Affordable colour Kobo eReaders revealed: techAU chats with Kobo CEO about this long awaited move

    Michael Tamblyn the CEO of Rakuten Kobo was visiting Sydney recently and sat down for a chat with techAU’s Neerav Bhatt to chat about the company’s long awaited launch of colour eReaders.

    Tamblyn explained that during the first few years of the Covid pandemic having a product that was instantly deliverable to the home and wasn’t impacted by physical supply chains allowed Kobo to introduce a lot of people to eBooks for the first time.

    Once people went out in the real world again he said Kobo didn’t see a drop in interest because the eBook habit people had established at home continued when they resumed commuting to work, going on holidays etc and they continued buying physical eReader devices at a growing pace.

    “if you’d asked us back in 2011, is this [eReaders] a technology that is going to be growing in 2023 we’d all have been surprised to see that”.

    Tamblyn said that one trend that has propelled this increase in sales is an urge by readers for a device that let’s them read without interruptions.

    Kobo looked to address factors which had held people back from reading digital books and they found non fiction readers wanted to be able to mark up their ePub books, so they offered them a stylus.

    The next wish was a colour screen in order to see photos, maps etc in more than greyscale.

    What had been holding Kobo back from colour devices was the requirement of providing a good eInk colour experience while keeping the price down, Tamblyn felt that the underlying 4096 colour screen technology they’ve used (eInk’s Kaleido 3) achieved that.

    It’s great to see that instead of only bringing colour to their high end more expensive eReaders they’ve started by doing it for their smallest 6 and 7 inch mass market Clara and Libra models.

    The new Kobo Libra Colour ($359.95) and Kobo Clara Colour ($259.95) are now available from Kobo online and retailers including Booktopia, JB Hi-Fi etc. The Kobo Stylus 2 is currently available and retails for $119.95.

    Both devices are IPX8 waterproof and have ComfortLight PRO, OverDrive (Libby) integration to borrow library eBooks for free, as well as Pocket support to read online articles.

    To my eyes reading a non fiction graphic novel this afternoon on a short term loan Kobo Libra Colour, it’s like seeing matte colours on newspaper which reminds me of reading Sunday newspaper comic strips as a kid.

    Don’t worry about battery life if you’re reading in colour as the capacity has increased eg: the Libra Colour has 2050 mAh up from about 1500mAh in the Libra 2. Processor speed has also doubled from 1Ghz to 2Ghz in order to be able to handle handwriting.

    Regarding Kobo Plus Tamblyn says that the majority of people who sign up for that have never bought an eBook and the subscription service hasn’t made any impact on eBook sales.

    Unsurprisingly Kobo has found that people discover books differently when the price constraint is removed, I know I experimented with reading titles, authors and categories I wouldn’t have if it cost me to buy each one separately.

    As an aside Tamblyn said that Kobo Plus shares revenue according to the amount of time people spend reading a title:

    “We sort of look at the proportion of time that people are spending across the Kobo Plus books they’ve accessed within a given period of time and then that allows us to apportion revenue back to the publisher.”

    The average Kobo customer used to be around 40-45 years old and more likely to be female than male, but now they’re getting much younger teenage and twenty something Kobo users who want things like clear case accessories so they can put stickers etc underneath and a stylus for small eReaders so they can write notes on books.

    Like Kobo Sage and Kobo Elipsa 2E, Kobo Libra Colour adds notebooks, ebook annotations, and is the company’s first 7 inch device to support Dropbox and Google Drive support. The new colour E Ink Kaleido 3 display with Kobo Stylus 2 compatibility means readers can now annotate, organise their thoughts, and highlight inspiring lines in colour.

    Complementing the new colour reading experience, Kobo Libra Colour and Kobo Clara Colour further advance Kobo’s commitment to sustainability, adding new repairability features like easier battery replacement in addition to the use of eco-conscious recycled and ocean-bound plastics.

    New colour SleepCovers crafted with fully recycled materials are available in Butter Yellow, Candy Pink and Cayenne Red.

    As I mentioned recently in my review of Kobo Plus, it would be great if Kobo had large colour eReaders for people who want to look at graphic novels and comic books.

    Now that they’ve released colour 6 and 7 inch eReaders, I hope 8 and 10 inch Kobo colour eReaders will also be available in the near future.

    Neerav Bhatt
    Neerav Bhatt
    Thanks to his broad general knowledge, research skills and ability to explain complex issues Neerav Bhatt has appeared in the online, print, radio and TV media including: ABC (Online, TV, Radio), SBS (Online, Radio), BBC World Service (Radio), 10 News TV, Sky News TV, Australian IT, Technology Spectator, Ausdroid, iTnews, APCMAG, IDG CSO and a variety of other publications. In 2023 he joined the techAU team and represents them at Sydney events.

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