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Have “social” updates ruined the Kobo app?

It’s no secret that Kobo, the e-reading company formerly owned by Indigo Books & Music, is betting big on the “social in-book e-reading experience” to set it apart from competitors such as Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iBookstore.

Kobo made this much clear with the September launch of Kobo Pulse, a package of updates that effectively integrated social media within the company’s e-reader. The new features permit users to connect with other readers online, comment on an ebook’s content, view statistics about a title’s popularity, and post reading updates and passages to Facebook, among other functions. The new capabilities are in addition to Kobo’s long-established Reading Life program.

It seems, though, for some Kobo diehards, the updates have gone too far.

Just a year after naming Kobo’s e-reading iPad app the best on the market, digital publishing and tech blogger Chris Walters has come out swinging against it. In a post on his website, Walters says that, while he used to believe the Kobo app “ahead of the curve,” he now avoids using it altogether. Noting that the changes came about in response to restrictions against in-app purchases Apple began implementing last year, Walters says Kobo’s unrelenting attempts to make e-reading fun and connected have missed the mark and made the app unpleasant to use.

Regardless of whether or not users find the social features cumbersome, Walters’ main complaint is levelled against Kobo’s increasingly aggressive sales tactics. Now when the app is launched, it opens to a page of recommended reads that takes up much of the display screen. Moreover, Walters points out that when you do opt to make a purchase, the process has become much more time consuming and involves multiple website redirections.

Walters ends his post by putting these changes in context. From Booksprung:

Part of me wonders if this is the first sign of the New Face of Kobo, now that it’s been bought up by Rakuten. Software updates don’t happen overnight, so this was likely something Kobo had in the works for a while. Rakuten surely had enough time to kill this update but chose to release it anyway, which is a good sign that this is the way things will work with Kobo from now on. Who knows? By the time summer comes around the Kobo iOS app may be nothing but an impenetrable billboard of book samples, Facebook alerts, infographics, help screens, pop-up windows, slide-out sheets, and share this badges.

Has Kobo’s e-reading app gone too far, or are we asking too much of retail-based companies? What can Kobo do to win back Walters and other disgruntled readers?