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).[wpvideo tiDWqknK]
  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 –  [youtube=].
  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 – [youtube=]

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) – [youtube=].

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).

[wpvideo tiDWqknK]

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?


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).