Kobo Shows That HTML5 Reading Apps Have Come of Age

Something funny happened to me late last week, and it’s changed my opinion of native vs HTML5 apps.

I was working on a comparison of the various graphic novel formats on Friday when I kept having trouble with the Kobo app on my iPad. It was supposed to be able to display graphic novels sold by Kobo, but I kept not being able to get the app to download and open the one I bought.

This was a little weird, so I tried a couple times on Friday to troubleshoot the app. Other ebooks would download just fine (and I could read them) and I confirmed that the iPad app supported graphic novels. I could even get more ebooks from Kobo – just not that particular ebook.

This is a little embarrassing, but it took me some time to realize that I wasn’t using the Kobo iPad app.  I was actually reading ebooks in Kobo Instant Reader, the new HTML5 based reading app which Kobo released in May.

I don’t use Kobo’s apps all that often, and since KIN doesn’t have an obvious label identifying it I didn’t cotton on until I checked the settings menu and noticed that I was reading on version 0.9 of the app.

Okay, there are obvious differences between the 2 apps, but like I said I don’t use Kobo’s apps very much. That’s why I missed things like the Facebook integration and Reading Life (not to mention the completely different menu design). TBH, I don’t give a damn about the social options for the Kobo iPad app, so it never occurred to me to notice their absence. I was really just focusing on the reading experience, and from that alone I couldn’t tell that I wasn’t using a native iPad app.

While that endorsement doesn’t sound like much, it’s a marked change from when Amazon launched the Kindle Cloud Reader last fall. I didn’t like the KCR back then, and as I sit here using it I still don’t like the Kindle Cloud Reader app. But the Kobo Instant Reader is a different case. It looks like Kobo might have taken my old complaint to heart when they designed KIN:

If you’re going to make a faux app based in HTML5, it needs to act like an app. If you can’t accomplish that then don’t make a faux app.

What’s even more amazing about this app is that even though it is still in a beta release, it’s already a decent alternative to the iPad app. I’m planning to stick with it even though it doesn’t support graphic novels or many other features. I simply like reading in it far more than I like reading  in Kobo’s iPad app. The cleaner menu design is also nice, but it’s merely a cherry on top.

This is a relatively minor tech story, but there’s an important detail here. I’m sure you know that the Holy Grail of HTML5 apps is designing one which will let a developer get out from under the tyrannical thumb of Apple.  The Financial Times is the only publisher that I know of who has accomplished that goal, and they’ve even gone so far as to shut down their IPad app in favor of the HTML5 app.

Guess what? Kobo is not too far from following suit, and they are miles ahead of Amazon and B&N. If and when Kobo finishes the Kobo Instant Reader they will be able to steal a march on B&N and Amazon. Having the only reading app with an integrated ebookstore (besides iBooks) inside the app could become a decisive advantage – if the cards are played right. (And that goes double for B&N, whose cloud reading app doesn’t even work on the iPad yet.)

Things are about to get really interesting.

Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills weekly. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.


  1. Robert Nagle23 July, 2012

    Pardon my denseness, but why is it significant to have an HTML 5 cloud reader?

    I’m guessing that while an HTML 5 app has offline features, it still doesn’t entirely work when there’s no net connection.

    Also, from a business point of view, having an HTML 5 reader seems no different from buying an ebook which is downloaded into a proprietary reader app. I know that Apple wanted a portion of sales from in-app purchases, but it’s a relatively trivial task to buy it from a PC.

    1. Nate Hoffelder23 July, 2012

      This one works while offline, yes. But I’m not sure that’s important. Kobo’s iPad app has a lot of features that won’t work offline, either.

  2. 116 April, 2016

    Has this been discontinued?

    1. Nate Hoffelder16 April, 2016

      It still works for me.


  3. 116 April, 2016

    I can’t find any mention of the website reader on Kobo’s site.
    I thought it was at read.kobobooks.com , but that seems to just redirect to https://store.kobobooks.com/p/apps (which wants me to download an app).

  4. 116 April, 2016

    I find a description of it at http://www.kobo.com/html5app
    The link on the page is to read.kobobooks.com (which just redirects me to the page listing their apps.

    1. Nate Hoffelder16 April, 2016

      It looks like you’re right. Kobo killed the app.

      I can’t download it either, anymore.


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