I got an email yesterday from my esteemed editor Juli, wondering if I might be interested in commenting on the updated Kobo app, seeing as I am in Canada, aka The Country Where Kindle is Actually Not the Number One Brand. My initial response was ‘ugh, do I have to?’ I remembered the Kobo app as being clunky, crash-prone and difficult to navigate. But…maybe it had changed? Maybe it wasn’t quite so bad anymore, several ‘updates’ since I last checked it out?
Alas, no such luck. Kobo is still a frustrating and annoying app to use. I am not sure what the problem is—I think some of it, like the lack of an on-app store, is Apple’s fault (they forced the removal of this feature many iterations ago). But some of it is Kobo’s fault too. I think they still have a disconnect between what Normal People Do and What Tech People Think Normal People Do, and this has been their downfall.
I’ll walk you through what happened; we’ll see if you agree!
Task 1: Download a Book Into the Kobo App
On the Kindle app, this is easy. There are two buttons, Cloud and Device, and if you go on Cloud, you’ll see all your purchased books and you can tap on one to download it. Kobo, alas, does not have this feature. In fact, there is no way to see any or your purchased books at all from within the app. With a sigh, I went back to the homescreen and opened up Safari and logged into the Kobo site. Then I went hunting for the ‘purchase history’ and that’s where the fun started.
I was expecting a checkbox or something which said ‘add to reader’ and they didn’t have that. I looked for a way to add the book to a collection. Nothing. Finally, a Google Search led me to the tip that what I wanted to do was ‘bookmark’ the book, and then it would load into the app. Ten minutes after this whole process started, I had a book in the app.
Task 2: Organize the Book into Collections
There was a handy ‘already read’ tab where you could go to download books later without having to go back into the website like I did this time. Great, I thought. I will go through my past purchases, mark the finished ones and not have to go through this hassle next time.
Alas, there is no way to organize your purchases from the website. They are all either ‘I’m reading’ and hence on the reader, or they have to be accessed through the purchased books history. So it seemed the only way to accomplish the goal would be to load all my past purchases onto the I’m Reading page by bookmarking them, download each and every one onto my device, then open them up one by one so I could scroll to the last page, mark the book as finished, delete it and have it appear in the correct tab.
So I tried this with a few of them, and they did indeed show up in the already finished tab. And they did indeed delete themselves off the device afterward. But they stayed in the on-device cloud too; there was no way to separate them out so the only books I saw there were the unfinished ones. Or, if there WAS such a way, it was not apparent to me.
Task 3: Exploring the Special Kobo Features
I was ready to delete the app at this point, since it didn’t seem to offer any functionality over what I’m using already. But I thought I should at least check out the Kobo features such as Pulse and Key Term Explanations. I tested four books and none of them had these features enabled.
Conclusion: Unintuitive, Time-Consuming, Not Ready for Prime Time
So, I bailed. I understand that certain features will be constrained by Apple, and I was okay with having to go into the website to perform certain tasks. But when I got there, I needed to see a simpler interface with clear vocabulary and not made-up terms. I needed a simple way to organize my purchases into Read, Not Read and so on. I needed a way to easily choose what would be sent to the app, what would be kept archived, and what I still needed to decide on.
I got none of that. And even the special Kobo ‘features’ that might have made up for the abysmal book-loading experience were hit and miss. If I can’t even get those features, why do I need Kobo’s app at all? Why can’t I just load them all into Calibre as I do now, decrypt them for use in any app, then use an app that lets me sort and organize?
The answer? There is no reason at all why I can’t do that. So what is Kobo offering me that will compete?