Kobo and Sony are very strange bedfellows, but they have slowly begun to do more business with each other in the last four months. The Sony Reader Store officially closed and all purchased eBooks are being sent to Kobo. All existing e-Readers issued by Sony will be getting a firmware update so people can buy content directly from the Kobo Store. A leaked document reports that Kobo and Sony are working on a co-branded e-reader that uses e Ink Mobius technology.
e Ink Mobius has tremendous benefits for e-readers because of its lightweight nature and super high resolution. Sony and E Ink actually collaborated on developing this new e-Paper and the only commercial release thus far is the 13.3 Sony Digital Paper. The reason why no other company has released a product using this tech is because Sony has an exclusivity agreement with E Ink. Other companies are simply not allowed to use it until the initial contract expires.
The leaked document we saw shows a co-branded e-reader that uses e Ink Mobius cut to a six inch display. E Ink had verified with Good e-Reader at SID Display week that Mobius can be cut to any size that the customer wanted. The design of the e-reader is much akin to the Sony PRS-T3 with the physical page turn keys and other buttons. One of the hardware features that is new is that the screen is flush with the bezel, much akin to the Kobo Aura. Although the document did not state it, I have a feeling this device will have both Carta and Regal. E Ink Carta delivers a dramatic 50% increase in contrast over earlier generations of e-Paper, giving e-Readers a contrast ratio close to that of a paperback book. The crisp text and detailed graphics are also highly readable in direct sunlight. Carta’s 16 levels of grey produce the sharpest rendering of images with smooth tones and rich detail.
The new e-reader will be made by Sony, in a partnership with Kobo and will be marketed worldwide. The firmware and operating system will be developed and maintained by Sony, allowing them to tie in their own Reader Store in the UK, Europe and Australia. In North America and the greater worldwide audience Sony will be using the Kobo bookstore to deliver content to customers.
Beyond this, the document did not really outline how the operating system will work and if the PDF rendering engine will be made by Sony or Kobo. Sony uses the Android operating system, which Kobo e-readers have been traditionally Linux based. The core belief is that this will be a Sony thing, with a small assist from Kobo. Will this be called the Sony PRS-T4 or under a new name? Will it have the consistent September release date as prior Sony models?
This might be a good play for Sony. They could make some solid margins on selling the hardware through other retailers, much like they are doing with the Digital Paper. When the T1, T2, and T3 e-readers get the Kobo store built into them, Kobo will be paying Sony a commission for each book sold. This cuts down the costs of maintaining a separate store in North America and advertising it to publishers. Also, no other Sony e-reader in recent memory has created the type of buzz that their 13.3 model has garnered. This has prompted Sony to make a six inch consumer model that will read the ePub format, instead of PDF exclusively.
Michael Kozlowski has written about audiobooks and e-readers for the past twelve years. Newspapers and websites such as the CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and the New York Times have picked up his articles. He Lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.