Color Kindle. Will Color Kindle ever arrive?

Every time Color Kindle comes up I understand how poor old Captain Ahab must have felt whilst chasing Moby Dick.

Today’s exciting news that a Color Kindle might be arriving in 2014 or 2015 might lead to yet another Color Kindle non-show.

Here’s a sampling of past Kindle Review posts discussing Color Kindle and Color eReaders -

  1. Feb 20th, 2012 – DigiTimes claimed that 3 million color eInk screens for Color Kindle would start shipping March 2012.

    DigiTimes, which has a split personality (30% of the time Nostradamus, 70% of the time your local tavern drunkard prophesizing the 2012 Mayan apocalypse), makes three very bold Color Kindle claims -
    1.EInk (the maker of Kindle eInk displays) has won a big order to make 6″ color eInk Panels for Amazon (presumably for color eInk Readers or color eInk powered Tablets).
    2.The order is OVER 3 million screens a month.
    3.The shipments start in March 2012. Say what?

  2. Jan 22nd, 2011 – Samsung bought Liquavista and got everyone excited about color eReaders from Samsung. Notice the status of Color eReaders in January 2011 -

    1.PVI saying eInk Triton is not far off. Hanvon agrees, and is releasing a color screen eReader this year in China.
    2.PocketBook releasing a color eReader, based on Qualcomm Mirasol, in Q3, 2011.
    3.Samsung buying Liquavista, which has its own color ePaper technology, and offering 50 Euro discounts on both of its existing eReaders.
    4.Fujitsu selling its second generation color screen eReader in Japan.
    5.Adam shipping with a Pixel Qi powered multi-mode screen, which includes a reflective mode for reading in sunlight.

    That’s 5 separate companies and 5 separate screen technologies.

  3. Jan 5th, 2011 – Mirasol put up a video of their color eReader (courtesy Qualcomm, try the HD version in full screen mode).
  4. November 8th, 2010 – Hanvon talked about its color eReader.

    It’s got a 9.68″ screen. A screen that is color eInk from the same company (PVI/eInk) that makes the Kindle 3′s eInk Pearl screen. It’ll be available in March 2011 in China – perhaps in the US too. It’ll be priced at $440.

    This might be the first color eInk eReader. Of course, Amazon and Mirasol and Sony might spoil its debut between now and then.

    New York Times has written a never-ending, rambling, article on the Hanvon Color eInk eReader.

  5. September 8th, 2010 – Qualcomm confirmed that a color eReader from an unknown partner will release in Q1, 2011. It also said that a partner invested $2 billion into a Mirasol screen production plant. Yes, $2 billion. Invested into a plant that makes invisible Mirasol screens that no one has yet seen.
  6. March 2010 – PVI promises Color eReaders in 2010. It actually said it’ll start mass-producing color eInk displays in Q4, 2010.
  7. Jan 8th, 2010 – BeBook demos Color eReader using Liquavista. Now, 3 years and 4 months later, Amazon buys Liquavista and says ‘It’s Early Days’. Yeah, Early Days that never end.
  8. Jan 7th, 2010 – Claims that a Color Kindle with Qualcomm Mirasol display would arrive by end 2010.
  9. May 31st, 2009 – Pixel Qi Hybrid Screen pictures. Did Kindle get Pixel Qi? No, only some tablet called Notion Ink Adam and a few other devices which haven’t found mainstream success. Here’s a Pixel Qi video from June 3rd, 2009 –  .
  10. Dec 5th, 2008 – PVI eInk Technology Roadmap. The key part is this:

    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 –

Notice the three key things in that article from December 2008 -

  1. An image of a color eInk screen from 2005. PVI eInk have been demoing Color eInk screens since 2005. It’s now 2013. 8 YEARS!
  2. A video showing an actual eInk color screen, from May 2008. It’s now FIVE YEARS exactly.
  3. PVI eInk promising color eInk screens in 2009. It’s now 2013. Please Note: By February 2009 PVI eInk had changed its tune and started promising Flexible Displays by 2010 (haven’t arrived), and Color eInk Screens by 2011 (also haven’t arrived).

Color eInk is even more elusive than Moby Dick.

Yet, the promise lingers. Is something different this time?

After 8 years of demos and videos and companies buying each other, is something different? Amazon buying Liquavista from Samsung is perhaps an indicator that a Color Kindle is set to arrive in 2013 or 2014. Let’s hope so. We do need a Color Kindle to keep eReaders exciting and competitive with Tablets.

The Moby Dickest thing would be if Amazon released a new Kindle Fire Tablet using the Liquavista screens but completely ignored the eInk Kindles.

Color Kindle? Amazon buys Liquavista, makers of color eInk (for Color Kindle?)

Color Kindle suddenly seems a lot more likely.

Nate at The Digital Reader reports on Amazon buying Liquavista, maker of Color eInk and potentially Color Kindle screen technology.

The key points -

  1. Amazon bought Liquavista from Samsung. Perhaps for a bit under $100 million.
  2. Amazon used a Delaware LLC to try and hide the fact.
  3. Nate at The Digital Reader (for reasons only known to him) scrutinized the Dutch Chamber of Commerce Filings and discovered something was amiss.
  4. Amazon finally confirmed – Yes, our nameless faceless ‘OMG it’s so important to be secret when your device sales are not in the hundreds of millions’ Delaware LLC company did indeed buy a company that makes color eInk Technology. No, it’s not for a Color Kindle. Whatever might give you that idea.
  5. Samsung had bought Liquavista from Phillips Netherlands (if my memory serves me correctly). Now it’s sold Liquavista to Amazon.
  6. Liquavista’s color ePaper technology is based on electrowetting.
  7. Bloomberg had first reported on the possibility of Samsung selling Liquavista to Amazon in March 2013. Which is when the whole possibility of Color Kindle still being on Amazon’s roadmap came up. Would be good news indeed.

Here’s Amazon’s super boring admission -

We are always looking for new technologies we may be able to incorporate into our products over the long term. The Liquavista team shares our passion for invention and is creating exciting new technologies with a lot of potential. It’s still early days, but we’re excited about the possibilities and we look forward to working with Liquavista to develop these displays.

They make it sound as if they bought a woodpecker’s patented pecking technology.

It’s color eInk. Get excited Amazon (perhaps this is what corporate speak excited sounds like). Now you can stop pretending 25% more screen contrast is a technology breakthrough. Hopefully also stop thinking users are naive enough to believe you spent FOUR years developing the technology to light a screen.

Also, ‘It’s still early days’? You mean ‘early days’ compared to 2005 when PVI/eInk was showing off prototypes of color eInk? Or ‘early days’ compared to 2011 when Qualcomm Mirasol was falling in love with butterfly wings and frogs’ legs?

Here’s something exciting to brighten up your day (courtesy Electronista’s article on Color Kindle and Liquavista) – .

You know what, the more one sees all these videos about technologies that MIGHT revolutionize everything, the more one misses the Apple of old that only announced new technology stuff AFTER it was ready to buy in device form.

Does this mean a Color Kindle eReader will arrive in 2014 or 2015?

Unfortunately, it’s not guaranteed that a Color Kindle eReader powered by Liquavista’s color eInk Technology will be released. Ever. It seems that Liquavista technology can be used for a wide variety of devices. So it could possibility be used in (in decreasing order of probability) -

  1. Kindle Fire HD. Using a color eInk technology would give Kindle Fire Tablets 2 to 4 weeks battery life. This might not happen because Amazon might continue with LCD screens for Kindle Fire HD.
  2. Kindle. This makes the most sense for the future of the Kindle eReader line. To expand to color eInk. This might not happen if Amazon decides the price of the Liquavista screen makes the overall Kindle price prohibitive. Of course, it would make sense to add a high-end Color Kindle and that has a better chance of happening.
  3. Kindle Phone. Battery life and novelty would be the big wins. The loss would be that Liquavista’s Color eInk is far behind LCD and IPS-LCD and AMOLED screen technologies in non-battery life dimensions. If Amazon is going after a Kindle Phone 3D with some sort of new holographic screen technology, then it’s hard to see Liquavista fitting in.
  4. Kindle TV. If Amazon decides to make an actual TV (as opposed to Kindle TV being just a set-top box), then Liquavista’s screen technology could be used here. Of course, the difference between LED and LCD screens and Liquavista’s Color eInk screen would be greatly magnified with HD Movies and HD TV broadcasts. This seems the least likely.
  5. Some unknown Kindle product. Lab126 is hiring so many people it wouldn’t be a surprise if they were working on Kindle Trampolines and Kindle Burrito Rolling Machines. Who knows where Liquavista fits in.

I’d put the chance of the first (Kindle Fire HD with Color eInk) at 20%. Color Kindle (eReader with Color eInk) perhaps in the 10% to 15% range. The chance of the 3rd (Kindle Phone with Color eInk screen) perhaps at 10%.

Color Kindle still remains unlikely, especially in 2013. However, Amazon’s acquisition of Liquavista means the Color Kindle Release Date perhaps shifted from ‘after we colonize Mars’ to ‘sometime in end 2014 to mid 2015′.

Reviewing Mirasol Color ePaper, Pixel Qi Screen (videos)

The Kindle, whenever it adds a color screen version, might go with Qualcomm’s Mirasol Color ePaper, or with Pixel Qi’s multi-mode screen. In fact, a Kindle Tablet, if such a thing exists, might also use one of these.

With that in mind, let’s look at videos of each, and do a quick review of the pros and cons.

Reviewing Mirasol Color ePaper as a potential screen for a Color Kindle

Here’s a Mirasol video (courtesy Qualcomm, try the HD version in full screen mode).

The device in that video might be – PocketBook’s Mirasol eReader, a Mirasol based Tablet, the Color Kindle, or a Kindle Tablet.

First thoughts – Absolutely beautiful, works perfectly in sunlight. Would buy it just for the screen.

Qualifiers -

  1. Do people really use their devices in the sun all the time? The video shows 90% ‘outside in the daytime’ use, and 10% indoors and nighttime use. For most people, indoors and nighttime use will be 80% or more. Also – Who takes an eReader to a nature conservatory?
  2. It had approximately 3 seconds of a book being displayed – In a 1 minute video. Makes you suspect this is a Tablet, and not an eReader.
  3. What’s the price going to be? The claim is that Mirasol screens will cost just 20% more than eInk screens – Find that hard to believe.
  4. The video says ‘situations are simulated, device is real’. That’s the under-statement of the week. It’s a pretty fake video – the way people behave, the way they use the touch-screen, the way they always hold it by the screen. Most of all, the software seems really fake. The way the picture orientation changes when the woman flips it around – That’s just strange. They even have some sort of FaceTime software – which would explain the need for the front-facing camera.
  5. The colors are a bit washed out.
  6. The size of the screen is 5.7″, which is rather small. There’s also a gigantic, two-color bezel. Why make the bezel almost as big as the screen?
  7. There were no screen refresh delays. If Qualcomm have solved that, it’s a big step forward.

One of the screens shows a magazine from Zinio. Wonder if there’s a page listing all the companies which have content deals with Zinio – That would give us an idea of which company might be releasing a Mirasol eReader or Tablet.

You know which company has both Zinio and FaceTime type software?

Apple.

Except, Apple would have a heart-attack if it released the sort of status bar the video shows.

Overall, the Mirasol screen is very impressive. We’ll have to see what the price and battery life are like. Mirasol seems like a winner – the device featured in the video is unlikely to be an eReader. It might be a Kindle Tablet or a Tablet from another company.

Reviewing Pixel Qi as a potential screen for a Color Kindle

The other very promising screen technology is Pixel Qi.

It’s a multiple mode screen – In reading mode it turns off the back-light, and works as a reflective LCD screen, while in laptop/tablet mode it works as a full-color LCD, with backlight. There’s also a third mode – not sure what that does.

There’s a Pixel Qi powered Notion Ink Adam video at Engadget. Adam is the first Tablet sporting a Pixel Qi screen. The ‘reading in sunlight’ part starts at the 4:51 mark.

Let’s review the Pixel Qi screen, and also take a look at the Adam Tablet.

How good is Pixel Qi for reading? How good is the Adam Tablet for reading?

There are lots of pluses -

  1. In Reading mode (reflective LCD with backlight off), the screen is pretty readable.
  2. You can turn the backlight on and off yourself. Which means you can have reading mode with backlight at night, and reading mode with no backlight during the day.
  3. It supports the Kindle for Android App. That makes it the perfect reading tablet for Kindle owners.
  4. It’s about to add support for Kobo. 
  5. Instant page turns.
  6. The price is pretty reasonable. $499 for the Pixel Qi screen, WiFi-only version of the Adam.
  7. The form factor is pretty good.
  8. 10 to 14 hours battery life. With Pixel Qi reading mode you can supposedly add 5 hours.
  9. It supports multi-tasking.

There are also a few minuses -

  1. The screen in reading mode doesn’t look as good as eInk does.
  2. The User Interface is rather different. Don’t know how steep the learning curve will be.
  3. It’s heavy at 1.5 pounds.
  4. 10″ tablets just aren’t the right size. It’s like reading an extra-large hardcover.
  5. You still have a lot of distractions. It’s not focused on reading, and it doesn’t focus you on reading.

The thing that makes Pixel Qi a non-ideal screen for eReaders is that it’s still a LCD screen. It happens to be better for reading books than LCDs – However, it’s not as good as eInk, and it’s definitely not a screen built for reading.

The Notion Ink Adam is pretty impressive. Credit to them for getting out a product that looks really good.

Notion Ink do talk of making a device that is both a tablet and an eReader – However, at the moment, it seems to mostly be a tablet with a reading mode thrown in. We’ll have to see how it measures up to Kindle and Nook Color once it’s available for sale again (the first batch of Pixel Qi screen Notion Ink Adam Tablets sold out).

Color Kindle 4? a color eInk video + 2 kindle free books

First, the two free kindle books -

  1. Slow Ride: Rough Riders by Lorelei James. Genre: Romance, Touchy-Feely Covers.  Price: $0. It’s got one very strong endorsement -

    Keely has always been my favorite female character…What a treat to be able to read more about her wedding and Jack’s plans for their honeymoon.
    Slow Ride is funny, definitely SEXY and emotional…yes I cried while reading it. I also fell in LOVE with Jack all over again =)

  2. Money Saving Mom has a Thanksgiving Your Way book that’s pretty cool. It’s in DRM free PDF format and has recipes, decorating ideas, and more. Thanks to the kindle forum commenter who mentioned the book.

It’s a never-ending stream of free kindle books this week – not that we’re complaining.

Color eInk Video leaked 1 day in advance

Akihabara News has a video of the new color eInk from PVI/eInk which is called ‘Triton’. It’s quite remarkable and definitely worth watching (thanks to CW for the tip).

PVI/eInk was supposed to launch the Triton color eInk screens tomorrow at the Waste-of-Time Conference in Japan but it’s already got all the information on its website -

  1. Up to 1 month battery life. That’s shockingly good.  
  2. Thousands of colors in addition to 16 levels of grayscale. eInk claims the text is still crisp and that color graphics and text are both fully viewable in direct sunlight.
  3. Triton, just like eInk Pearl, is 20% faster than the previous generation of eInk.

There is a Triton Color eInk page at PVI/eInk’s website and that too is well worth checking out. There’s even a customer showcase with Kindle and some other eInk powered devices shown off.

Here are the technical specifications for Triton color eInk screens -

10:1 Contrast Ratio
White State: 70 (minimum)
Dark State: 24 (maximum)
Bit Depth: 4-bit; 4096 colors, 16 levels CR
Reflective: 40% (minimum)
Viewing Angle: Near 180 degrees
Image Update Time: 240 ms to 980 ms
Update Modes: Color, Text, Pen, Animation

Also,
Available Display Sizes: 2 to 12 inches
Display Thickness: 12 mm
Resolution: Capabilities exceed 200 dpi
Aspect Ratio: Typical eReaders use 4:3 

The reflectivity is not ideal, the sharpness and richness of the colors isn’t comparable to LCDs, and .25 to .98 seconds image update time is slow. However, color eInk is still very impressive due to its battery life, its readability in sunlight, and for the fact that it’s finally about to materialize.

The video and website do a good job of explaining how Triton works. All of this leads to an obvious question.

Will we see a Color Kindle 4 powered by Triton Color eInk?

Surely, Amazon isn’t going to let Hanvon have all the fun.

The way things stand it seems that Mirasol and eInk Triton are the only two horses in the race – you have to wonder which one Amazon has picked. The Triton color eInk video isn’t as impressive as Qualcomm’s Mirasol videos but Amazon has worked with PVI/eInk since the first Kindle and PVI/eInk has proven it can deliver ePaper screens at scale.

Will Amazon release a Kindle 4 in mid or even early 2011 that uses eInk Triton?

Perhaps Amazon will wait till end 2011 and release a Color Kindle that uses the Mirasol display. Perhaps it will be a $249 Kindle Color meant to take on Nook Color and the iPad mini (assuming it materializes – Steve Jobs’ denial pretty much guarantees it exists).  

Don’t know whether Amazon will be able to release a color ePaper based eReader at $249. If it can, a Color Kindle 4 at $249 would slot in nicely between Kindle 3 and Kindle DX 2.

What impact will Nook Color have on Kindle 4?

You have to imagine that if Nook Color is a big hit and/or starts taking market share in the eReader market Amazon will respond quickly. In that case it might need to release a color Kindle 4 early in 2011 and eInk Triton might be its only option. Unless of course Mirasol displays are being produced in large enough numbers and are available at low enough prices to be a viable option.

If, on the other hand, Nook Color doesn’t do well or doesn’t do well with readers then Amazon might just decide it can wait till end 2011 or even 2012 to release a color Kindle and we might see only software improvements to Kindle 3 or perhaps a black and white eInk powered Kindle 4 that adds a touchscreen.

It’s all very exciting – Hanvon’s color eReader isn’t slated to arrive until March but it sets the ball rolling and now everyone will be trying to one-up Hanvon. It just seems that color eReaders in general, and a color Kindle in particular, are closer than we thought.

Color Kindle in 2011? Qualcomm confirms color eReader in Q1, 2011

We have the Kindle 3 and its recent release and we have Amazon’s firm insistence that a color Kindle is still a long ways away.

Yet, we also have Qualcomm confirm to Pocket Lint that a color eReader from an unknown partner will be released in Q1, 2010. It will be formally announced at CES 2011 (which is in January) -

Qualcomm has confirmed to Pocket-lint that it will launch, in connection with a partner, a device, probably an ebook reader, that features its Mirasol colour screen technology in the first quarter of 2011.

The company wouldn’t tell Pocket-lint which partner would be making the announcement, …

Well, they won’t confirm it but all the signs point to a color Kindle arriving in early 2011.

Color Kindle by Q1, 2011 – The Signs

Well, here are a few -

  1. Qualcomm recently won a major client. One so major it invested $2 billion into a Mirasol screen production plant. Apart from Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Amazon can’t think of too many ‘major clients’ that would motivate a company to invest $2 billion into production facilities.  
  2. In January Clayton Morris of Fox pointed out this little snippet from a Qualcomm spokesman suggesting a color Kindle is in the works -

    When pressed about who its partner might be in 2010, a company spokesman asked me, “You know that device that everyone reads books on? Well, it’s going to be a game changer on a device we all know.”

    Like tens of thousands of other people, I read ebooks on a Kindle. What other eReader would someone assume I use?

  3. When Qualcomm displayed its new screens it supposedly had a ton of interest from Amazon and one of the reps claimed Qualcomm had been approached by Amazon to use the Mirasol displays. Think it was covered in the Seattle PI.

There’s also pure logic.

Color Kindle by Q1, 2011 makes a lot of sense

  • Amazon needs something to compete with Apple and its gradual takeover of digital downloads. Whether it’s a color Kindle or a Mirasol powered gaming device or a Kindle phone Amazon could really use the advantages Qualcomm’s technology would provide. 
  • PVI/eInk is doing next to nothing in terms of advancing eInk.  
  • It helps Amazon to have an option for casual readers – the type of screen that appeals more to them and their priorities. 
  • Amazon needs a device on which it can sell (and users can view) movies and TV shows and music videos.
  • It helps Amazon to have two sources for eReader screens – especially when PVI/eInk seems to constantly run out of stock. The assumption here is that a lack of enough screens is what’s causing eReaders to be sold out so often.

There’s anecdotal evidence (although mostly from Qualcomm representatives), there’s Qualcomm’s $2 billion investment, and there’s Amazon strong motivation to build Mirasol powered Kindles and Kindle Phones and Kindle Gaming Devices.

It all adds up to a pretty strong possibility a color Kindle will arrive by early 2011.

Reasons we might not see a color Kindle in 2011

There are also a few reasons we might not see a color Kindle anytime in 2011 -

  1. Mr. Jeff Bezos has said that color Kindles are years away.  
  2. We don’t even have a touch Kindle yet. Neither do we have any flexible screen Kindles. Can we really expect color Kindles?
  3. Amazon has so far remained firmly committed to PVI/eInk and its glacial speed of evolution.
  4. Color doesn’t really add that much for the core Kindle audience. There are probably more people interested in ePub and in enabling speech to text and in adding handwriting recognition.
  5. With Mirasol’s support for color and video there’s a high chance the ‘Mirasol color screen device’ debuting at CES is a multi-purpose device and not a dedicated reading device.

The last point brings up an interesting possibility – Is Amazon building a gaming device using Qualcomm’s Mirasol displays?

That would certainly explain all the recent Xbox executive hiring and the rumors from earlier in 2010 that Amazon was approaching big gaming companies. It would also be the perfect fit – a gaming device that lasts two weeks on a single charge might blow away the competition.

Isn’t Q1, 2011 too early for a color Kindle or a color Kindle Phone?

Well, not really. Apple will have the iPad 2 out by end 2010 or early 2011 at the latest. Thanks to strong iPad sales Apple will be able to price iPad 2 much lower and if the rumors are true it’ll be targeting reading a lot more.

Amazon needs something to compete and it can’t wait another 1.5 years (like it did with Kindle 3) to release a strong Kindle 4. What better than a color screen Kindle 4 (or a Kindle Phone) to compete with iPad 2?

A color Kindle (perhaps a color Kindle 4, perhaps a Kindle phone) is becoming a very strong possibility. A debut in early 2011 would make for some exciting times plus a color Kindle 4 would slot in very well alongside Kindle 3. There’s a huge gap between the $189 Kindle 3 and the $379 Kindle DX 2 and it seems Amazon might have a $250 to $299 color Kindle slated to fit in there.

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