Can Kobo compete with iPad and Kindle?

Kobo is launching a new tablet and e-reader in an attempt to wrest the market away from Amazon and Apple, both of which will probably release new tablets soon.

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    Kobo previously released an e-reader in 2010, which was available through its partnership with defunct book chain Borders.
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A Canadian company is trying to shake up the American tablet wars – and it’s aiming to topple Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iPad to become the top e-reader in the world.

Toronto-based Kobo announced Thursday it is launching a new tablet and e-reader in the coming months as it seeks to expand its US market share and compete with Amazon and Apple, both of which are expected to unveil new tablets soon.

Though Kobo’s US market share in the e-book segment is currently in the “low single digits,” Kobo CEO Mike Serbenis said it’s aiming to capture more than 20 percent of US market share – and even more of the global market.

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“Our overall objective is to be No. 1 in the world,” Serbenis told Reuters in an interview. “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. It is going to take some time, but we are in this for the long haul.”

In its battle for the US and the world, Kobo recently announced its weapons.

First up is the Kobo Arc, a 7-inch Android-based device with a high-def display and front-facing camera. The Arc will be available in November and will retail for $199 (8 gigabyte) and $249 (16 gigabyte).

Kobo is also launching the Kobo Mini, a pocket-sized 5-inch device with e-ink touchscreen, micro USB, and 2 gigabytes of storage. Available in October, the Mini is priced to match Amazon’s least expensive Kindle, at $79.

The Kobo Glo is “an improved version of its flagship e-reader,” writes Reuters, and features a 6-inch e-ink touchscreen, adjustable front light, and 2 gigabytes of storage. It’s priced at $130 and will also hit shelves in October, says Kobo.

Last week Kobo announced a new partnership with the American Booksellers Association whereby ABA members, including many indie bookstores, can sell Kobo devices and e-books. This partnership replaces Kobo’s alliance with the now-bankrupt Borders Inc. and illustrates Kobo’s strategy for moving into new markets.

“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,” writes Reuters. “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 reading platform.”

And indeed, Kobo is marketing itself as the book-lover’s e-reader. “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,” Kobo CEO Serbenis told Reuters. “We remain focused on the book lover and are really making a bet on the book lover. 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.”

We’re eager to track Kobo’s progress in the American tablet wars and gauge whether it really is the “book lover's e-reader.” Stay tuned.

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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