My Kobo Wishlist
August 29, 2013 | 8:45 am
By Joanna Cabot
If you read yesterday’s Morning Roundup, you saw the news about the new Kobo releases—a new Glo-sized Aura, and two new tablets, one of them a 10-incher.
Amongst the fine print were also refreshes of the bookstore (with a customized portal for kids and some rudimentary parental controls) and the Reading Life platform (with Pocket integration). Sounds good, right? Well…yes. Sort of. My nearly year-old Glo is a nice piece of tech, don’t get me wrong, but I can’t help but feel like Kobo is focusing on the wrong sorts of improvements.
What should they be doing better? Here are my top suggestions for the Kobo team.
1. Standardize the Product Line
I don’t know why Kobo likes to confuse things up so much: first there was the plain-old Kobo, then the Touch, then the Glo, then the Aura, which was special. And now there is a mini version of the Aura which looks to be the heir-apparent to the Glo, and has a light. And there is the plain-old mini which inexplicably does not have one. And there was the Vox which is now the Arc…
I think Kobo could brand itself better if they stopped with all the name changes and kept the product line simple: an E Ink reader product line (Glo, Aura, whatever, just pick one and stick with it) in two sizes (standard and mini) and a tablet line (Vox, Arc, whatever, just pick one and stick with it) also in two sizes. Refresh the products every year or two if you need to, just don’t keep changing them up!
2. Fix the Firmware Bugs
The last time my Glo updated itself, I started noticing that every so often, my bookshelves would clone. I’d turn it on after a few days away and suddenly there were be two of something. I went online to do some digging and found threads on MobileRead dating months back, reporting this same issue. So…why did it never get fixed? Why have they known about it for months and not addressed this?
Similarly, I remember sitting down with Michael Serbinis himself way back in the Stone Age release of the Kobo Mark One and complaining after five minutes with it that there is no archived items tab like there is on the Kindle. Now, here we are about four devices later, and downloading past purchases again after you’ve deleted them remains impossibly complicated. You can either remember you’ve bought it, search the store for it, and redownload by trying to ‘purchase’ it again, or you can hook up to the desktop software and wade through several menu levels. Why isn’t there a simpler way? Haven’t we given them plenty of time by now?
3. Stop Being Such a Bossy Boss
Two examples come to mind here: the forced registration and the non-customizable tablet options. I recently had to reboot my Kobo while out and about due to a glitchy book. When I restarted it, I was faced with a Kobo sign-in screen, and there was no way to pass go and do this later. No sign-in, no device usage. Since I was on the subway with no access to Wi-Fi, that meant I had to put it away and wait until I got home, and could go through the sign-in again, before I could use it.
I understand why they want people to have a Kobo account, but I think there needs to be an offline option too. Some people may buy these as gifts for people who may not live in a Kobo-serviced country; some people may have a Kobo account but, like me, find themselves needing a reset during a time they are out of wifi range. Others might simply admire the hardware but prefer to read library books or other compatible non-Kobo content. People should have that choice. Encourage the log-in, by all means. But don’t freeze people out of their books if they don’t want to hand over their personal information.
Kobo had a similar big brothery attitude toward the Arc when it first came out—my co-worker was one of many who found the whole Tapestry interface confusing, but alas, there was no way to turn it off. Similarly, the recommendations engine is not hideable. I have no problems finding books on my own and don’t feel like I need Kobo to help me discover them. But it’s going to, whether I like it or not. When several users on MobileRead complained about this, a Kobo rep even responded with a variation on the old ‘it’s not a bug, it’s a feature’ line. Fine, let it be a feature. But it should be an optional feature. There should be a checkbox to turn it off.
I wish Kobo the best of luck with their new product line. I like their business model (they do more to offer localized content than any other major player) and think their hardware is decent. I wanted a lighted Mini and didn’t get one, so I will not be partaking of these new offerings. But I am keeping an eye on things and I hope that, going forward, they can smooth out some of the issues on my wishlist. If they do, and their next new release is something which interests me, I would likely buy from them again.