PVI, EInk Technology RoadMap + Impact on Kindle

Amazon uses PVI/eInk technology for the Kindle’s screen and these companies therefore determine –

  1. Kindle Supply – PVI has a capacity for producing approximately 100,000 screens a month (rough estimates) and supplies these eInk screens to Amazon, Sony, Bookeen, iRex and other eReader manufacturers. (I’ll go into more details in a separate post). This limited supply is perhaps the main reason for Kindle being out of stock.
  2. Kindle Screen Quality and Functionality – Amazon uses PVI’s EPDs and is obviously limited by the level of technology PVI can produce. Color, Video, Touch capability all depend on the screen.
  3. Kindle Price – If the rumored $200 screen price is correct then PVI is the most expensive component of the Kindle and directly responsible for the relatively high $359 price. Edit: Alternate rumors of a $70 price – so now we have a range of $70-$200 for the screen.

This post covers existing and forthcoming eInk and PVI technological advances that will have an impact on the Kindle –

  1. eInk Color – While there are rumors of a 3 year waiting period, eInk’s own VP has said that color screens will be available in 2009. I’d take that claim lightly – here’s a picture from a press release from Oct 2005 that talked about “an electronic paper color prototype that achieves 12-bit color in a 400×300 pixel format with resolution of 83 pixels per inch, using a custom color filter from strategic partner Toppan “. Color eInk screens have been touted since 2001, and a hard 2009 release date is no certainity. Here’s the 2005 image –
    eInk Color - in 2009?
    eInk Color – in 2009?

    And next, a video from May, 2008 showing an actual eInk color screen – [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9zYI3eJNpRQ&NR=1]

  2. eInk Touch Screen – This is already available on the new Sony Reader. A Nov 13th press release from PVI talking about touch screen eInk displays –

    Prime View International (PVI) will soon start shipping electrophoretic displays (EPDs) featuring force sensing touch technology developed by US-based F-Origin … the company expects to start shipments in the second quarter of 2009.

    Will the Kindle 2.0 have one? Don’t know – however, it’s nice to know that it’ll be available if and when Amazon chooses to work it in. This video shows the Touch Screen (and also the 16 level greyscale screen and a little bit of animation) – [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3n2xxqMQyfY]

  3. eInk Animation and Video – eInk has a description of the BroadSheet Prototype Kit they have available for testing and development. It is 16-level grayscale image capable, and has fast update speeds with pen input, text input, basic animation and pop-up windowing. I wasn’t able to figure out when this would be commercially available. I also found a video that purports to show eInk animation (the video is rather short) – [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TTNOvS0tHDU]
  4. eInk Screen Supplies – An eInk executive has been quoted as saying that eInk have gone from manufacturing tens of thousands of units to millions. Not sure what percentage of these ‘millions’ get to Amazon. Increase in scale is great on multiple counts – more screens means an end in Kindle delays (hopefully it’s the screens that are the hold-up). Also, as more screens are made, economies of scale kick in and the screens become cheaper.
  5. eInk Pricing – an eInk competitor like Nemoptic could come out with a viable competitor at a lower price, or economies of scale could kick in driving prices down. One of these is bound to happen in 2009.

Overall, there are are some promising advances in eInk that will show up in Kindle 3.0 (touch screen may show up in Kindle 2.0 itself – though it’s not a given). I’d say there’s a chance that we start seeing color Kindles by end 2009 to mid 2010.

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