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Kobo Bets on a Smaller, Touch-Sensitive E-Reader

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Bucking the trend of e-readers that run apps like tablets, Kobo announced a new device called the eReader Touch Edition Monday. Priced at $129, the e-reader marries an e-Ink display with touch capabilities, so no physical keyboard is needed. As a result, the eReader Touch Edition is smaller than competing models and also supports tap-to-zoom functions when reading Adobe PDF (s adbe) documents. The new eReader debuts next month at Indigo, Walmart (s wmt), BestBuy (s bby) and Borders, with the company expecting to ship devices in time for Father’s Day.

Unlike traditional touchscreen solutions that can reduce clarity of e-ink displays, Kobo’s Touch Edition leverages Nenode’s Z-Force solution, which uses infrared technology. The screen itself doesn’t register any touches; instead, sensors along the screen edges can track a finger that touches the standard e-ink screen and interpret that data as a touchpoint. Helping to deliver the touch functionality and improve the reader’s refresh rate is a Freescale i.MX508 processor. The performance boost won’t hit the battery too hard, however. Kobo is claiming a run-time of 10 days or roughly 10,000 page turns on a single charge.

Using the touch screen, Kobo owners can highlight text, swipe for page turns, search books, or browse the online book store. The unique touch solution could help Kobo stand out from the crowd against the likes of Amazon (s amzn), Barnes & Noble (s bks) and Sony (s sne). During a GigaOM interview earlier this month, Kobo CEO Michael Serbinis noted that the company is looking to take a small, but growing piece of the e-book business. “We recognize that there are some pretty huge players in this industry,” he said. “We are the David in the David-and-Goliath story.”

Compared to Goliath, David was small, and so is the new eReader Touch Edition. The device has a 6-inch display, just like Amazon’s Kindle, but measures in at 6.49″ x 4.48″ x .39″. The Kindle is slightly thinner but larger overall, measuring 7.5″ x 4.8″ x 0.34″, meaning Kobo’s new device could fit in more pockets. Even though Amazon is expected to launch a tablet this year and the Barnes & Noble Nook Color is becoming a fully functional Android tablet, Kobo appears focused on the e-book industry.

Serbinis pointed this out earlier in the month, saying “The existing books market is worth about $90 billion. When we were creating Kobo, we thought that maybe 10 percent of that would go digital — now we think that it will probably be closer to 50 percent … We figured there was room for a ‘pure play’ e-book company.” There just might be room for Kobo’s new eReader Touch Edition with smaller size, new features and a lower price when compared to its peers, too.

5 Responses to “Kobo Bets on a Smaller, Touch-Sensitive E-Reader”

  1. borax99 (Alain C.)

    Until Kobo supports full justification, I will consider them a cheap-ass third-rate alternative. It’s unfortunate, they show a great deal of drive and ambition, but for the love of God, if I’m going to pay *book* prices I should get something that looks like a book, not free verse. This is a serious issue, I find unjustified e-texts very difficult to read.

    • Indeed, it’s very similar to Sony’s device. But there’s one key difference: Sony has a touchscreen atop the e-Ink display which can cause the screen to appear less clear. This device has no such issue because of the infrared sensors.

      • silent
        “The latest Sony Readers, including the Pocket Edition PRS-350, Touch Edition PRS-650, and Daily Edition PRS-950), use a customized version of Neonode’s optical touch-screen technology.”
        That makes Kobo’s solution look very similar to Sony’s. You might want to remove Sony from the list of companies it stands out from, as it appears to use the same tech. It’s still probably an improvement in the ebook reader market, as Kobo seems fairly good at getting devices in front of as many people as possible.

        • Thanks for pointing that out – Sony did make the change from actual touchscreens to Neonode’s infrared solution with the latest devices. I’ll make that change so as not to confuse. Much appreciated!