While this has been an amazing and record breaking year for the Kindle, we haven’t heard much about the more basic, but highly publicized in its time, Kobo eReader. For those who may not remember, the Kobo device made a splash a while back when they released the first widely available eReading device at $150. This is widely percieved to have been the move that prompted both Amazon(NASDAQ:AMZN) and Barnes & Noble(NYSE:BKS) to drop their prices from the $2-300 range when they did.
Their eReader, simply called the Kobo Wireless eReader, is a fairly basic device offering few of the frills you might expect elsewhere these days. The idea was a reading device built for the task of reading a book off the rack and nothing else. It’s not the quickest or the prettiest, but it does get the job done. Where it shines most is the integration into the Kobo Books Store. They have traditionally offered competitive prices on a huge selection of texts, often with less restrictive DRM formatting than can be found elsewhere.
All that being said, it seems that Kobo is hoping to give Amazon a bit more competition for that top of the market position this year. They have a similar selection of reading apps to that which Kindle fans have become accustomed to over the past couple years. Apps are available for iOS, Android, Blackberry, Palm Pre, PC, Mac, etc. They have agreements with big names like Samsung and RIM to get these manufacturers’ devices preloaded with the Kobo reading app, which will be a big deal in the expanding tablet PC market place, and have stated that they hope to see their software preloaded on over 20 million individual devices over the course of 2011. Talk about improved exposure…
Where does this leave the physical eReader? As best I can tell it simply isn’t the focus of a major push right now. The current incarnation is superior to the first offering, most notably for its wireless connectivity (which was a pain to do without, I can assure you from personal experience),but at heart it’s the same device. You get your books, they go on a shelf, you grab them and read them. It gets a little bit interesting when you’re trying to navigate using just the one multi-directional button in the corner, but even that isn’t too bad. It’s just not great, which it would need to be to make a big impression on the dedicated eReader marketplace with the Kindle around.
It’s hard to say at this point whether Kobo has a real shot at securing a large part of the eBook distribution pie. They’re well positioned, have some good word of mouth going, and clearly have plans for the year ahead, but the competition on both sides, plentiful new distributors and entrenched old names like Amazon, might be a bit too much to make headway. As for the Kobo eReader, I’m going to say that, personally, I’m counting it out of the race unless something changes. The competition now is for the media distribution, after all, not so much the hardware. Not sure who but a long-time customer would pay more for the Kobo alternative than is being charged for either a Kindle or Nook.