Business

Kobo taking aim at tablet segment

The Canadian ebook company Kobo is getting into the crowded tablet market and beating a major competitor to the punch by launching its Vox device on October 28.

Canadian ebook company Kobo is getting into the crowded tablet market and beating a major competitor to the punch.

Orders are now being taken for the Kobo Vox, a full-colour seven-inch tablet about the same size as the BlackBerry PlayBook. It's selling for about $200 and starts shipping on Oct. 28.

It's a Wi-Fi only device, runs on the Google Android operating system, and has eight gigabytes of built-in storage, with the ability to add up to 32GB more with an SD card. Kobo says the Vox will run for up to seven hours, if the Wi-Fi setting is turned off.

Kobo's largest ebook competitor, Amazon, also announced its own tablet recently with similar specifications, although it has more processing power. Called the Fire, it's not due for release until Nov. 15 and is selling for $199 in the U.S. There's no release date set for Canada.

"This has been in the works for the better part of this year," Kobo CEO Michael Serbinis said of the Vox, which was announced Wednesday morning.

"We've been growing like gangbusters in the world of e-reading — with over five million users just in the last 18 months since Kobo was founded — and we wanted to expand into new categories.

"In particular, colour content — kids books, cookbooks, comics, travel guides — and be able to really innovate on the experience with audio and multimedia."

Competitors

The Vox will compete against a long list of tablets on the market, including Apple's bestselling iPads, the PlayBook, Samsung's Galaxy Tabs, Motorola's Xoom and a host of smaller rivals.

Serbinis doesn't think ebook buyers will get too caught up in comparing the lists of technical specifications and will value the Vox's ties into social media, including Facebook. And they'll likely notice it's about 60 per cent cheaper than the least-expensive iPad.

"It's about the overall experience and the specs are not something to focus on. When someone picks up the new Vox e-reader they're going to be looking at the overall experience," Serbinis said.

"We've got some of the best of breed applications on our device and we really innovated on the experience of reading itself with our social platform."

Some users will be disappointed that the Vox runs on an older version of the Android platform, known as 2.3 or Gingerbread, and that Kobo isn't allowing full access to the Android's marketplace of apps. Kobo will have a selection of 15,000 free apps to download —including an app to read Amazon Kindle ebooks — and Serbinis insists some of the world's most popular apps, including Angry Birds, will be available for free.

Some apps that cost money to download off the Android Market will be free to Kobo users, he added.

"It's just a part of our business model and the value to our customers."

The Vox will also come with three free colour books — a cookbook Sweet Dreams, a Lonely Planet guide to Europe and the children's book Franklin and the Thunderstorm — 12 magazines and seven newspapers. It will be available in black, green, pink or blue.

Kobo is definitely not giving up on its older non-colour ebook readers and expects they will remain good sellers, Serbinis said. He's not sure which e-reader will emerge as the most popular.

"It's really hard to say what the split will be, obviously it's a very competitive market and that factors into it as well, but we absolutely see both categories (doing well) in the medium term as well as the short term."