Chalk this one up under the category of "inevitable:" Borders Group announced that it would release its own e-reader, the Kobo, on June 17. That brings the bookseller into an e-reader market already occupied by its rivals Amazon.com, which sells the Kindle, and Barnes & Noble, which offers the Nook.
Borders, likely recognizing the crowded nature of that market, decided to price the Kobo at $150, or roughly $109 cheaper than either the Nook or Kindle. That price is also well below that of Apple's iPad, the full-color tablet PC whose e-reader application makes it a substantial competitor in the space.
The Kobo, which includes 1GB of memory and comes preloaded with 100 free e-books, can display documents in ePub, PDF and Adobe DRM formats. Navigation comes courtesy of a "D-pad," a four-way controller embedded in the device's chassis. Users can sync their Kobo with "select smartphones" wirelessly, via a Bluetooth connection, and to their PC with a USB cord. Borders plans an e-book store with one million titles, which will also open in June.
The growing popularity of e-readers, once termed a niche item by analysts, has ignited something of a device race among manufacturers. At this January's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, a number of companies rolled out e-readers with any number of features, including touch-screen capability, designed to differentiate them from the Kindle or Nook.
In response to that new bounty of devices, as well as the challenge of the iPad, Amazon recent announced plans to release a software update for its Kindle and Kindle DX, termed Version 2.5. That update, which will be pushed to a limited group of Kindle users before a broader release in late May, allows users to share passages from e-books via Facebook and Twitter.
Not to be outdone, Barnes & Noble also recently unveiled a software update for the Nook, including Android-based games such as Sudoku and chess. Other new Nook features include beta versions of a Web browser and Read In Store, which allows users to browse the retailer's library of e-books for free at any Barnes & Noble location.
Both Amazon and Barnes & Noble offer their e-reader software for a variety of other hardware devices, including the iPad. Despite the fluidity of the e-reader marketplace, and the evident aggression of these companies to expand onto any platform possible, the level of competition is likely far from peaking: Google plans to begin selling electronic books online as early as June, through Google Editions.
Google Editions will apparently let users read books from a variety of devices, as well as allow publishers to set prices for the works. That could help Google attract the loyalty of those companies, which have negotiated fiercely with Amazon and Apple over book prices and revenues.
Whether the Kobo is lost among this clash of titans remains to be seen.