Friday, June 25, 2010

Kobo: The Little eReader That (Pretty Much) Does

The eReader market is beginning to get very interesting due to a recent price war that erupted when Barnes & Noble lowered the cost of their Nook to $199. Not to be undersold, Amazon then reduced the Kindle to $189 within just a few hours.

Additionally B&N also introduced a new, Wi-Fi only, affordable version of the Nook for $149, doing their best to aggressively take market share from Amazon and Apple.

But there's another low priced eReader that's entered the circle of E-Ink devices called Kobo, which will be prominently sold nationwide at Borders Bookstores and directly online.

The Kobo is irresistibly cute and feels great to hold. It's super light and has a nice, bright, easy-to-read screen. Part of what makes it feel so good in your hands is a quilted rubber back, which was a terrific design idea and kudos to whoever came up with that concept. There are simple buttons located on the lower left edge to navigate through the various options, like browsing your library, selecting the font size, and more.

There's also a big blue rubber button that feels like it's covering a toggle for changing pages and moving up and down on the screen. I found this feature a bit difficult to use at first, but after some time I got used to it.

But what I like most about the Kobo is how they made it out of plastic and rubber, yet somehow managed to make it not feel cheap. It feels crafted and solid and well worth the price point.

The Kobo also comes preloaded with 100 public domain classics, such as Moby Dick, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Anna Karenina, and other familiar staples of literature. This is a very nice bonus, but oddly enough there doesn't seem to be a way to remove any of these titles from the device itself, which might miff some users.

What the Kobo doesn't have is Wi-Fi or 3G network connectivity and you know what...who cares!?! Millions of people have been hooking up their iPods to computers for years and have seemed to manage just fine. This strategy represents something close to what marketing thought-leader Seth Godin recently recommended to Amazon: To forget about all the bells and whistles but instead release a simple version of the Kindle with a $49 price tag, making reading digitally possible for just about everyone.

Just like with Kindle and Nook, you can download a very nice Kobo App for Apple's iPad to enjoy purchased titles, which was a very smart move since this amazing tablet (yes, I'm biased) has just surpassed 3 Million devices sold and there's no sign of that ending any time soon. You can also access your Kobo account across other platforms, which makes purchasing and reading very convenient. The dedicated App and online store for browsing/purchasing is clean and simple and overall seems to work well. However, some of the navigations are inconsistent and not 100% intuitive, but I suspect they'll be making improvements based on customer feedback in the months ahead. Watch this video to learn more about all the options.

But one peculiar move by Borders was the decision to immediately undercut the price of the Kobo with another eReader called the Libre. I understand the desire to provide customers with choice, but now is the time to put their focus and energy on promoting the hell out of Kobo so it resonates with the general public. I mean the Borders e-Bookstore is "powered by Kobo" so a little synergy wouldn't be a bad thing at this moment in time. If I were the Kobo/Borders team, I'd figure out a way to aggressively price this appealing gadget at $75 and shout it from the rooftops.

The one glaring thing that's most disappointing about the Kobo is how it deals with PDFs. Basically, it really doesn't beyond attempting to magnify the text to its best technical capability, which is quite poor, and honestly it's a feature that should've been kept off until ready for prime-time. Fortunately for Kobo and Borders, my impression is that most people won't be purchasing this device for business use.

Other than that, consider me a fan of this small and well-made eReader that looks great, feels great, and overall works great. Previously I had written about how I love reading on my iPad, and I still do. But the Kobo is the eReader I plan to use when reading outdoors in sunlight, especially at the beach.

Do you think Borders' new e-Book initiative with Kobo will gain market share?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

iBooks: The Magical & Revolutionary Way to Read

I've been using my new iPad for the past couple of months and have to say...I absolutely love it!

Now I could go on and on about what a pleasure it is using this incredible tablet to read periodicals like The New York Times; or how amazing watching videos and movies can be; or how productive time spent checking email and browsing the web is while commuting; or how much fun it is to play games like Parachute Panic with family and friends; or listen to music, stream audio, view photos, and so much more!

But I won't.

Instead I'd like to simply focus on what it's like to browse, shop, and read books using the iBooks application from Apple on this powerful thin slate made of metal and glass.

Let me first point out that I'm not a voracious book reader, so the E-Ink vs. LCD screen debate regarding eye-strain doesn't apply to my reading habits. That said, I do read a tremendous amount of articles on a daily basis, which in the past I would mostly do on the iPhone, so reading with a bright lit screen is something I'm very comfortable with and have never been aware of any eye fatigue as a result.

Before the iPad was released I read books on three different dedicated eReaders: Amazon's Kindle, The Sony Reader, and Barnes & Noble's Nook. Frankly none of them ever lived up to my expectations when it came to the user experience and I would consistently be reminded of this whenever using the Kindle or B&N eReader App on my iPhone. I was struck how the same Hemingway novel on my grey and black 6" Kindle would suddenly come alive on the smaller 3.5" color iPhone. And how the tactile motion of swiping the screen to turn a page instead of pushing physical buttons or moving a tiny toggle just felt more natural, which is saying a lot when you consider we're talking about viewing the printed word on a screen. Plus the ease of changing font size, bookmarking, and managing my library, all with the touch of a finger on the iPhone made me long for the day when these actions could be done on a larger screen.

So back in April when Steve Jobs demonstrated the iBooks App and iBookstore during his introduction of the iPad, it became quite clear that reading eBooks would never be the same. I'm sure Apple was fully aware they accomplished something extraordinary with iBooks, which could explain why the App is presented front and center as a download when first-time iPad users launch the App Store. It's a terrific endorsement for the act of reading from one of the most influential companies in the world and I would hope bibliophiles everywhere have some level of appreciation for it. Of course, it's also a very aggressive move by Apple to go head-to-head with Amazon for market share of eBook sales.

Naturally I downloaded iBooks and immediately began browsing the iBookstore, which is conveniently hidden behind a virtual wooden bookshelf that slowly revolves to reveal the storefront. It's a small but cool feature that never gets boring (for me anyway) 'cos it's as if Bruce Wayne himself commissioned this clever feature. Once in the store you can't help but notice the amount of available selections is limited compared to Amazon, but it should only be a matter of time before that improves. One thing I did find a bit surprising was how a user cannot view a larger version of a jacket image on the book's product page, though I've been told this feature will be introduced sometime in the near future.

But until then, the ease of browsing from one book to another or the ability to instantly read a sample chapter makes the titles that are currently available a pleasure to discover and buy.

If you've watched the Winnie the Pooh demo, then you're aware how beautifully text and illustrations appear within the simulated pages of the iBooks application. But it's not until you actually read on the iPad yourself that you truly appreciate the elegant way functionality such as brightness adjustment, font selection, and pagination appears, disappears, and reappears with a simple tap of the finger. It's pure reading bliss as far as I'm concerned.

And now Apple has announced that soon we'll be able to view PDFs within iBooks, that the iBookstore will be available for the iPhone, and everything viewed between Apple devices will synch together quite nicely (at least I'm confident that'll be the case).

It's worth mentioning that those hoping to read outdoors with the iPad will be disappointed, so an eReader with an E-Ink screen would be the way to go, especially if you like reading at the beach. And as we know, lots of people do, which means dedicated eReaders aren't going away any time soon and here's another reason why: Check out this cool video featuring Paul Jacobs, CEO of Qualcomm, demonstrating a new display technology during the recent All Things Digital D8 Conference that is not LCD.

But if you're like me and enjoy the ability to do a variety of amazing tasks with just one device, then I think you'll find the iPad will transform and enhance your daily enjoyment of the things we love: Music, Movies, Magazines, News, Games, and especially...Books!

Got an iPad? What do you think of it so far?