Collaboration | Viewpoint

Social Networking Meets Reading

Billed as the industry's first "social e-reading experience," the Kobo app will also be the first e-reader integrated with RIM's BBM Social Platform.

E-reading services provider Kobo last week unveiled a new "social e-reading" application for Research in Motion's BlackBerry smartphone and the company's new PlayBook tablet PC. Kobo showed off the app at the annual BlackBerry Devcon in San Francisco, where RIM offered attendees a preview of its new tablet device. RIM said it plans to release it to United States markets some time next year. The new Kobo app will come preloaded on the PlayBook.

Kobo CTO Dan Leibu took the stage at the Moscone Center during the conference general session to demo the app. "This industry is growing 200 percent year over year," he said. "And there's no question that people are adopting e-reading much more than anyone could have predicted. But it's still a very private experience. We've been thinking a lot about we can make it into something more, something social."

Billed as the industry's first "social e-reading experience," the Kobo app will also be the first e-reader integrated with RIM's BBM Social Platform, which was also introduced at the show. The new platform is designed to allow developers to build applications that leverage the social aspects of BlackBerry Messenger, such as chat, content sharing, and invitations. RIM claimed 28 million users of the messaging service.

The Kobo app taps into BBM platform to add social features to its e-reader capabilities, including "social shopping" and chat features designed to connect users in a kind of social network around books.

"People will be able to share with the world or just with friends and colleagues their passion for books," Leibu said, adding that the app allows users to "tap into advice from friends, and ultimately engage more with the activity of reading, sharing passages that matter, joining book clubs, and connecting through the experience of reading."

The Kobo application is an example of what RIM execs called a "Super App." BlackBerry Super Apps represent a new class of mobile applications that offer "a seamless, integrated, contextualized, and efficient experience," said RIM's president and CEO Mike Lazaridis. "Our developers are able to build in that enhanced experience because of the unique capabilities of the BlackBerry platform," he said. BlackBerry offered more details on its Super Apps page.

RIM's new PlayBook tablet is smaller and lighter than Apple's category-defining iPad tablet. It comes with front and rear facing cameras and a 7-inch touchscreen and can function as a larger display for a BlackBerry phone.

The Kobo social reading app will also come pre-installed on mobile phone vendor Samsung's new Galaxy Tab tablet PC. The company has not set a release date for the United States but said it plans to launch the device in the U.K. Nov. 1.

"We see our mission as allowing our users to read any book they chose on any device," Leibu said. The company's service currently supports a range of devices, including smartphones, PCs, tablets, and its own e-reader.

"This [social e-reading application] is just the beginning of our vision of social reading," he added.

Kobo is a Toronto-based spinoff of Canadian book retailer Indigo Books & Music. It's backed by Borders Books in the United States. The company currently maintains a catalog of more than 2 million e-books.

Kobo has posted a video demo of its new e-reader Social application here.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance journalist and author based in Mountain View, CA.