Saturday, May 8, 2010

The attractive but bare-bones $149 Kobo called a "Kindle killer" by press. Update

I've started another blog, E-readerworld, to focus on news of other e-readers since I'm interested in the technology in general but some Kindleworld blog followers prefer the focus on mainly the Kindle.   Among other e-readers there,  I've started following the Kobo, since it's due here in June and is partnering with Borders.

However, it seems there can't be a day without dozens of columns saying what new device now WILL (finally) kill the Kindle, since it seems to be a bit harder to kill than had been thought (wished ?).    Maybe it would help if some writers even read about the features of each device and compared those.  Before the money is put down, most consumers do comparison-shopping.

This won't be about those strange columns though. 
  However, even Consumer Reports' Paul Reynolds, in an otherwise neutral article, feels the Kindle will need to reduce its price again to approach the Kobo pricing because it's felt Amazon needs to be more competitive with other e-readers even when they don't have many (basic) features the Kindle has.

  Whatever happened to the idea of features-comparison?

  UPDATE - 5/10/10 - 11:14 AM
  I just saw that Paul Reynolds made a gracious reply to my comment to him at Consumer Reports.  Part of my concern had been that probably 99% of the online articles on this topic cite, at best, the wireless feature (and that there are costs associated with it) but don't mention the many reading-associated features that one model has that the less-expensive one doesn't and which I feel people should read about when price difference is the key focus.   The explanation Paul Reynolds gave was very well stated. [End of udpate]

As an e-reader customer I wouldn't mind any price decreases.
  But, should all models with varying features, say, by one manufacturer be priced as if they were nearly the same?  Each added feature brings more cost.  That's probably as old as the first humans on the planet.

The underlying thought by many technology reporters about e-readers seems to be that any device that is "just" a book reader has to be of very low value.  I've seen that in many stories - that the pricing should be $50 or $99  at the most.   Some of it comes from research in which people were just asked at what price would they consider an e-reader.  Counted are those who wouldn't even particularly want one.

Mashable's Lauren Indvik writes that "The Kobo e-reader is very similar to Amazon’s Kindle 2 both in functionality and in appearance, but at $150, is almost half the price."

I added a comment to the "very similar...functionality" description.
"Actually, the Kobo e-reader is not very similar to Amazon’s Kindle 2 in functionality unless you count only showing the text on an e-ink display.

  Here's what is part of the Kindle functionality but not at all present in the Kobo:
         [  I've separated the features by lines here. ]
  . an in-line Dictionary
  . a Text-search mechanism (for the book or the device)
  . the ability to Highlight or make Notes
       (and to see them automatically organized and viewable
        on a private webpage if wanted)
  . the ability to use 3G wireless and at no added cost, 24/7 in the States
  . the ability to use Wikipedia via 3G globally for free
       while reading a book and wanting to know more about
       a word or phrase or a character in the book.

*Less important functionality* that the Kindle has but the Kobo doesn't:

  . Text-to-speech on any documents, periodicals, or books while busy
      w/other things but wanting to continue 'reading' 
  . the ability to listen to mp3's in the background.

The Kobo can't use WiFi networks instead [of 3G celluar], as the Nook does.

However, the Kobo does have the Adobe licensing to use the public library and if your local library 'Overdrive' program has a lot of good e-books, that's worth quite a bit.  [ It also reads ePub files.]

Too many are looking only at price (which isn't done normally because you usually have cost-comparison of features),

With the Kobo and its $149 - you get what you pay for, bare-bones functionality. For $110 more, the Kindle gives a lot more long-term value. That free 3G access for mobile-text webbing is useable anywhere, including when in a bus or in some waiting-room somewhere.

The Kobo has neither 3G wireless nor WiFi - it's actually quite limited for $149. [Bluetooth transfers can be relatively cumbersome.] BUT I recommend it for the public library access for some, though that depends on what the local library stocks in the way of e-books and how many can borrow one at the same time..

Amazon has 20,000 or more free books, easily downloadable 24/7 from anywhere. The Project Gutenberg's 30,000 files can be downloaded directly to the device over the air at no cost via the "Magic Catalog."

WORD doc files are accepted by Amazon for free conversion to Kindle format, which is very helpful, but these can also be done [converted] by the user.

Also, the 16 shades of gray [Kindle] vs 8 shades [Kobo] can make quite a difference in photos."
Well, that's my bit for the current onslaught of articles about the Kobo as "Kindle Killer" - a term much loved by the media for some reason. 

 See the ongoing Guide to finding Free or Low-Cost Kindle books and Sources
   Check often:  Latest temporarily free non-classics or late-listed temporarily free nonclassics.
  Also, a prepared links that confine searches to mid-range priced e-books. Below are ways to Share this post if you'd like others to see it.
-- The Send to Kindle button works well only on Firefox currently.

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  1. It's funny how the press wants to kill the Kindle so badly. Nook was the Kindle Killer, then the iPad and now this.

    Reminds me of the early days of the Nintendo DS every new portable device released was the DS killer (even the iphone), 6 years latter nothing has hurt DS sales.

  2. Anonymous,
    It's all very odd, the wish that the Kindle be killed.
    On a basic level, it's a threat to physical books for some people and a reason for the implosion of newspapers -- and for others they just find it so 'gray' and lackluster, like hating the dull kids in school and many stories refer to it as 'fugly' -- so it all reminds me of the schoolyard.

    A last grouping are those who never could figure out why people spend hours reading books when it's more cool to do almost anything else.

  3. Yeah seriously I don't get how every new device is constantly called a kindle killer. What is it about the kindle that just offends people to such a degree with that? It can't just be that it's the biggest and most popular device in its genre. I don't know of people saying one game system is a "Xbox killer" or an "Ipod killer" or any of that crap. The "kindle killer" is the only way people describe products designed to compete with the big gun.

    And frankly I don't think this thing is a kindle killer period

  4. tennysonacolyte,
    Say, I have a few Tennyson books on my Kindle!

    Anyway, they'd be fairer to the Kobo and to the idea of journalism if they'd just rave about it being probably an excellent basic reader for $149, as some Canadians are enjoying it.

    Sometimes I think it's "How can such a plain thing be so popular and cost more than I would pay"

  5. I think it's human nature: people want to be correct and they want to be able to say they saw it coming, so there will always be people predicting the demise of something just in case it happens.

    Another part of it is that Amazon is a giant and people seem to like to root for the underdog. (Business seems to be a particularly inappropriate place for a David-vs-Goliath dream; would not the "Kindle killer" eventually be killed itself, and if so, what happens to those customers?)

    There really hasn't been recent talk of, say, an "Xbox killer", partly because it's clear Microsoft will spend whatever is necessary (for the next few years, at least) to remain a major player in the console market, and partly because if there were a killer, it should have been the PS3, and that clearly didn't do the job. (A case can be made that all three manufacturers had a golden opportunity to dominate this generation and that they all failed miserably.) When the next generation of consoles comes up on the radar, you'll hear the same comments ... and after all, the PS2 did effectively kill off the Dreamcast and Sega's participation in the console race, so it has happened before.

    However, the Dreamcast was available for two years or so before it was discontinued, and by then, Sega had been in the US market for more than a decade. Expecting that any one e-reader would knock Amazon completely out of the market at this point is a bit premature, I think.

  6. zlionsfan,
    All good points.

    Agree with you. Taking away significant market share would be one thing, but 'killing' is a concept meant to draw traffic.

    Also, I think most reporters who are not interested in b&w e-readers just think that there's no interest in the story unless they say something dramatic like that -- the only interesting angle in their eyes.

  7. Some good points, but don't think this post is completely fair.

    Half the features you mentioned as lacking in the Kobo eReader can be added through a software update for no charge.

    The other half are what makes the Kindle expensive and are, for the average person, unnecessary. Most people have other devices that play mp3's, and many people are always connected in some form or another.

    Living in Canada, I've seen and held a Kobo, and a kindle (and a Nook incidentally, even though they aren't selling in Canada) The kobo is much lighter and more comfortable to hold. The quilted backing provides a firm, warm grip compared to the cold, gadgety feel of the Kindle. They also throw in 100 free public domain titles, which I thought was a nice touch.

    I really don't see the hassle in having to plug in to the computer to get books on to the device. People do that all the time with iPods.

    I think you sell the Kobo a bit short.

  8. @zlionsfan

    You forgot that this generation of gaming consoles the Wii and its games are selling much better than the Xbox and PS3.

    Other than that good points.

    It seems that companies proclaiming a Kindle Killer, just want to ride on the kindle success to get media attention. They mention the kindle and immediately get free advertising by comparing their device to the current best known ereader. It is as if people would think "I heard the Kindle is a great device, if X product is the Kindle Killer it must be incredible."

  9. Anonymous,
    There have been no announcements that even half of those will ever be added via software.

    I'm not sure you read the post completely since I listed the mp3s capability under "Less important functionality" ...

    The point isn't that the Kobo isn't fine, it is, as a basic reader only -- the points made are that the added $110 gets you a lot and that the prices aren't for the same type of reader -- one is very basic though I mentioned its big plus is library access, and the other has just a lot of features.

    Would you say that only one type of car is needed and that if a more full-featured car is available, then the more basic car is the killer of the more full-featured model? No, they are for different audiences. That's the structure of almost anything and a reason for Consumer Reports' division of model-types when reviewing.

  10. Anonymous who wrote to @zlionsfan,
    Although it's usually the media who does the Kindle-killer thing, Barnes and Noble did do what you describe for the Nook's marketing and it worked, until the Nook came out prematurely and then there was a media response to its own belief in only specifications rather than functioning.

    It's taken awhile but the Nook is better after its last update although the menu design still includes too many steps and Nook readers are still finding too many bugs. But it is a really nice looking model and has a really good screen display, and I enjoyed the color slice of a webpage that it now can give you with its WiFi-only web browser.

  11. The beef with Kindle and most others is PRICE. It is just too expensive for most people. Also the screens are still tiny.

    Skiff is the first reader to bring decent screen size but that will likely be too expensive. If Skiff could bring their price below $200 when that comes out on the market, I would buy that. Otherwise I will go with a $150 budget reader.

    Finally, the handwriting is on the wall for a 50% cut in reader prices in 2011 for those who can wait. In a couple years, I can see almost all readers going for under $100.

    KOBO will help bring readers down to a more tolerable price point. The only basic feature it lacks is a dictionary although they could technically still add it later with a firmware update if they wanted.

  12. Prioris,
    The component cost of the Kindle 6" was done by company that takes devices apart for that purpose and it was seen to be about $185 for just the parts.
    That was over a year ago and they have combined PVI and e-Ink since then.

    I hope they do add a dictionary to the KOBO and a basic search routine so I can find other mentions of a character in a book I'm reading.

    I will add though that the ability to search Wikipedia from your book, for free, is worth the added money for many of us, but your mention of the dictionary as prime first firmware edition is a good one.

  13. Prioris,
    I forgot to say that Skiff is, as of a few months ago, focusing mainly on magazines. It'll be very good for that but, really at this point only in b&w?

    If so then they should be able to do it at a somewhat lower price point, but not sure it can be $200 with a flexible screen of that size.

    Good luck on whatever you decide to get.

  14. I think the $185 cost may have been calculated a year or so ago.

    If I need to search a book, I will just put it on my computer and use a windows app like calibre, pdf reader, windows 7 search etc for that.

    I will use a reader to free me from sitting at computer. For people on the go and more mobile situation, I could see shelling out more money.

    I'm sure Skiff will be able to read pdf and epub formatted books. If not, they won't be relevant. Magazines will require color i think.

    I've downloaded thousands of books onto my computer so that is what i will use as my source.

    I tend to read primarily more technical and nonfiction stuff. For people who read just small paperbacks, the 5 inch readers are sufficient.

    The problem with wikipedia as with magazines, newspapers is that they are centrally controlled by the government and tainted with disinformation (or distractions). One must always be aware of that. The same problem exists in books e.g. physics, economics, history, astronomy etc.

  15. prioris,
    I actually wrote to you:

    "That was over a year ago and they have
    combined PVI and e-Ink since then."

    Re saying that if you need to search something in the book you're reading you'd go to your computer...

    --- As you also say, others will be in situations where they'd rather just search it right where they are.

    I agree with you about magazines requiring color -- now that the iPad is out and magazines are known for the color and layout whereas books are normally black text on white background so work okay with e-ink screens ...

    The skiff will likely be fairly expensive so that's going to be a prob for them. I'd rather use an iPad and get magazines in color.

    Ah, you like reading books on your computer. You and I are alike in that I also read mainly non-fiction. That's probably why I prefer to use my DX which I find really excellent for reading (a very vivid screen) but will certainly say or agree that it's too expensive unless you want that bigger space for PDF materials and illustrations etc.

    Wikipedia's main problem (and nice quirk at the same time) is not so much with the government. It's with the fact that it's built so that ANYone can put anything on it, edit out others' more factual stuff and substitute their own.

    However, everyone can do it, and the article-owner page can limit malicious-editing though the focus is to allow leeway. However, with everyone being able to 'contribute' and discuss, I've found most articles have enough community pressure on them that they turn out to be much better than a lot of newspaper articles these days.

    At any rate, the ability to read a page and GoTo Wikipedia to look up something on that page (or even just google it if you use the Kindle in the U.S., Japan, Mexico or Hong Kong and this is to be expanded) is amazingly useful on stuff I've looked up.

    It's as easy as starting to highlight a word or phrase, ending it with a spacebar press and it's pasted into the searchbar and then you can just look up what there is on it at Wikipedia (available for free globally) or google it (more limited geographic area.

    The point is not to believe any one thing you read but look up perspectives from all over. That holds true for just about everything, as you already know :-)

    I suspect that, at heart, you're a researcher and you probably would enjoy the added features.

    But, as you say, you can get up (good for the bod) and research it elsewhere :-)

  16. Keep in mind that the 260 price tag of the Kindle an Nook include FREE wireless basic internet. Most other ereaders that offer "free" internet only allow you to visit their online store.

  17. Anonymous,
    It's more than a valid, and large, point and I sometimes keep it in mind too much for others who don't care about that feature!

  18. Wow! Unbelieveable comments on this post. I can't understand why so many dislike the Kindle so much. I've had mine now just over 5 months and it has freed up things for me so much.

    Although I understand the reading of books on a computer I couldn't see that as for anything else but text books. That's my personal opinion. While I love my Kindle my favorite thing to do is sit back with a real book and page through the story. There is something about the texture of the pulp and the smell of the ink and glue that makes it a more fulfilling experience.

    My Kindle offers me freedom that I was not able to have before. I have always carried around books to pull out at a moments notice when I had to wait for something. Doctor visits, auto repairs, fast food places were always 'dead' times for me or at the least if I had a book a chance that I might bash my book up a bit. (My quirk is my books almost look brand new when I'm done with them) Now I have a wide selection of books on my Kindle and I can read whichever I wish. I'm not tied down to having only one.

    But that is only part of this issue. The big issue here is price. When I got my Kindle I had the option of getting a brand new one or a refurbished one. The refurbished went for $179. Would a refurbished be more to the liking of those who wish for the lower price point? Only $20 more. So then my Kindle was $90 more than that....I don't see how this is too expensive.

    If there is someone who wants one, a Kobo, just as a basic reader with the less functions, then great. I have a sister who likes to read but the Kindle is a little out of her price range. This might be just the thing for her BUT it's not for me.

    It's all about personal taste. Do you pay $6 for a cup of coffee? Well that's way too much for me. However is you really like the coffee and you can afford it, then hey, go for it. Dunkin Dounuts has coffee really cheap. I don't think they're going to kill Starbucks.

    Which ever you wish to go with, enjoy and cheer for all of them to do well. You're smack dab in the middle of the future happening all around you! With cell phones, laptops, e-reader and other devices it's like watching an old episode of Star Trek.

    Oh and just to clarify, they are gadgets....what's wrong with that?

  19. I see the kobo as the next step in where ereaders will go. Sometime in the future (soon I hope) it will be like cell phones. Free or reduced price ereaders in exchange for a subscription service (Example: 2 year sub to electronic wallstreet journal or 2 year sub to ebook store with 2 books per month free and we give you a free/reduced$ ereader).

  20. A couple of weeks ago, a friend was raving about the iPad and made a point of telling me that "the Kindle is toast now." I pointed out that Kindles work in direct sunlight and backlit screens don't. He shrugged and said, "So what? Just take the iPad into the shade. Problem solved."

    I think a lot about this whole "Kindle killer" thing, because it seems really odd to me that some people think that different technologies can't coexist. I own a Kindle but it wouldn't even occur to me to say it should "kill" Sony Readers or Nooks or whatever. To me that's like saying that Ford is a "Chevy killer" or that Coke is a "Pepsi killer."

    I've decided that this is an outgrowth of the fan culture and "fanboy" behavior. Fandom is basically exclusionary. If you like A, you can't like B. I learned that when I was 10 years old and buying comic books for 12 cents at the 7-Eleven: if you read DC comics, you're not supposed to read Marvel comics. If you like Star Trek, you can't like Star Wars, and so on.

    A lot of technology writers and bloggers are basically grown-up fanboys and still apply the same kind of thinking. Apple fans are particularly prone to this. They love one kind of technology uncritically and want to see it obliterate another one. In their minds the iPad MUST obliterate the Kindle (or netbooks or whatever) because that's what fanboys want. It's just the grown-up version of wanting to see a fight between Superman and Spider-Man.

  21. First, thanks to Anonymous above who correctly spelled Spider-Man with the hyphen!

    Your theory about "fanboys" wanting to see a fight between Spider-Man and Superman and bringing that desire into the ereader world is fine but too limited, IMO. Our sports-dominated culture is just as much to blame. Teams do not "exhibit excellent skills" on the field or court, they must "kill, smash and annihiliate" one another.

    Thus, everything in America must be viewed as a contest, with a winner and loser, with killer and prey. And my team, my hometown, my school will always be better than yours because it's mine, even in the throes of defeat, because my team/hometown/school has "heart" or "spirit" or something else ethereal and unquantifiable.

    Which is probably why we're all doomed, but at least we'll go out reading!

  22. Anonymous and Jan,
    Thanks for these. Beautifully said.


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