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Kobo announces Touch Edition eReader that's 'easier to use than ever'

May 23, 2011 |  9:20 am

Kobo on Monday announced its new eReader Touch Edition on Monday -- a paperback-sized device that features an e-ink touch screen.

"We just want to make eReaders easier to use than ever," Kobo Chief Executive Michael Serbinis said. "You can tap the edge of a page on the screen to turn the page, or you can swipe it with your finger, and it rolls back just like a real page would."

Front_Black_PnP_cover The device doesn't offer the multitouch and multicolor experience of a smart phone or tablet computer, but it does allow for an easier entry into eReading than previous devices from both Kobo and its competitors, Serbinis said.

Search functions, text highlighting, note taking and bookmarking -- all the standard eReader features are in place, along with an on-screen virtual keyboard, he said. 

The Kobo Touch Edition is small enough to fit into the back pocket of a pair of jeans, with just a small bezel around a 6-inch screen, Serbinis said.

The display uses an infared touch technology that allows the screen to react to the touch of any object, not just a human finger.

"You can touch, tap or swipe with a pen, pencil, hand, hand in gloves, whatever you want to touch it with and it will work," Serbinis said.

A sliver strip under the screen is the device's one actual button -- a home button, to exit out of any book or application quickly. The Touch Edition is offered in black or white, with the lighter models being made available with blue, silver or lilac backs.

Kobo, which Serbinis said was "neck and neck" for third place in the U.S. eReader market dominated by Amazon's Kindle and the Barnes & Noble Nook eReaders, is looking to gain market share on being the most affordable digital reading device available.

The Kobo Touch Edition went on preorder on Monday at Best Buy, Borders and Wal-Mart stores for $129.99. The previous Kobo Wireless eReader, which uses a directional pad for navigation and debuted about a year ago, dropped to $99.99 from about $130.

"We're gunning for Amazon," Serbinis said. "We now have just under 4 million users in over 100 countries. We're No. 1 in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. And we've essentially pioneered the affordable eReader. That brings us to touch technology. We think this is a compelling experience -- not really matched on the market right now." 

Both Kobo's Touch and Wireless eReaders can download books from the Kobo store, over the Internet, connecting via Wi-Fi. Neither device is available with 3G connectivity -- as some Kindle and Nook models are.

"We talked to our users to find out what they wanted in an e-reader and they said they all have Wi-Fi; at home, at work, at school, at the cafe," Serbinis said. "They told us that rather than pay extra for 3G, they'd prefer to spend that money on books."

KoboColors The Touch also will feature Kobo's Reading Life application, which tracks a user's activity -- what, how much and how long a user reads -- and offers up awards based on that progress.

"What initially was just fun awards, like the 'Juggernaut' for reading 10,000 pages, well, now we're modifying that too," Serbinis said. "The awards are going to soon come with rewards, such as a cup of coffee or a discount on a new eBook purchase, or something like that. And Reading Life will be coming to more of our apps, too."

Of course, Reading Life users can connect the app to their Facebook and Twitter networks and share what they're reading and awards they've earned with friends, and Serbinis promises that more social networking features are on the way.

"We're the eReading partner of choice for Research In Motion, and Samsung and HTC and we're preinstalled on many Android tablets and phones," he said. "We've got a healthy reading community and Reading Life users have proven to read with us more and read with us longer and we're going to build on that by offering Reading Life into more devices.

"We didn't want to re-create anything that already exsisted, we wanted to create something that was social and not detached, but built in."

With bets on the social side of reading and a touch interface, Kobo believes it's arming itself to become a bigger player in the eReading space, Serbinis said.

"We think we know what the future of eReading looks like and we think others will follow suit in touch and social," he said. "And we've got a few more ideas on what we think is next after that."

RELATED:

Barnes & Noble to announce new e-reader

Nook Color gets Angry Birds, Nook Friends social network

Amazon: Consumers buying more Kindle e-books than print books

-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

twitter.com/nateog

Image: Kobo eReader Touch Edition. Credit: Kobo Inc.

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