I’m about three weeks late to writing about this, because I ignored the news when it first hit. In general, I’ve been pretty unimpressed with Kobo for the past year or so. It’s not that the company is bad–the reader is fine if not great; the ebook prices, though often higher than Amazon, are in line with the rest of the market; and the company loves to hand out coupon codes like candy. But from my view as a U.S. customer, Kobo hasn’t done anything to stand out from the pack in a long time. (From what I’ve read, it’s much more popular and successful in Canada, where it’s based.)
That’s one reason why I skipped over the news about the iPad app update. The other reason is that I don’t think social media features like facebook sharing are really that relevant to the reading experience. I read about the app’s facebook integration and award badges and thought, “Meh.” I never use the Kindle’s Twitter or facebook features, so who cares? As far as getting awards for reading, I’m not eight years old anymore.
But I went ahead and installed it before Christmas and started playing with it, and it’s changed my mind about Kobo. The company is offering things that Amazon and Barnes & Noble haven’t even mentioned yet:
Visualizations of your reading activity
The “Reading Life” part of the app keeps track of your books and your reading activity and displays it to you in multiple layouts: as a montage that forms a giant book shape, as a timeline of activity similar to a chat window, and (my favorite) as a dashboard of numbers and charts.
Are any of these things necessary? Nope. But they’re fun. Best of all, they’re fun for you, the reader, not for your social network. You can ignore them completely if you want, but if you’re like me you’ll find yourself checking in every time you finish reading to see what’s changed.
Badges and coupons
I still believe that achievement badges are ultimately nonsensical, but I have to confess that I get a little thrill every time I unlock a new one for doing something. Some of them are awarded when you use some feature on the app (like the dictionary), while others are awarded for reading regularly at certain times of the day, or on certain holidays or milestones. I guess I’m still eight after all.
Kobo competes on price against Amazon mainly by offering coupons at regular intervals. It’s not perfect, but I’ve found that you can score some good deals every once in a while. The reason I mention it here is Kobo sometimes sneaks coupon codes into its badges–on New Year’s Day, a special badge was unlocked that provided a 35% discount code good for 10 purchases in the store. They’re not usually that awesome, but it’s still fun to “win” a coupon every once in a while.
Location check in?
So it’s sort of like Foursquare, but for fictional locations. I still don’t get it, but it’s kind of funny. Maybe you’ll use it more than I will.
It’s not necessary, considering Instapaper makes a perfectly good iPad app, but if you want a free option that puts your Instapaper list alongside your books, it’s a nice feature.
There are some other nice touches, like how the cover art zooms to fill the screen briefly when you open a book, and it even offers some magazine and newspaper subscriptions (mostly for Canadian papers).
But mainly I’m just impressed by how Kobo has layered so many fun and informative features on top of the experience, and in a way that’s unobtrusive (you can turn off all alerts if you like). After using it for three weeks, I sort of hate opening my Kindle for the iPad app now…
If you want to see more of the app, Kobo posted a video tour when it released the update last month. In a nice nod to its roots, the company scored the clip with a song by Canadian indie band Miracle Fortress.
reposted from Booksprung