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E-books keep spreading like wildfire as Kobo introduces touch-y new model

Kobo, the Indigo-owned e-book company that is both an “underdog” and a “powerhouse” (both descriptors care of Time magazine), announced a new e-reader yesterday. The most recent iteration includes a touch screen and ditches that directional button (which only serves as a clunky reminder of 20th-century video games, anyway). This morning, Barnes and Noble announced a similar design. Both models only have one button, use the same size screen, and have screens with faster response times, and both companies have introduced new social functions to their e-readers. The Kobo device will be available in Indigo stores for $139.

The new Kobo is getting fairly positive reviews, thanks less to the touch screen (which is only new at this price point) and more to the swifter processor inside. Anyone who has used a Kobo or any other e-ink screen can testify to the grating lag with every turn of the page, and this model has a faster response time. Tech blog Engadget got their hands on it for a bit and seem to like what they saw.

All the new technology seems neat enough, but what’s impressing us most is how quickly the book industry is changing with the rise of e-readers (led by the Kindle by Amazon, which now sells more e-books than dead-tree versions) and how quickly the costs of these readers are coming down. In the U.S., the old-model Kobo is going to sell for $99 (yes, $10 cheaper than in Canada), which makes it that much more enticing for readers. Meanwhile, screen technology keeps getting better, with e-ink screens looking as sharp as paper (in the lab, anyway).

The rapid change in the industry and rise in competition hasn’t impacted Kobo, whose CEO Mike Serbinis told us that the company’s e-reader is showing impressive sales growth: the company recently hit 4 million Kobos sold, with the last million selling in just 60 days (it took nine months to sell the first million). “We’ve blown way past Sony,” says Serbinis. “Now we’re gunning for Amazon.”

Only a few years back, the most common reaction to e-books and tablets was that people wouldn’t enjoy reading on a screen. That seems to have all turned around—we haven’t reached the point where people gawk at the readers the way they do at actual paper books (or gulp, magazines), but the naysayers seem to have lost this round.

$139 Kobo e-reader takes aim at Kindle [Toronto Star]
New Nook’s Software Innovations: Page Turning, Social Networking [Mashable]
Kobo unbuttons for $129 eReader Touch Edition, we go hands-on (video) [Engadget]