Kobo faces tough competition from the likes of Amazon.com’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook. But the 2-year-old Canadian upstart, which just last month landed $50 million in financing, is hoping that it can turn a new page on electronic reading devices. Today, the company is announcing the Kobo eReader Touch Edition, which like the name suggests allows readers to navigate digital books with a swipe of the finger.
“The Kindle today is still very much button-oriented, keyboard-oriented,” said Todd Humphrey, the Seattle entrepreneur who now leads business development efforts for Kobo. With the new gadget set to roll out in early June, Humphrey said Kobo plans to be the leader in terms of size, weight and touch.
“Touch is now the de-facto way in which we interact with devices, so when we looked at the key features, it was size, screen quality and the form factor itself. But, on top of everything else, what our customers told us was the ability to interact with the device with the tip of their finger was a critical factor,” Humphrey said.
Unveiled today at Book Expo America in New York, the $129 device features a 6″ eInk screen and zForce infrared touch technology. The Wi-Fi-enabled device will officially roll out to retailers — including Best Buy, Walmart and Borders — in early June.
Smaller than a Kindle but bigger than an iPhone, Humphrey said that the eReader Touch is designed to fit in a gentleman’s suit pocket, a woman’s purse or the back pocket of jeans.
Code-named Trilogy, Kobo plans to introduce the device in Europe as well with Humphrey calling it the “first, global, pure-play international reader.” The eReader Touch will also be the first of Kobo’s devices to integrate with Reading Life, the company’s analytics and social networking service. In addition to integrating with Twitter and Facebook, Reading Life analyzes when you read, what you read and how fast you read. “We are building a database of how the world reads,” said Humphrey.
The company, which employs more than 200, has 3.6 million customers in 100 countries. In order to keep up with the growth in the digital book arena, Humphrey said that Kobo will likely expand in Seattle where he’s based.
“This is a market that we think is going to grow for us,” he said. “Number one, it is a great technology town. There’s a lot of talent here.”
Obviously, much of that talent resides at Amazon.com, where Humphrey previously worked. While Amazon’s Kindle represents a “most formidable competitor” with a “great brand,” Humphrey said that Kobo is trying to figure out how to take market share away.
One key move is the introduction of the eReader Touch, which Humphrey thinks will resonate with customers who want a single-purpose reading device where you can’t check email or surf the Web or download apps.
“The difference between what the iPad offers and what the PlayBook offers is: you can’t do anything else on it,” he said. “You can post to Twitter and Facebook on our new device, but you can’t check email or surf the Web, you are not getting push notifications.”
In addition to launching the eReader Touch, Kobo announced today that its first-generation Kobo Wi-Fi is dropping in price to $99.