Kobo to launch new tablet device, more compact e-reader

TORONTO Thu Sep 6, 2012 10:50am IST

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TORONTO (Reuters) - Kobo is launching a new tablet device and a more compact e-reader as it seeks to expand its market share and battle with Apple Inc and Amazon.com Inc in the ultra-competitive mobile device marketplace.

Toronto-based Kobo, owned by Rakuten Inc, Japan's top e-commerce operator, will launch the new devices in the next two months, as Amazon -- the world's largest Internet retailer -- reportedly prepares to unveil a new tablet, along with an update of its popular Kindle e-reader.

Kobo, which has e-reading applications for the iPad, iPhone, BlackBerry and other devices, will name its tablet device 'Kobo Arc'. It will come in an 8 gigabyte version priced at $200 and a 16 gigabyte version priced at $250, Chief Executive Mike Serbinis said in an interview.

The 7-inch Android-based devices will come with high definition displays, front-facing cameras and 1.5 gigahertz dual-core processors.

The company is also launching a new e-reader dubbed the 'Kobo Mini', a pocket-sized 5-inch device which will come with an e-ink touchscreen and 2 gigabytes of storage. Books, newspapers and magazines can be downloaded onto the $80 device via a wi-fi or micro USB connection.

Kobo is also launching an improved version of its flagship e-reader that will be called the 'Kobo Glo', a new 6-inch e-ink touchscreen device that will come with an adjustable front light. The Kobo Glo, priced at $130, also comes with 2 GB of memory and the option to expand this capacity by using a micro SD card.

"The devices will start hitting shelves in early October. Mini and Glo - the two devices that are e-ink readers will come out first," Serbinis said. "The Kobo Arc, our new Android-based tablet, will come out in November."

The devices will all be unveiled at an event in Toronto on Thursday.

TOUGH BATTLE

Kobo is competing for market share against devices from technology giants like Amazon, Apple and Google Inc. Apple's iPad is the current gold-standard in the crowded tablet arena, and the firm is expected to soon unveil the long-awaited iPad mini.

While Apple and Amazon use their online heft to sell their products and huge amounts of multimedia content, Kobo's rapid growth has been built by forming partnerships with local retailers in different countries, where it has focused on bibliophiles.

"There are players in the market -- Amazon being one of them -- that have Apple envy and they are going after this general purpose tablet market. We remain focused on the book lover and are really making a bet on the book lover," said Serbinis.

"It is certainly the road less traveled, but what we have proven having just crossed over 10 million readers across the world in a matter of 32 months is that we have a great solution for those book lovers."

Unlike its bigger rivals, Kobo positions itself as the local option for users in every market in which it operates, by partnering with local bookstores that often market the device as their very own e-reading platform.

The company suffered a major setback in the crucial U.S. market last year after Borders, its bookstore partner in the United States, went bankrupt. In a bid to revive growth in the U.S., Kobo last month announced that it has joined forces with the American Booksellers Association, which comprises nearly 2,000 independent stores.

Serbinis said the company, which currently has market share in the low single digits in the e-book segment in the United States, is targeting market share of over 20 percent in the country.

"Our overall objective is to be No. 1 in the world. That may sound preposterous today, but it sounded a lot more preposterous two and a half years ago when we first started. We have proven that we can be No. 1, as we are here in Canada or in France," he said. "It is going to take some time, but we are in this for the long haul."

(Reporting by Euan Rocha; Editing by Daniel Magnowski)