google Android 2.3 operating system and the GUI is not as evident as with the Nook Color. The user interface on on the Nook Color is heavily modified and if you were not a huge tech user, you would never even know it was Android. Honestly, I did not really notice any kind of unique GUI or UI at all, so Android users will feel right at home.
Kobo has packaged very unique programs with the Vox and one that stands out is “Kobo Pulse.” Pulse was initially unveiled at the big Facebook Developer conference a few weeks ago. The CEO disclosed the company was working on a new social media tool and briefly described how it worked. There were no visuals or images and the project mainly just sounded good on paper. Now, however, we got a chance to use it, and let us say Kobo Pulse is AMAZING!! It combines elements from Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter. Want to know how it works?
You purchase a book from Kobo and there is a little red pulse at the bottom of the page. The size of the pulse is determinate on how many people have purchased the book. The pulse appearing as you shop for books includes an option to just shut it off, if you don’t care or don’t want to use the feature, but I fail to see why you would. Once you open the pulse you are presented with a really solid one page social media screen.
At the top it shows you how many times the book has been read, the number of user comments, likes and dislikes. This gives you a short list of how popular the book is and how active the community chatting about it is. It also gives you the number of people who are currently reading the book. As an example, I used the new Steve Jobs book and 341 people were currently reading it as part of the internal beta testing team. I can imagine that when this goes live, this number will go into the thousands.
After all of the statistics are presented to you, there are a series of profile pictures. This would be your avatar found in your Facebook or Twitter account. You do have to connect with one of those social media services using the app to be able to comment and partake in the commenting. Speaking of commenting, users are given a very Youtube-esque commenting field. You can write a few brief lines of text and vote up/down peoples replies. This will ensure the best comments are ranked higher then trolls baiting people. Kobo told us that they are trying to get users to police themselves and that the moderation team would be very small. Likely the official Kobo moderators would only check out the most popular books or on a case by case basis if a number of users complain. The company also told us that they are making sure privacy concerns are being adhered to. There will be options to opt your profile out, so you would appear as a generic avatar and people who not have direct access to your social media account.
Pulse feels edgy and is the number one selling point on the Vox. It is the most unique and excellent example of social media found in any e-reader or tablet. Most other readers like the Kindle or Nook only allow you to share particular passages or quotes with Facebook or Twitter. Sure it’s fine to update your status with some profound revelation, but I can honestly say I have NEVER done it. Most of my friends are tired of people waxing philosophical or spamming. The beauty of pulse is that it allows you to be social by reading a book. Often my friends and I do not have the same taste in books, if we do, we often are not reading the same book at the same time. Pulse allows you to connect with other users in real time and chat about the book, its characters, or whatever you want. It brings the community aspect found in Youtube comments and integrates that with reading.
Kobo has told us that pulse will be implemented in their entire product line of readers, such as the Kobo Touch and Kobo WIFI. They are also updating their iOS, Android, Blackberry, and other programs to make this feature compatible across all platforms. They are big on this and it’s something that has been in development for six months.
A core Kobo staple found in their apps and Touch Reader is Reading Life. This was a new program they developed last year that allows you to check out your overall statistics for reading. You can track how long it takes you to read a book to how many books you have read total. They blend in an Xbox version of awards and achievements. There is a myriad of options and they look great in high resolution and in full color.
The main homescreen is a compilation of the last four books you have read with quick links on the bottom to Reading Life, Pulse, the store, and your library.
Your library has a standard shelf that has all of the books you have purchased and bookmarks appear on the ones you are currently reading. When you exit a book you can pick off exactly where you left off. There is also the ability to organize collections and even load in your own books with the MicroSD cable. The device natively reads EPUB files, but you can really load in any format you want with the 10,000 applications found with Getjar.
Applications are easy to install with Getjar. Kobo basically filtered a ton of bad apps or ones that did not look good on a seven inch screen. They organized them in a more intuitive way and gives you options to download and install. When we spoke with the CEO of Kobo he mentioned that it is very important to the company not to have a closed ecosystem. You have the ability to sideload in your own applications or alternative markets. There is no restrictions on what you can load on the device.
Let’s talk content! The main Kobo bookstore received an update for the Vox that allows you to purchase cook books, kids books, graphic novels, and comic books! The kids books are something that parents worldwide will enjoy. There is a ‘read to me’ feature that narrates the book to your kid. You do have the option to turn it off if you don’t want to utilize it, or if it gets old quick.
I checked out a few book that were loaded on the device and it supports full pinching and zooming on all of the kids books. Some of the books had hidden text on the page, so you had to pinch and zoom to find clues. Colors were really vibrant with the high resolution screen and the books looked great in portrait/landscape mode. Some of the books took a while to initially load, but once they did, page turn speed was very quick and there was no lag at all when you zoomed in and out.
Similarly, you have the options to buy comics and graphic novels. There was an Archie comic loaded on the device and it had elements from popular Android Comic Book readers. You could double tap and it would zoom in on a specific panel, hit it again and it would go to the next panel. There were settings to even set the timer on the panel scrolling so you did not even need to touch the screen after the set time had passed. There is no a huge selection of content yet for both comics and kids books, but Kobo said in the coming weeks we should see a drastic increase in books available.
As always, you have full access to all of the 2.3 million books that Kobo offers under their ecosystem. You can find popular bestsellers and on the front page a number of lists with a books that are popular at that time. Obviously, the Steve Jobs book was the number one seller already.
The reading experience overall is excellent! Kobo did a great job utilizing the full color screen for new content not previously offered. It feels like the Nook Color situation where they could present so many more options and really get kids into the reading aspect. I can see the Vox being very popular with parents who want to foster their love of reading with their little ones. Since the entire line of Kobo e-readers are internationally friendly, I think it has more reach with its kids line of books then the Nook Color does. I think this will eventually attract more publishers and independent authors to submit content. There is no word yet on how authors can submit their content directly to Kobo to be in their new sections of the store. Maybe Smashwords will come to the rescue and give new features to submit it.
There are some 3rd party applications installed by default on the device like Zinio, Rdio, and newspapers from Pressreader. Many other Android tablets come with some or all of these programs, but Kobo manages to give you content right away. Zinio is contributing 12 totally free, full featured magazines to get you into their stable of magazines. I use Zinio on my Apple iPad and there were tons of scrolling issues. Some magazines had you swipe down to continue the news item and some you had to scroll. It lacked in consistency which alienated some of the users that found the entire process convoluted. The magazines we checked out with the Zinio app on Kobo felt more refined. The other apps also give you a bunch of free content to get you in the door. If you want to take out subscriptions you can deal directly with them instead of going through Kobo.
The internet experience on this device was average and depending on your local wireless connection could warrant you some high speed. I found webpages loaded up reasonably quickly. I was able to watch embedded Youtube videos and Flash content. There were not a ton of settings with the default web browser other than bookmarking.
In the end, Vox on a pure software side feels like the standard Android 2.3 tablet. This is good in a way that you can easily update the operating system or load in your own applications. It feels familiar, but it’s really the Kobo custom applications that make the unit shine. I am in love with Pulse and Reading Life is consistently a perennial favorite of mine. The home screen is unique and well laid out and gives you options to load in widgets or live wall papers. Internet is fast and robust and watching Youtube Videos and multimedia content is lush.
I had the Kobo Vox in my hands for about a solid hour and a half today and it is one of my favorite devices of the year. Kobo is a great company that is doing two things right; branching out internationally and developing social media. Living in Canada, sometimes we get the short end of the stick (same with Australia). Many companies simply focus on the USA market as a means to the end. It is expensive for new companies to compete in the USA market because of the expectations of low cost, high-end devices. Internationally, the quality of e-readers and tablets are overpriced and under performing. Considering Canada is a very high-tech nation, the only e-readers commonly available are Sony, Amazon Keyboard, Kobo, Pandigital, and Aluratek. In many cases, the newest models are not commonly available and most companies do not bother. Kobo is doing the right thing by focusing on markets often neglected by other companies. They have opened up markets in the last year with Australia, New Zealand, UK, France, Germany, and Spain. They find retail partners to carry their devices and buy books directly from Kobo. They have special versions of their store in foreign language markets that puts the emphasis on homegrown authors and also independents.
There are really no e-reader companies that focus on the social media elements like Kobo, and they are in a class of their own. All you need is their official app in most cases to take advantage of it and they don’t mandate you buy their dedicated reader to take part. Reading Life is not only seen on Kobo products, but is a built in element to Samsung’s entire line of tablets and smartphones.
Kobo Pulse continues to expand on the social media approach and makes books less of a solitary activity and more fun. I can see this catching on big time.
What does the company have planned in the near future? We talked about a bunch of things Kobo has in the pipe. One feature being released soon is audio narration in books. If you are listening to the book walking your dog or commuting and pause it, then you can open it on your e-reader and it will automatically be synced to where you left off. They have a ton of content partners lined up, but we can’t talk about it for now. Needless to say, it’s going to really open up the amount of books and other media you can get.
The Kobo Vox is simply a great social experience and that is what separates it from the Pandigital Novels and Aluratek Readers of the world. Most tablets being billed as e-reders often rely on 3rd parties to provide all of the content. They may preload the Amazon Android app and say, “Look! It’s an e-reader!” It really isn’t in almost all cases, it is a thinly veiled attempt to peddle a low quality tablet for the purposes of reading. Normally, people then install Angry Birds and Facebook and that’s all they do.
The Kobo Vox is a dedicated reader first and foremost. The company has the competitive advantage of offering their own hardware and content distribution system. It allows you to freely participate in their ecosystem without locking you into it exclusively. I love the freedom associated with dealing with their hardware because I can use Adobe Digital Editions and just borrow books from the library or buy them via other stores.
Update: Oct 28 2011 – Have a Vox? We compiled a list of the essential applications you will want on it! Adobe Flash, Kindle Reader, Nook Reader, and other app stores. Check it out HERE.
Update 2: Many people have been asking about the new screen Kobo is using on their Vox. It is a AFFS display which is being billed as Anti-Glare! When we were in Toronto it was raining like crazy and we could not test it out in direct light. The one thing I can say is the screen pops, and I found it way better then resistive screens found in lower-end tablets. The big thing I noticed was that the resolution was tremendous and even with lots of overhead light there was little to no glare at all.
We took a field trip today to Toronto and visited the world headquarters of Kobo Inc. We did not go there on a lark, but instead had a mission! I managed to wrangle the CEO of Kobo Mike Serbinis and he gave us the worldwide exclusive on the new Kobo Vox e-Reader! This is the first full color Android offering by the company and the form factor is amazing.
There are many new exciting features that are integrated into the Vox that tap into a rich social media fabric. At the forefront is Kobo Pulse.
Kobo Pulse is a brand new social media feature that was first revealed at the Facebook event a few weeks ago. It connects with Facebook and allows you to access the Pulse to find out what other people are saying about the book. It works like a Youtube comment system where you can leave your impressions of the book and people can vote up or vote down them. If you see a profile of a cute girl you might want to check out you can click on their profile and be directed to their Facebook Profile. The cool thing about this is that it tells you how many people are currently reading the book and how many people are done.
Another feature found in many of their IOS, Android and the Kobo Touch is Reading Life! This gives you awards, achievements, and statistics on your reading habits. It looks great in full color and has new features.
Some people think they all know about the Kobo Vox because of the error Futureshop made and the rampant speculation that ensued on many online publications and message boards. Kobo confided in us that the hardware and price point where not accurate. They often send demo units and beta versions of new software for their partners and vendors to beta test and submit feedback. Most of the new software we saw today featured exclusively internal and external data from these partners. Someone in the website department jumped the gun and posted a bunch of misleading information.
Ok, so we can’t tell you everything you want to know about the Vox, but we can provide you with some juicy details and some pictures (not divulging anything sensitive). Probably the most important question on most people’s minds is the international viability of the Kobo Vox. Pre-orders have been limited to only Canada and the USA. Will it work in Australia, New Zealand, and other markets? The answer is yes! Can you buy it locally in the here and now? No! The only alternative you may have in time for the holidays is to purchase it from Shop e-Readers.
From what we understand, talking with various Kobo sources is that Australia, New Zealand, and Hong Kong may get it in the first quarter of 2012. The true international version of the Vox will likely take a bit longer. There are many lingering issues with the localization of the new device and making sure some of their new proprietary programs work properly. Once that is done you can buy it in a retail setting in Germany, Spain, UK, France, China, and other countries. The priorities of Kobo, in regards to the Vox, is focused on North America and updating their readers and apps to work with their new software. The company informed us that they are developing localized versions to be sold in France, Germany, Spain, UK, and other countries.
There are many exciting new features found in the Vox that mix different experiences, but it is the first tablet that feels like it is billed as an e-reader and retains many social elements that Kobo has pioneered during the course of the last year. The only physical comparison that we can draw right now is comparing it to the NOOK Color in terms of content and form factor. The Vox really puts sub-par devices like the Pandigital Novel and Aluratek Libre Touch to shame. There are also some deals in the works to give you an even wider array of multimedia content, but we promised not to tell, lest we ruin the deal for them.
So who is Kobo and what is the company all about? Kobo as a company has come a long way in the last two years and has seen their market traction rise steadily. Their company headquarters features many open spaces and there are no partitions. I used to work in the Vancouver video game industry for companies such as EA and Backbone Entertainment. The one drawback of highly creative environments is all of the officers, huge partitions that separate everyone from each other. I found those environments actually stifled the creative process and resulted in emailing people instead of going upstairs to their office. Kobo had a truly a great startup atmosphere and everyone had a big smile on their face. There was an infectious dynamic radiance that permeated throughout the entire building. The HQ was positively buzzing with press and meetings for the past few days as they gear up for the maelstrom of one of their biggest product releases. Kobo has grown over the years and now has a dedicated staff of over 250 people working at their Toronto, Ontario headquarters. They have upgraded their building 3 times in the last year in order to accommodate meeting rooms and more staff.
Mike Serbinis told us that Kobo is focused on the international aspect of reading and the social. The USA market is too expensive and too saturated for any new company to come along and try to make headway. The landscape is dominated by Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and many inferior based devices. Kobo went the route of offering e-readers in traditionally untapped markets. It is very important that Kobo not alienate potential customers just because of the country they may live in. Barnes and Noble are notorious for this by not selling the device outside the USA and not allowing book purchases either. You can honestly buy a Kobo in any country in the world and start buying books right away.
During 2011, Kobo is expanding on their core philosophy of reaching a global audience by opening up new markets in Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Spain, France, Germany, and the UK. In foreign markets where English is not the primarily language spoken they have begun localizing their devices and starting new eBook stores. These stores give local authors a chance to have their books heavily promoted and feature regional bestselling authors.
Kobo initially cut their teeth by offering a digital self publishing service called “something here.” They pitched the idea of developing a dedicated reader to go along with their fledging store. Chapters/Indigo saw the potential of a home grown company and recognized that Sony, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble were slowly cornering the USA market. Chapters took the risk and heavily invested in the company and allowed them to develop a reader, enhance their bookstore, make apps for every major platform, and have their gadgets sold in Chapters/Indigo stores across Canada. Instead of peddling independent books, Kobo began forming partnerships with many top publishers to get their content featured in the store. They also starting approaching newspaper outlets for content features on all of their devices. To be fair Kobo, has never lost sight of their self-publishing days and some employees when asked about it had a wistful look in their eyes. Though Kobo does not specialize in self-publishing anymore, you can still have your books listed in their store if you go through 3rd party distribution companies such as Smashwords.
Kobo enjoys newfound success with their new model of selling books and devices with capabilities to tap into their ecosystem. This was not enough and they decided to expand into other markets, such as the lucrative USA. They found a willing partner in the form of Borders USA and signed an exclusive agreement to stock their device in their stores. After Borders, the company then branched into Australia and New Zealand with such companies as Angus and Robertson, Redgroup, and Borders Australia.
The Borders agreement was doomed from almost the very beginning because the company did not exclusively sell Kobo devices; instead they sold a wide array of low quality devices. They even had their own bookstore, which many of the devices they sold did not even tap in to. Eventually, they smartened up and had their own bookstore powered by Kobo, but then it was too late. The company went out of business earlier this year and thousands of employees got the axe. The fallout of the Borders saga resulted in the exclusive licensing deal Kobo had with them. This meant that Kobo could not deal with any other companies in the USA until the current deal expires in 2012. Things did not get any easier, with Barnes and Noble recently purchasing the entire intellectual properly, including millions of users who purchased books or kobo devices. So how is the Canadian based e-reader Company coping with a bad situation in the USA? They started a series of small kiosks! We reported months ago that they started a trail one at Grand Central Station in New York. The company informed us today that that during this holiday season they are starting many new kiosks in Canada, USA, UK, and other markets. All of their staff are highly trained on the product and can answer most basic to advanced questions.
Australia has been a crazy market place during the last year and has seen the total collapse of Borders Australia, Redgroup, Angus & Robertson, and others. All of these companies had Kobo licenses and with them dying out and the Pearson Group picking over the scrapes, things were beginning to look bleak. In July, Kobo brokered a deal with Collins Bookstores to have their readers sold in over a hundred locations. This ensures that Kobo will have a strong and lasting retail relationship in Australia and hopefully Malcolm Neil does not make yet another company implode.
Europe is the latest battleground, and both Amazon and Kobo are both dueling it out to get publishers and retailers locked up. This market should prove to be more stable than Australia and the USA in terms of the market being more entrenched. Europe is traditionally has longer lived companies with a tremendous amount of history. Off the top of my head I could mention a ton of French and UK publishers and book sellers that have been around since the 1700’s.
Kobo is poised to knock the ball out of the park with the Kobo Vox, and with the same entry level price point as the Amazon Kindle Fire; it will suit more people’s budgets. We have talked to many people with small kids and they all proclaim they feel more comfortable giving them a $199 device then a $600 iPad.
Update: We just got the go ahead! Incoming full review and video reviews!