Rakuten Inc.’s Kobo is advertising its new Aura One as the e-reader designed by people who love e-readers, and it’s made that slogan credible after working with about a dozen of its best customers on the device’s development over a one-year period.

The new premium e-reader was unveiled in Toronto on Wednesday and will be available for pre-orders Aug. 30, shipping on Sept. 6. It’s top selling features, according to Kobo, include the biggest e-ink display available on the premium e-reader market, the fact that it’s waterproof, and that the lighting features include the ability to change from blue to red spectrum as you get closer to going to bed at night to avoid disrupting your sleep. Priced at $249, it has 8 GB of storage, a 1 GHz processor, and a battery that Kobo claims should last for up to a month between charges.

Kobo CEO Michael Tamblyn poses with the Kobo Aura One ereader
Kobo CEO Michael Tamblyn brought in his best customers to develop the new Aura One e-reader.

The design process of the Toronto-based Kobo’s latest hardware effort was driven by its own customers, says Micahel Tamblyn, CEO of Kobo. “We wanted to bring in those high-volume, high-value customers from the very beginning,” he says. “They came up with great ideas.”

It was those customers that motivated Kobo to increase the screen size up to 7.8 inches, even though its 6.8-inch Aura HD was already large compared to other e-readers. Customers wanted the feel of a hardcover book, and a screen size as large as possible — while still being able to hold the device in one hand, according to Tamblyn.

Customers become collaborators

For Laura Purchase, one of the Kobo customers involved in the design process, better library integration was the most important feature to include. While many libraries now lend out e-books, getting the temporary files onto an e-reader can be a complicated process that involves using DRM software on a desktop computer, notes Purchase.

“It was definitely a frustration of mine,” says the social recreation coordinator for a community housing organization. “Loading it onto a Kobo was a long process.”

So the Aura HD solves this problem by making use of OverDrive, a technology acquired by Rakuten in March 2015. With the library digital materials platform now on board, Kobo was able to integrate local library listings directly into its store application. After users log in with their library, they will see listings for available books to borrow from the library in addition to an option to buy.

The Kobo Aura One is rated as waterproof for a two metre depth for up to 60 minutes.
The Kobo Aura One is rated as waterproof for a two metre depth for up to 60 minutes.

“We found from talking to some of our best customers that while they were avid and frequent purchasers of books, they were also borrowing books from libraries at the same time,” Tamblyn tells ITBusiness.ca. He hinted that Kobo’s support team spends some time helping customers get library books onto their e-reader.

“It’s not a great experience and when they get into trouble, they call us and we have to help them,” he said.

Purchase says she’s happy with the new process on the Aura One. “I can’t wait to go home and browse the library,” she says.

There’s another feature that Purchase is hoping will help her child —  who is unable to produce melatonin properly — and as a result, has trouble falling asleep. The Aura One’s light spectrum can be adjusted by the user, or left to automatically adapt based on time of day, from blue to red light. Blue light has the effect of making people more alert, while the red light promotes the production of melatonin — making you sleepy.

“I think this will be a huge thing for him,” she says.

Innovating a matured market

Kobo Aura HD - red light spectrum
The Kobo Aura One is seen with the red light spectrum illumination.

So why invite e-reader power users to help develop a new product?

After an initial surge, the e-reader market has matured, Tamblyn says, and Kobo must now consider wooing existing owners to upgrade their hardware in addition to winning over new e-reader users.

“We’re now seeing that people who bought a device two or three years ago are coming back and saying ‘oh this technology has gotten better,” he says.

The Aura One isn’t the only new e-reader Kobo is releasing. The Aura second edition is also being added to the lineup, positioned as a more affordable option with fewer premium features. Priced at $129.99, it will have a 6-inch screen with a lower resolutions, 4 GB of memory and an adjustable light. It’s also shipping Sept. 6.

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