Kobo Launches Aura, A High-Res E-Reader, As It Preps For Its Own App Store This Summer

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Kobo, the Canadian e-reader, tablet and e-book company owned by Japan’s e-commerce giant Rakuten, today unveiled its newest device, the Aura HD, a limited-edition e-reader it’s aiming it at power bookworms, with a 265dpi resolution on a 6.8-inch screen, 4 gigabytes of storage and a two-month battery life for the premium price of $169.99 (£139.99). The announcement, made in London to coincide with this week’s London Book Fair, comes as Kobo doubles down on its business, with a stronger retail operation and now plans to launch its own app store later this year to build out content for its devices.

“We plan to expand from books into magazines and kids content but we’re not going to do exactly what others do in the market,” said Kobo CEO Michael Serbinis in an interview with TechCrunch. “A lot of books don’t go into e-book format but instead apps or a game or other kinds of content. If I add up those categories those could be 25-30% of the business of selling books, so if we want to have a leadership position we have to consider that. You can expect something like that from us.”

So, too, will the company start to incorporate more of what Rakuten is best known for: e-commerce. The company, in addition to e-commerce portals, is also a big investor in Pinterest. “There is opporutnity there and being a part of Rakuten helps but customer experience is what people are looking for,” he said. “You can already see an ad, dive in and make a purchase but beyond that there is nothing to report right now.”

Although Kobo may appear a perennial challenger to Amazon in the U.S., Serbinis pitches the company as small but mighty, one that knows how to play to its strengths.

“When we started the company the objective was to be number one or two in market,” he said. “The approach was always different from Amazon’s. Ours was to leverage booksellers and we’ve seen liftoff in the market.” In the UK, it works with WH Smith, a partnership that is now getting extended to a stronger retail operation nationally.

He notes that having a “great local partner” in different countries means generally “we are number one or two — some exceptions where Amazon is first in other businesses but those markets represent less than one-third of the global opportunity for Kobo.” He notes that Kobo was the first in Japan and Brazil, before Amazon.

Aura is another example of that: produced in a limited edition, with a resolution he claims is the very highest on the market today — “The resolution is something that we have innovated on and are first to bring to market,” he told TechCrunch in an interview — he says that Kobo came up with the idea based just on reading patterns that they’d picked up across just 10,000 of its customers.

“They were reading several books per week, hundreds from libraries,” he said. “It’s a limited edition for a passionate booklover.”

The other thing Kobo discovered is that there is still very much a life left for e-readers. Surveying its readers across 13 countries, Serbinis noted that 99% of them said they still plan to buy e-readers in the future. “It turns out that 36% of them already have tablets; they just happen to use those differently,” he said. “Those who have the e-reader they use it daily, whereas tablets might only get used once or twice a week.” (Some iPad users might beg to differ with those findings…)

If the Aura proves to be a hit, some of the attributes, such as the higher resolution, might end up getting used in future products that will be produced in larger quantities.

The Aura starts shipping on April 25.

Full release below.

Kobo Unveils Limited Edition Kobo Aura HD Reader
Kobo creates new high-definition eReader for the passionate booklover
London UK, April 15, 2013 – Kobo, a global leader in eReading, today announced its limited-edition Kobo Aura HD E Ink eReader. Designed for the world’s most passionate booklover, Kobo Aura HD delivers the best eReading experience with the highest resolution 6.8” E Ink display available on the market today. Its sophisticated, book-inspired design is available in Ivory, Espresso and Onyx. Starting tomorrow Kobo Aura HD will be available for pre-order at Kobo.com and WHSmith in the UK. The device will retail for £139.99 (UK/MSRP).

“From the beginning, Kobo has pushed the eReading industry to new heights and today is no exception,” said Michael Serbinis, CEO, Kobo. “Kobo Aura HD is designed for the most passionate booklovers – those who devour hundreds of stories each year – who asked us to create the ultimate eReading experience. Kobo Aura HD is our way of celebrating these customers.”

Kobo Aura HD offers the highest-resolution screen available in an eReader today. At 265 dpi, the spacious 6.8” Pearl E Ink touchscreen offers 30 percent more reading surface and the closest experience to print-on-paper – showcasing text and high-resolution images beautifully. The device’s 1GHz processor makes page turns fly and is the fastest eReader on the market – 25 percent faster. Kobo Aura HD has 4GB of storage (expandable up to 32GB) to easily store thousands of eBooks, and has a battery life of up to two months, making it the perfect eReader for people with a passion for the written word.

Complementing the sophisticated features of its design, Kobo developed a new user experience for Kobo Aura HD, harnessing its power, speed, and style for easy discovery of new content. The highly responsive eReader easily accesses the internet with a Wi Fi connection to browse the Kobo eBookstore. True to Kobo standards, each of its 10 fonts were perfected pixel-by-pixel to ensure that no matter which of the 24 adjustable font sizes is selected, Kobo Aura HD displays each letter with perfection. Reflecting the sophisticated nature of its design, the home screen also reflects a new, modern library display.

“To us, the Kobo Aura HD is the Porsche of eReaders and is designed for those in the driver’s seat of their eReading adventures,” said Wayne White, EVP and General Manager of Devices, Kobo. “It’s fast, powerful, and sleek and pushes the boundaries of eReading the same way our Readers do – together, they’ll know no bounds as they find their next great read.”

Kobo pioneered the affordable eReader in May 2010 and has since introduced its Family of eReaders, which includes the Kobo Arc 7” Android tablet, Kobo Mini, Kobo Glo and Kobo Touch™ E Ink eReaders, and is now introducing the limited-edition Kobo Aura HD. With more than 13-million users around the world, Kobo has experienced triple-digit growth year-over-year. The company is a driving force behind the adoption of eReading around the world with its award-winning eReaders and tablets, free apps for tablets, PCs and smartphones, and extensive network of booksellers and leading retailers.

Kobo Aura HD will be available for pre-order in the UK starting April 16 at http://www.kobo.com and will be in-stores in Canada and the United Kingdom starting April 25. International availability will begin in May.
For more information about Kobo Aura HD and where to buy, visit http://www.kobo.com/koboauraHD.

About Kobo Inc.
Kobo Inc. is one of the world’s fastest-growing eReading services offering more than 3.2-million eBooks, magazines and newspapers to millions of customers in 190 countries.  Believing that consumers should have the freedom to read any book on any device, Kobo provides consumers with a choice when reading. From its Family of eReaders, which includes the Kobo Touch™, Kobo Mini, Kobo Glo and Kobo Arc, to its free, top-ranked eReading applications for Apple®, BlackBerry®, Android®, and Windows® products, Kobo ensures the next great read is just a page-turn away. Headquartered in Toronto and owned by Tokyo-based Rakuten, Kobo eReaders can be found in major retail chains around the world. For more information, visit www.kobo.com.