In the era of the iPad, there are two paths that the still-nascent gadgets known as e-readers can take. They can try to take the iPad on head-to-head by adding fancy color touch screens and new features that go beyond reading. Or they can get even simpler and even cheaper, until it’s unlikely that it’ll even occur to anyone to compare them to the iPad.
At the MobileFocus event in Las Vegas last night, digital book purveyor Kobo was showing its first hardware device–and it’s definitely the latter sort of e-reader. At $150, it may not be the cheapest e-reader to date, but it’s the least expensive one I know of that’s going to be widely available and have a serious digital bookstore. (Sony’s low-end Reader has held that distinction; it’s $200, but is currently on sale for $170.)
Like Sony’s Readers, the Kobo eReader will be available at Borders stores, starting this summer. Borders is an investor in Kobo, which was formerly known as Shortcovers and is a spinoff of Canadian bookselling behemoth Indigo.
Like Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook, the Kobo e-reader sports a 6″ monochrome E-Ink screen and can run for dayson a battery charge. It lacks a 3G wireless connection–no surprise given the low price–and so owners will need to transfer books over from a PC via USB. Kobo uses the industry-standard ePub e-book format, and has reader software for the iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, and Palm Pre, with an iPad version in the works. It uses Adobe’s Digital Editions software for PC and Mac reading.
The reader the Kobo folks were demoing in Vegas looked plain but decent; you use a blue pad to navigate books. A company representative told me that the company is getting into the already-crowded e-reader market mostly because it wants to license its platform to other e-reader makers. The Kobo eReader is an example of what’s possible. But if it’s a respectable e-reader for $150, it’ll be a significant product–and of interest to book fans who aren’t ready to spring for the Kindle or Nook, both of which cost $260.