Kobo Forma: It's Better to Bend than to Break

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In which our hero learns the value of flexibility in a hard, unyielding world.

This is a story that ends with an eReader plummeting two stories onto a concrete floor. But it starts with our perennial question: how can we improve on the paper book?

Two themes kept showing up when we talked to customers.

One was “Keep doing what you’re doing – we love the waterproofing, the ComfortLight, public library access, eInk. More of that please.” Whew. Nice to hear and easy to do. But the other was a bit more of a head-scratcher. “We want a bigger screen and we want the whole thing to be even lighter.” Those two qualities usually don’t go together. eInk screens are traditionally sandwiched between two pieces of glass – one in front and one behind. The plastic case is there, more than anything else, to protect that glass and keep it from cracking. Bigger screens mean more glass, more glass is more fragile, and then it has to be protected by a more reinforced case with bulkier plastic or heavier, colder metal cases that don’t feel as good to hold.

We went through one entire design cycle creating an ultra-thin device with a glass screen and it just wasn’t working. Too breakable or too heavy. Months into the process, we threw that design away.

We went back to our manufacturing partners and tried a new idea – removing glass from the eInk screen entirely. They had a prototype screen, called Mobius, that no one had ever taken a chance on before.

Mobius removes the glass from eInk and replaces it with two sheets of plastic polymer. A lot of work had to be done to make sure that it would look perfect for our demanding eReading fans, but when it was all done, we came out with something remarkable. And flexible. Flexible screens are something from the world of tech blog press leaks, and you may have heard of folding smartphones and screens you can roll up and put in your pocket. But there we were with an eReader screen you could actually bend. And once we had one that could bend, we could shed a lot of plastic and stiffeners and reinforcement that had been needed to protect all that glass.  Not only would it ensure the eReader was as close to weightless as we could make it, it would offer incredible durability.

And that is the origin story of Kobo Forma, complete with a few twists and turns.

What electronics product or screen do you know of that doesn’t break if you drop it? Check this out: It is really really hard to break a Kobo Forma. We say it is built for extreme reading – but really, it’s built to survive even the most overloaded backpack. The official drop tests say it is “durable after a drop of 10 feet”.

But back at Kobo HQ, we put Kobo Forma through some very unofficial tests. And we got creative.

We twisted it.

We tested it not only in water but saltwater, chlorinated water and water with bubble bath. (We recommend you rinse your eReader if you’ve dropped it in the sea, pool or bath).

Then we dropped it down a two-story stairwell onto a concrete floor. It survived. (My top-notch marketing team wants to be completely clear that chucking a device into a multi-story void will void your warranty and that while the screen may survive, the plastic case doesn’t necessarily do so well.)

Kobo Forma met all these challenges with ease.

We went further on the physical comfort front. With an ergonomic curved design, and lightweight enough to hold for hours, Kobo Forma is our most comfortable eReader yet. We changed the design so that page turns can happen with a swipe or a click of a button close to where you are holding the device, meaning you can turn pages with as close to zero effort as possible. (And then we tested that for 300,000 or so page-turns, just in case.)

Kobo Forma screen allows for portrait or landscape modes, depending on how you like to read. Readers who like bigger fonts are finding the landscape mode especially useful.

We’re proud of our work on Kobo Forma, which is thin but not fragile. It can take a lot of knocks. You may not think of reading as an extreme sport, but life happens, and our devices need to be ready for it.

Michael Tamblyn