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.