January 12, 2013

Kobo app great for social media; lousy for research

Kobo books shelf
Kobo's old-timey bookshelf view
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Since getting my iPad, I find I do most of my book reading on it. Which kind of surprised me, because I thought I would use it mainly for news reading and web surfing. Which I do, but that’s beside the point.

Amazon’s Kindle app is still the Ma Bell of reading apps -- they have a virtual monopoly but nobody much cares because they’re so much better at what they do than everyone else. Nevertheless, I do check out other e-reading apps to see what they have to offer and to support those who are trying to compete with Ma Bezos. Kobo is one of those.
Newfangled list view

It's an attractive app. You can customize the library view with either the quaint old skeuomorphic bookshelf or the more computer-y list. When reading, you can highlight and make notes, and a tab in the table of contents window shows your annotations.

But Kobo’s focus is solidly on social media. It’s all about sharing what you’re reading and earning badges. I don’t need no stinkin’ badges, I just need to be able to find a passage in a book.

One of Kobo's main benefits is its huge library of free books, including most of the major classics. But good luck if you want to find a single passage in a book. Every time the Kobo app gets an update, I open it up, looking for that magnifying glass icon. It’s still missing. So I can download Emily Dickinson’s poetry, but if I just need that poem about Hope, I have to look for it page by page (it’s on page 138, by the way). This is especially frustrating because in the help section of the Kobo website you can find instructions for searching within a book on Kobo’s hardware. So it’s not like they think no one needs this feature. They just can’t be bothered to add it to the iPad app.*
Badges are cute, but I'd rather have a search function.

Because of the missing search feature, I rarely use Kobo. But recently, I needed to reference a text, and knowing it’s an old book in the public domain, I started in the usual places. Kindle had a version, but not for free. Apple’s iBooks, same thing. OK, hold that one for Plan B. Plan A for public domain works is to find a free version. Project Gutenberg didn’t have it. Next stop Kobo. There it is. Of course, to download the free book I have to log in.

Kobo is now closely entwined with Facebook, so much so that you can’t log in to a Kobo account without using Facebook, unless the two accounts are associated with different e-mail addresses. If you use the same address for both, when you try to log in to Kobo, you get a dialog that says “Your e-mail address is linked to an existing Facebook account. Would you like to sign in with Facebook?” No is not an option. Your options are yes, sign in with Facebook, or cancel and don’t sign in at all.
Part of the social media "feature" is being able to read other peoples' comments. Which would be great if they actually had some intellectual substance.

I asked Kobo’s help desk about this and was told you can sign in without Facebook. But the trick is, you have to sign in with Facebook first, then unlink Facebook from your Kobo account. That’s like, if I tell the waiter I don’t want broccoli in my soup, and he says, “We’ll just put it in at first, and then you can pick it out.”

Of course, if you like having every data point of your reading life funneled through Facebook’s marketing machine, this is a non-issue. And if you’re clever enough to sign up for Kobo with a different e-mail than you use for Facebook, it’s a non-issue. For me, though, it’s an issue.

So I found the book I was looking for in Google Play, and am reading it there. Kobo just dropped down a notch on my list of e-readers.

*—A Dec. 9, 2013, update added a search feature to the Kobo iPad app (version 6.2).

1 comment:

  1. That’s one reason why I skipped over the news about the iPad app update. The other reason is that I don’t think social media features like facebook sharing are really that relevant to the reading experience. I read about the app’s facebook integration and award badges and thought, Meh. I never use the Kindle’s Twitter or facebook features, so who cares? As far as getting awards for reading, I’m not eight years old anymore.