Kobo crashes the Kindle vs Nook party with $129 touch eReader (Kobo Wireless just $99)

Wow! Kobo just totally stole the spotlight from Amazon and B&N. It’s hard to imagine any way B&N (or for that matter, Amazon) can get the attention back.

  1. Firstly, there’s a new $129 Kobo eReader with a touchscreen and WiFi. That’s a touch screen eReader at a lower price point than the Kindle WiFi.
  2. Secondly, Kobo Wireless is down to $99. It’s a bit primitive but the Kobo Store is really good.

Those are two astounding bits of news – they weren’t supposed to be announced today, and they certainly weren’t supposed to be announced by Kobo. Engadget had the scoop on the incredible $129 touch screen Kobo eReader.

Last year, Kobo pushed the envelope on pricing and introduced the first $150 eReader. This year, it’s hit the $99 mark.

Kobo vs Kindle

The Kindle is in a tough spot here (Engadget has a Kindle vs Kobo video which amply demonstrates this) –

  1. The $139 Kindle WiFi is obviously a much better device than the $99 Kobo WiFi. However, $99 is $99. It also makes Kindle with Special Offers seem a lot less special.
  2. The $139 Kindle WiFi will also get compared to the $129 touchscreen Kobo WiFi. Touch does make a difference and $10 cheaper isn’t bad either. Perhaps the most compelling factor for readers looking for total cost of ownership will be Kobo’s propensity to hand out eBook coupons and discounts.
  3. The $189 Kindle 3 is in deep trouble. An eReader that is $60 cheaper with the same eInk Pearl screen and the added bonus of touch? Amazon has to cut the Kindle 3’s price to $150 or it will start seeing a non-trivial drop in sales.

I’m still a little in shock that Kobo managed to pull this off. Who knows – perhaps it goes bankrupt running this race to $99. On paper, Kobo certainly doesn’t seem capable of taking on Amazon and B&N – but somehow it is putting up a real fight.

Concerns over Borders don’t really apply. Firstly, Kobo is part owned by lots of international conglomerates and such – It will not go down with Borders. Secondly, Kobo has its own ebook store which is very solid. Thirdly, it uses ePub so you can just read books from other stores that sell ePub – lots of stores will be happy to get your business.

Kobo vs Nook 2 – Will B&N be able to compete?

B&N’s Nook 2 might have a touch screen of its own and that would negate one of the Kobo’s big pluses. B&N also gets advance notice – even if it is less than 24 hours until the grand unveiling of the Nook 2.

The big disappointment for Godfather Riggio and the B&Nians will be that they aren’t the ones putting the fear of God into the hearts of all other eReader makers. B&N is now effectively a bridesmaid at Kobo’s wedding – a bridesmaid who just realized that her own wedding in two weeks is probably not going to be as impressive.

Apart from the element of surprise, there are two very real concerns –

  1. The $129 Kobo will be a dangerous competitor. If Kindle doesn’t get ’em, Kobo might.
  2. The $99 Kobo is even more trouble.

You have the rock – Amazon offering up free Internet and free 3G and a very impressive ebook store. You now also have a hard place – Kobo crossing the $99 threshold and also making its high-end model an absolute steal at $129 (Can we call a $129 eReader high-end?).

If B&N doesn’t announce something very impressive tomorrow, its position as the #2 eReader and #2 eBook Store will be under severe threat.

The Kobo Threat

  1. Same eInk Pearl screen as Kindle 3 – This negates one of Kindle’s big advantages, i.e. the only reasonably priced eReader with eInk Pearl.
  2. Faster processor makes things like PDF scrolling super fast and makes page turning faster. A definite advantage – the PDF scrolling was scary good.
  3. Touch makes it easier to use for people who aren’t comfortable pressing buttons. Infra-red system so readability is not affected at all.
  4. Smaller.
  5. Low $129 Price.
  6. It’s very simple to use – one Kobo owner said it’s dead simple and that’s an accurate description. It, thankfully, doesn’t do all the social network nonsense.
  7. It has expandable memory – a microSD card slot that can take up to 32GB.
  8. [Separate Model] Older model is now just $99. It’s not impressive at all – but for people stuck in *Reading is only worth $100* Land it seems magical and revolutionary.

Please Note: This post doesn’t cover Kindle’s advantages (free 3G, better ebook store, better ebook prices, WhisperNet features, etc.). That’s because this post is mostly meant to talk about how Kobo is turning Kindle vs Nook 2 into Kindle vs Nook vs Kobo.

And that’s the key thing – 2011 was set to be The Year of Kindle vs Nook, until Kobo decided to take matters into its own hands.

Kindle vs Nook in 2011

Please Note: This is a Kindle vs Nook strategy review + predictions post. For a device comparison, check out my Kindle vs Nook Review.

The Kindle dominated most of 2010 due to Kindle 3 and Kindle WiFi being an entire generation ahead of the Nook 1. It also helped that Kindle WiFi was at a ridiculously low $139.

Nook Color dominated two emerging markets in 2010 – Reading Tablets, low-price and high-quality non-iPad Tablets. It had no competitors – it still doesn’t.

2011 promises to be different.

Kindle vs Nook in 2011 – Context & Thoughts

With Nook 2 and Nook 2 WiFi probably arriving on May 24th, and with Kindle Tablet rumored to be arriving in the second half of 2011, we suddenly have Kindle vs Nook take on a very different complexion.

  • Kindle 3 and Kindle WiFi will finally get a worthy competitor. If Nook 2 is as good at attacking Kindle weak-points as Nook 1, we’ll have a really exciting 2011.
  • Kindle Tablet will challenge Nook Color. It’s probably not lost on Amazon that if B&N keeps selling 800,000 Nook Colors a month the Nook Color might single-handedly resuscitate B&N.
  • Nook Color’s status as the absolute best reading device for reading at night will probably be threatened.
  • The iPad will become far less relevant for people looking for a reading device. A $249 Nook Color was compelling. Add on a decently priced Kindle Tablet and we might find that noticeably fewer people are buying iPad for reading.
  • A good rivalry will reinvigorate eReaders. Kindle 3 came out a year ago – There haven’t been any hugely significant advances since then. Nook 2 will force Amazon to evolve.
  • Prices will get cut further – increasing the number of people buying reading devices, increasing the percentage share of ebooks.
  • Kindle vs Nook (as opposed to Kindle vs iPad or Nook Color vs iPad) will become the major storyline for readers in 2011.

May 24th might mark the beginning of the Age of Reading Devices. A time when eReaders and Reading Tablets start selling tens of millions of units a year and begin to dominate all of Publishing. 

Kindle vs Nook in 2011 – Kindle Tablet vs Nook Color

Kindle Tablet vs Nook Color will be the battle for casual readers. Not an ’empty as a Politician’s Speech’ + ‘make animated page turns and forget to get books in the store’ pretend-battle. This will be a real battle.

The most amusing part of it is that both sides will probably be using closed ecosystems built on Google’s ‘open’ Android ecosystem. B&N already uses Android. Amazon’s focus on building its own Android App Store suggests it’s thinking of using Android for its Kindle Tablet.

Here are some things that will define this battle –

  1. Will Amazon release a Tablet or a Reading Tablet? My guess is that Amazon will try an Apple-style ‘it’s great for reading and for 1,000 other things’ strategy. A general Tablet from Amazon would fail to effectively counter Nook Color.
  2. What price will the Kindle Tablet be at? Nook Color’s $249 price is a big part of its appeal and competitive power.
  3. What does B&N have planned for the Nook Color? It already has email, a social network, and an App Store. If B&N keeps adding more high-value features, or if the Nook App Store takes off, then the Nook Color might become the story of 2011. 
  4. The Nook App Store has got off to an interesting start. There’s no way it can compete with Amazon’s Android App Store in a broad sense – However, it might be able to compete effectively when it comes to ‘Apps for Reading Tablets’ and Apps built to help readers.
  5. Can Amazon channel Android Apps into a powerful App Store? In some ways it seems almost too easy – Just take all the good apps from the Android Market and make your own store. Will it work?
  6. What will casual readers think of the Kindle Tablet?
  7. Will Nook Color end up being a Reading Tablet for readers, a cheap and hackable General Tablet for techies, or a mix of both?

The two App Stores really are the wild cards. It’s a tough exercise – both Amazon and B&N are trying to ensure quality and quantity.

Prediction: Amazon misses the mark and releases a general Tablet. It has little impact on the Reading Tablet market and very little impact on reading in general.

Kindle vs Nook in 2011 – Kindle 3 vs Nook 2

Kindle 3 vs Nook 2 is the battle of the full-featured eReaders.

A battle for hardcore readers willing and able to pay for a full-featured eReader. This is the single most important battle. The lower priced versions might get more device sales – but it’s these main-line eReaders that will capture far more book sales.

Nook 2’s ability to compete with, and perhaps even beat, Kindle 3 depends on 5 factors –

  1. Will Nook 2 leap-frog Kindle 3 technologically? Adding in Mirasol displays would qualify. Adding in just touch would not.
  2. What price will Nook 2 be at? If B&N can come in at $150 for Nook 2, with a feature-set that matches Kindle 3, it’ll put Amazon in a tough spot. 
  3. Does B&N have some hidden trump card? At various times, and for varying lengths of time, Nook has had various advantages over the Kindle – PDF support (it wasn’t there in the Kindle when Nook 1 was announced), Library Book Support (Amazon has promised this will arrive in 2011), Lending (until end 2010, only Nook had Pretend-Lending), and so forth. If B&N can create a new advantage that is as significant as any of these, it will have a powerful new weapon.
  4. Can B&N distribute and sell Nook 2 as well as Amazon distributes and sells Kindle 3? B&N still doesn’t sell Nook internationally, and its advantage in retail has been whittled down as Amazon is now available at WalMart, Best Buy, Staples, and several other retail chains. If B&N can find a way to distribute Nook internationally, or if it can find some retail distribution advantages in the US, it can tilt the contest in its favor.
  5. Could B&N use Amazon’s enemies against it? The list of Amazon’s enemies seems to grow by the day – Google, WalMart, State Governments, Publishers. If B&N can get help from one or more of these parties it stands a better chance. By the way, it’s inexplicable that WalMart is selling Kindles – Isn’t Amazon the company that shot WalMart’s dog when it killed Amazon’s pet rabbit?

Nook 1 was a surprisingly strong contender to the Kindle when it came out. Nook Color was even more impressive (though not a direct Kindle competitor). If B&N meets the bar it has set with Nook 1 and Nook Color, Nook 2 will give Kindle 3 a real run for its money.

Kindle vs Nook in 2011 – Kindle WiFi vs Nook 2 WiFi

Kindle WiFi vs Nook 2 WiFi is the battle of the low-priced eReaders.

A battle for readers at the intersection of casual and hard-core. A battle for readers at the intersection of ‘able to spend $189 on an eReader’ and ‘able to spend only $99 on an eReader’.

The main-stream media is fixated on this. But it isn’t really the battle that will define who wins the Publishing War. It’s more of a contest of who gets higher total eReader sales. Winning this and losing the Kindle 3 vs Nook 2 battle would be pretty painful.

A lot of the factors here are similar to what we discussed in the Kindle 3 vs Nook 2 section – technological advantages, price, hidden trump cards, distribution, using Amazon’s enemies as friends.

Price sensitivity is the main factor and B&N has a lot of places it can cut costs – the LCD being one obvious area. If Nook 2 WiFi can hit $99, B&N will win the lower end of the market. Given that the Nook Color comes in at $249, there’s no reason B&N can’t release a $99 Nook 2 WiFi. 

The other main factor is a strange one – promising more value for money by offering things that aren’t necessarily reading related. If B&N can bundle in a free email client, a few basic free tools, and one or two other value-add features – It will win. WiFi isn’t costing B&N anything. Neither are Apps.

Users would prefer a $99 eReader+eWriter+Email Device over a $99 eReader.

B&N could turn the ‘readers won’t pay more than $99 for an eReader’ theory on its head by providing a device for $99 that isn’t just a great eReader – It’s also a great email client and a great productivity tool and a great eWriter.

Kindle vs Nook Closing Thoughts

The success of the Nook Color has re-energized B&N. You see it in the moves it’s making – Adding an email client to Nook Color is a big deal. As is the Nook App Store. Flash support is pretty impressive too.

We’re dealing with a company that has suddenly discovered it can keep up with the technology big boys – perhaps even beat some of them. Nook Color proving itself to be the best Android Tablet (in terms of value for money and usefulness and perhaps even looks) has to have had some effect on B&N. An effect that ought to be evident in the feature-set for Nook 2.

2011 is going to be the Year of Kindle vs Nook and the beginning of the Age of Reading Devices. Not a year when iPad makes eReaders redundant but a year in which eReaders and Reading Tablets use technology to revitalize reading and further hasten the destruction of the existing Publishing hierarchy. The winner of Kindle vs Nook will be in prime position to take over all of Publishing. The loser will have to settle for billions of dollars a year in revenue from eBooks and eReaders.

What is Amazon waiting for? Some deals

First, for your Kindle, some deals –

  1. The Horse Boy: A Father’s Quest to Heal His Son by Rupert Isaacson. Price: $2.99. Genre: Parenting & Families, Special Needs, Autism, Spirit Healing. Rated 4.5 stars on 55 reviews. 
  2. The Power of Half by Hannah Salwen and Kevin Salwen. Price: $4.77. Genre: Getting More out of Less, Giving Back, Sharing is Caring. Rated 4 stars on 71 reviews. 
  3. In Her Name (Omnibus Edition) by Michael R. Hicks. Price: $1. Genre: Epic Fantasy, Adventure, Science Fiction, Military Space Opera. Rated 4.5 stars on 58 reviews.

It’s quite interesting to see a book with so much promise (the third one) stuck outside the Top 1,000. How do you manage to get 4.5 stars on 58 reviews, be at $1, and still not be in the Top 1,000?

Anyways, this brings me to something even more perplexing.

What is Amazon waiting for? Why doesn’t it release a Kindle Tablet?

Nook Color is rumored to have sold 3 million units. It’s also rumored that B&N is taking delivery of 600,000 to 700,000 Nook Colors a month.

There are three big markets here –

  1. People looking for a dedicated reading device. Some portion of them are buying the argument that Nook Color is a Reading Tablet.
  2. People looking for a Tablet-eReader hybrid. Nook Color is almost perfect for this group of people.
  3. People looking for a cheap Tablet. Nook Color is almost perfect for this group too.

Amazon is losing out on some Kindle sales because of 1, i.e. Nook Color as reading tablet is competing with Kindle as dedicated reading device.

However, far more worrying are the two niches where Amazon isn’t even competing –

  1. Amazon doesn’t have a Tablet-eInk hybrid. Now that Apple has set up its patent defence with an eInk-LCD hybrid tablet patent, Amazon might never be able to create such a hybrid.
  2. Amazon doesn’t have a tablet. There is a huge market for a non-Apple tablet – No one is stepping up to the plate. The situation is so bad that Nook Color is selling millions of units just because it has ended up being the best non-iPad tablet-like device. Think about that for a second – the market demand for a cheap Android Tablet (or a cheap tablet, period) is so high that people are buying a reading tablet and trying to use it as a full tablet.

Amazon is literally spurning these two markets – Go, get a Nook Color. We have nothing for you.

Where is Amazon’s Kindle Tablet?

It’s been nearly 5 months since Nook Color was introduced. It’s been nearly 5 months since people began talking about the danger of Nook Color. It’s been 4 months since the main stream media realized that Nook Color is a huge threat.

Yet, nothing from Amazon.

  • Perhaps Amazon doesn’t realize that if Nook Color sales get to the 10 million mark, and the Nook App Store isn’t a total disaster, then B&N will be set for the next 10 years.
  • Perhaps Amazon feels that because it has set up its Android App Store it can delay the actual hardware. That Angry Birds Rio will make up for a 5-6 month delay in the hardware.
  • Perhaps B&N took Amazon by surprise. It certainly took everyone else by surprise.

Here’s the question – Would you rather have an Android App Store with 10,000 apps or would you rather have 3 million Reading Tablets in circulation?

I’d take the latter every single time. 3 million Nook Colors makes for a huge customer base. It means that B&N is getting data points it can use to build a stellar Nook Color 2. It means that Amazon’s Kindle Tablet will have the odds against it.

3 million is a huge number – especially in the first 5 months. If this were Apple we would be getting presentations about a revolutionary new category having been created and about Nook Color outselling the first version of Wrigley’s chewing gum.

How much more time does Amazon have before the game is lost?

Amazon probably thinks it can release a Kindle Tablet in Fall 2011 and still put up a fight.

Reality is that if Amazon doesn’t release a Kindle Tablet within the next 2 to 3 months it will have B&N as a rival in the Reading Tablet and Tablet markets for a very long time. If it delays beyond 5 to 6 months, it might never be able to catch up.

The iPad is eating up most of the high-end Tablet Market. Nook Color is eating up a lot of the low-end Tablet market. Despite its huge strengths, Amazon can’t afford to let Apple and B&N lock-up huge pieces of the Tablet market. There’s a huge difference between fighting for an undecided customer versus stealing away another company’s customers. Just ask all the people trying to compete with Windows and Google Search.

An Inflection Point of the strangest sort

What’s happened since Nook Color launched? Nothing.

What has Amazon done since Kindle 3 launched? Not much.

So, we have had a stretch of 5 to 8 months with very little happening. And that very nothingness might have been an inflection point. B&N has probably created the post-eReader reading device and Amazon has let it grow and prosper sans competition.

There is still time. Amazon should announce something within the next few weeks and it should get something out within the next few months. If it doesn’t, it might be left wondering how it was too blind to realize that the post-eReader reading device, the Reading Tablet, is a far bigger threat to the Kindle than Publishers and Apple and physical books.