It would seem that Kobo is coming out with a new e-reader sometime in August. Details are sparse, originating as they do from a largely-redacted FCC filing and a single photo—mostly of pebbles, which I have mostly cropped out—that Kobo chief Michael Tamblyn tweeted a few days ago.
Great news for booklovers coming soon from @kobo. Keep your eyes wide open mid-August! #OpenUpKobo pic.twitter.com/UeKXU5bNmD
— Michael Tamblyn (@mtamblyn) July 27, 2016
So, there’s that.
Mobile Scout’s reading of the FCC filing says the device is called the Aura One; Nate Hoffelder points out that name applies only to the 7.8” version and the 6” is called the “Aura Edition 2.” So, other than the name of an Asia album and a U2 song, what do we know about it? Just that it will apparently come in 6” and 7.8” versions, and it supports 2.4GHz 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi and has a microUSB port.
Various news outlets such as Digital Trends are marveling that Kobo is still even trying to compete with Amazon, but actually, that’s not so much a wonder. Kobo is actually not a strong competitor to Amazon in the areas where Amazon is strongest, like the USA; its key strengths lie in having a broad following elsewhere, such as Canada and other international areas. And it’s owned by the Japanese corporation Rakuten, so that’s another big area where it will be concentrating.
The more interesting thing to me is, what can we tell from that one photo?
Well, for one thing, if the power button is right-side-up when viewed from face on, it places the power button on the top right rear of the reader—an interesting spot. It’s certainly not where the Kobo Aura H2O puts it; a quick check of the rear photo on Kobo’s page for it shows it as black and featureless. But one problem I’ve run into with tablets and phones that have the power button on the side or the top is that it’s easy to hit by accident. Putting it back there could keep it out of the way of accidental pushes.
The other interesting thing is the rugged-looking construction. The rear cover of the reader seems to be mostly stippled, textured plastic or rubber—another sharp contrast to the H2O, which is flat and smooth. Also, the blue power button looks like it’s made of rubber, which would seal to the case and prevent water from getting in, So, will the new Aura be waterproof like the H2O? It’s an interesting question. I remember all the speculation in that regard around the “Kindle Oasis” which ultimately turned out to be just another non-waterproof Kindle. But judging from that photo, it seems like it could at least be a possibility.
Of course, none of this has anything to do with whether the new Aura has any nifty new features relating to the reading aspect itself. Might it have an amazing new screen, new software capabilities, or any other bold new addition to intrigue readers and incite Amazon envy? It would be nice, but I doubt it. It seems like e-reader advancement has plateaued lately. If the boldest new thing Amazon can do is offload most of the battery to the latch-on cover, what kind of innovations can anybody else offer?
But I’ll be happy to be proved wrong when it comes out.
Quote: …”what kind of innovations can anybody else offer?”
First, there’s the dreadful UI of epaper devices. Fixes include:
1. Bluetooth keyboard for notetaking and entering text searches
2. Bluetooth mouse adapted to turn pages with the left and right buttons. Scrolling could move the cursor up and down the page.
Second, there are the lack of apps, including an updatable Instapaper reader and apps that would allow downloading direct from Gutenberg etc.
Third, for Amazon devices, there’s the lack of text-to-speech since the Kindle 3.
Fourth, there’s only a narrow range of sizes, mostly coat pocket size. Larger and smaller would be great. One that’d fit in a shirt or jean pocket would be great for kids.
Fifth, many WiFi chips come with an FM radio capability. Why not a Kindle that’ll play the music you love on a local station while you read?
In comparison to even the cheapest tablet, epaper readers are grossly deficient in innovation. My suspicion is that smartphones are sucking away all the innovative impulses. Those who want those innovations get them.