Bonnie Cha

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Kobo Expands E-Reader Family

Just hours ahead of today’s Amazon’s event, Kobo revealed its new lineup of e-book readers, which includes a model with a built-in light and a seven-inch Android tablet.

Kobo’s new Arc tablet

Collectively known as the Kobo Family, the Kobo Glo, Kobo Mini, Kobo Arc and Kobo Touch are all expected to be available in October and November, and are designed to give readers more choices in devices.

“Our customer base is focused on e-reading and e-book discovery,” Michael Serbinis, Kobo’s CEO, said in an exclusive interview with AllThingsD. “Some of our customers are really into comics or kids’ e-books, and you can’t go after the color book market with just an e-reader.”

The Kobo Glo has a front-lit, six-inch display that illuminates the E-Ink screen so you can read books at night or in darker environments. The company says built-in technology provides an even distribution of light, and allows you to adjust the brightness levels.

It will be available Oct. 1 for $129.99, $10 less than the Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch with Glowlight.

The Kobo Mini, which Kobo is aiming at the kid market, offers a more pocket-friendly form factor. The e-book reader has a smaller, five-inch E-Ink screen, so it can more easily fit into a pocket or purse.

It can hold up to 1,000 e-books and costs $79.99. Like the Kobo Glo, the Mini will launch on Oct. 1 in black or white.

The Kobo Arc expands on the company’s Vox model, which came out about a year ago, and competes against the Amazon Kindle Fire.

It’s a seven-inch tablet running Android 4.0, and provides access to books, music, video, apps and the Web. It’s got a seven-inch HD color touchscreen, front-facing speakers and a built-in mic and camera. Kobo says the Arc’s battery can provide up to 10 hours of continuous reading or video play, and up to two weeks of standby battery life.

Users can download content from the Kobo e-book store and the Google Play store. A discovery feature tool called “Tapestries” will recommend related content based on what you’re currently reading and watching.

Unlike the Amazon Kindle Fire, which runs a “forked” version of Android, Google’s stamp is more obvious on the Arc. “The Arc is really built on the Google Android experience, rather than taking the approach of burying the OS,” Serbinis said.

The Kobo Arc will be available in November, in either an eight-gigabyte model or a 16GB model, for $199.99 and $249.99, respectively.

The last member of the Kobo Family is the $100 Kobo Touch, which launched in June 2011, and features a six-inch touchscreen.

The new Kobo e-readers will be sold at a number of retailers here in the U.S., including Staples, Target, Best Buy and Sears.

Based in Toronto and owned by Japanese e-commerce company Rakuten, Kobo has been selling e-books since 2009 and e-readers since 2010. It has more than 10 million users in 190 countries, and has nearly three million books across 60 different languages in its e-book stores. But the company has struggled to establish a presence in the U.S., and the loss last year of its major U.S. bookseller distributor — Borders — certainly does not help.

Kobo has since struck a deal with independent U.S. booksellers to sell its devices and e-books.

Kobo is also facing stiff competition overseas. Recently, Barnes & Noble went international by launching its Nook e-reader in the U.K. Amazon also opened its Appstore in Europe, which could signal that it’s getting ready to take the Kindle Fire overseas.

Rakuten CEO Hiroshi Mikitani, who goes by the name Mickey, said in an interview he plans to utilize his e-commerce properties to boost the Kobo brand. “There’s a great syngery between e-commerce and e-books, we may be able to create more strategic partnerships with our e-commerce businesses,” he said.

Amazon is hosting an event in Santa Monica, Calif., later today, where it is expected to announce, among other things, a new version of the Kindle Fire and a backlit Kindle.

“I think we’re going to be competitive with whatever is going to be announced today, especially with the Kobo Glo,” Serbinis said.

AllThingsD will be covering the Amazon event, so be sure to check back at 10:30 am PT for the news.

AllThingsD’s Lauren Goode contributed to this report.


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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik