The New York Times looked at the current state of color e-reader technology on Sunday, with an article discussing the current potential solutions (LCD, e-ink, Mirasol) and the ways in which they are currently or could soon be put to use. Meanwhile, Kindle Review suggests that a new color Kindle could be coming soon.
The major e-reader companies—Amazon and Barnes & Noble at this point—have made no announcements concerning color yet, but a number of the smaller players such as Sharper Image and Pandigital are coming out with color LCD readers (presumably to try to capitalize on the success of the iPad). The problem is that LCD displays consume a lot of power and are hard to read outdoors.
Meanwhile the EInk Corporation continues working on a color e-ink solution for readers such as the Kindle or Nook, but Amazon does not yet feel this technology is ready for prime time. Even those who do feel it is worthwhile admit that it is not going to have the color range of an iPad, but it is still going to be a lot lighter and use a lot less power than LCD.
And finally, the article touches upon Qualcomm’s Mirasol reflective color technology, using tiny reflective mirrors to reflect back only certain wavelengths of light. These displays are fast enough to display video, and are expected to be on the market soon.
The New York Times notes that
[Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps] also thinks sales of e-book readers, whether in color or black-and-white, will withstand competition from the iPad and others. “We see the market bifurcating into two separate arenas with two different price ranges,” she said — with one group opting for multifunctional slates like the iPad, and the other for e-book readers.
Of course, this may remain true only as long as it takes for companies to get their slates into the same price range as e-books.
Meanwhile, despite Jeff Bezos’s recent dismissal of color with the release of the Kindle 3, Kindle Review thinks it is likely that a Mirasol-based color Kindle—or, at least, some sort of color device from Amazon—will be arriving sometime in the first quarter of 2011. Kindle Review notes that Qualcomm has recently begun working for an undisclosed “major client”—so major that it invested $2 billion into a Mirasol screen production plant. And there’s a wink-wink-nudge-nudge hint dropped by a Mirasol spokesman, and reports of Amazon interest when Qualcomm first showed off its Mirasol displays.
Kindle Review thinks it makes sense in other ways, too. Amazon needs to compete with Apple on more equal territory—not just based on e-books, but music, movies, and other media too. And the PVI e-ink screens that the Kindle uses are always running out of stock; having a second display technology would allow them to keep a better handle on device inventory.
Of course, there are by no means no guarantees that a new color Mirasol Kindle is going to arrive next year. Bezos did say that color Kindles were still “years away”, after all, and color doesn’t really add all that much to an e-book reader. Even the New York Times article includes a quote from the Forester analyst suggesting that e-book reader consumers were more interested in durability than color. It is even possible that this new device might be focused more on gaming or multimedia (though I’d expect it would still be able to display e-books as well in any event).
Given how tight-lipped Amazon is about its strategies (not to mention sales figures), it is probably pointless to expect them to say anything about a potential new device until shortly before its release, assuming it gets released. Still, it is going to be very interesting to see what, if anything, comes of this. Q1 of 2011 seems awfully early for Amazon to release a color Kindle, but that certainly doesn’t mean they can’t.