Are we going to see a color eReader from Samsung soon?

The Kindle uses eInk Pearl with Mr. Bezos saying color is a long ways off.

At the same time we have –

  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. 2011 will definitely see interesting color eReaders and reading tablets. The things worth wondering about are –

Will Amazon release a color Kindle? What will PocketBook’s Mirasol screen eReader be like? Is Samsung going to soon release a color eReader?

This post will consider the third question.

Signs that a Samsung color eReader is closer than we think

There are a few –

  1. It just bought Liquavista outright. That might mean it’s getting ready to produce color eReaders and wants to get a lock on the technology, and also guarantee there is enough supply.
  2. It’s started discounting its existing eReaders massively. Samsung E60 is now half-price at 50 euros. If there’s one thing we’ve learnt about eReaders it’s that a big discount is usually quickly followed by a new eReader release.
  3. It’s stayed in the eReader market and it’s launching worldwide. If nothing else, that suggests it has intent to compete all over the world.

You also have to factor in the fact that Samsung is a monster and it’s bound to keep fighting in eReaders. A few facts courtesy Wikipedia

  • Samsung Group accounts for 20% of South Korea’s exports.
  • It had $173.4 billion in revenue in 2008. Also, in 2008 it had $252.5 billion in assets.
  • It’s everywhere – world’s second largest shipbuilder, world’s largest electronics company, the 14th largest life insurance company. It even has the fifth most popular theme park in the world.

With over 10 million eReaders sold, and a potential market of tens of millions of eReaders a year, Samsung must feel it’s now worth it to commit fully to the eReader market. Which would explain it buying Liquavista.

Is it possible that Samsung might lose interest in eReaders and color eReaders?

Well, it’s rather unlikely.

It has eReaders out. It is selling them all over the world. It just bought a company that makes color eReader screen technology.

There are probably some reasons why Samsung might quit eReaders –

  1. It might think that reading tablets or tablets are a better market to compete in. Note that the Tablet market has very little competition at the moment (just Apple) while eReaders have the Big 3 of Kindle, Nook, and Sony Reader.
  2. Strategically Samsung might feel it’s important to focus on markets other than ereaders first.
  3. It might decide to get into the business of providing eReader technology like eReader screens and memory – as opposed to eReaders themselves.
  4. The eReader market might stall at around 10 to 15 million units a year.
  5. Samsung might decide it doesn’t want to get into the hassles of dealing with Publishers for books. It might feel there’s just too much work involved in providing a complete device+store+channel solution of the type Amazon and B&N provide.

While it’s not inconceivable that Samsung leaves the eReader market, it’s a bit unlikely.

Only the US eReader market has reached anything close to maturity – it’s still penetrable via a color eReader or a very cheap one. The whole world awaits and Samsung has a lot of advantages worldwide. It’s obviously got some big advantages when it comes to Asia and especially South Korea and surrounding countries. There is the possibility that the eReader market keeps growing – Samsung can’t risk missing out on a 40 million eReaders a year market.

When might Samsung release a color eReader?

Q3 or Q4 of 2011 would be the most likely time. All signs indicate that a Color Kindle won’t arrive until Fall 2011 or later. eReaders powered by Qualcomm screens are also not going to be available until then. eInk Triton is only arriving in China in the first half of the year – It might not even arrive in the US by end 2011.

Now that Samsung owns Liquavista it can speed up timelines and ramp up production – It gets a chance to beat Qualcomm and eInk Triton to the US market.

The most likely release date – Fall 2011.

If Samsung decides it needs to be first to market – a June 2011 release date.

Anything before then is rather unlikely.

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?

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).

Are Kobo and Pocketbook the dark horses of 2011?

The Kindle and the Nook Color are both on a roll.

Kindle 3 and Kindle WiFi are clearly a step ahead of other dedicated eReaders – Unless B&N produces a stellar Nook 2 the majority of hard-core readers are going to end up as Kindle owners.

Nook Color has managed to create a unique niche for itself – the Reading Tablet. It’s going to win over a lot of casual readers. Unless iPad 2 is focused on reading, or a Kindle Reading Tablet materializes, Nook Color is going to dominate the ‘casual reader’ segment.

There are, however, two rather unlikely candidates that promise to give the Kindle and the Nook Color a run for their money – Kobo and Pocketbook.

Kobo as a threat to the Kindle Store, and to the Kindle

Kobo has a few things going for it –

  1. It fights on eReader price. It released the $150 Kobo eReader when other eReaders were around $200. Its Kobo Wireless eReader is currently on sale for $119 at Borders (thanks to a commenter at MobileRead for the tip).
  2. It fights on eBook price. Kobo’s ebook prices are close to prices in Kindle Store and Nook Store. Kobo Store always has offers and coupons.
  3. It has good backing. Borders is almost bankrupt, but it does provide exposure. The other backers are solid, solid companies.
  4. Kobo has extensive international reach. Its backers own a lot of retail stores around the world – which could all end up selling the Kobo Reader. Here’s a post on Kindle vs Kobo strategic advantages which details the ridiculous worldwide retail advantage Kobo has.
  5. It’s very, very persistent. Look at the rate at which it sends out coupons. Or the fact that it realized not having a wireless eReader was an issue, and released a new wireless version of its eReader.
  6. Its ebook store and its apps are well-designed.
  7. It sells in ePub, and it sells internationally. Combine that with the decent prices, and a lot of Nook and Sony Reader owners will choose it. Also, Kobo Reader supports ePub from any store using Adobe DRM.
  8. It’s leveraging existing brands – Borders in the US, Indigo in Canada, REDGroup in Australia, and so forth.

The primary reasons Kobo is a threat to Kindle are – It fights on price, it fights all over the world, it doesn’t give up, it’s been improving regularly, it has good backing, it sells ePub books.

Also, it isn’t afraid to compete. It isn’t ‘focusing on quality’ or ‘choosing international over US’. It’s going head to head with Kindle in reading apps, in eInk based eReaders, and in ebook stores.

Kobo is likelier to survive the eReader wars and thrive, than Sony.

PocketBook’s 2011 eReader as a Nook Color rival

Qualcomm has talked about how it has won a major client for its Mirasol color ePaper screens. Apparently, the client is so major that Qualcomm has invested $2 billion in production facilities. This plant is going to begin volume production in the beginning of 2012 – You have to wonder whether that’s when we’ll see a color Kindle 4.

Qualcomm also has a production joint venture with Foxlink which has been producing 5.7″ Mirasol displays in small numbers since April 2010.

This production source is probably what PocketBook will use for a color eReader it will show off at CES 2011, and which it promises to release in the third quarter of next year.

PocketBook’s Qualcomm Mirasol powered Color eReader might be just as big a threat to Nook Color as Kindle Tablet – unless Kindle Tablet uses Mirasol color ePaper.

A few things are worth pointing out –

  1. PocketBook’s color eReader would have much better battery life than Nook Color.
  2. The newness factor can’t be underestimated.
  3. We have no idea what the price would be – At $299, it’d be a big threat to Nook Color. At $400, it’d not be a threat at all.
  4. PocketBook has been making eReaders for quite a while. It’s one of the few smaller companies to not get decimated in 2010. In fact, it’s one of the few companies that has a large screen eReader.
  5. PocketBook has been trying hard – It has a variety of models, including a TFT color screen based 7″ eReader. It has a lot of good experience it can leverage when making its color eReader.
  6. It sells its eReaders in USA, Canada, Mexico, Australia, and Asia.
  7. It’s one of the few smaller eReader companies that makes good-looking eReaders (a few of its eReader models, not all).
  8. PocketBook is being aggressive about pricing – Its 5″ PocketBook 360 eReader is currently available for just $129.
  9. It supports ePub.
  10. It also supports a lot of formats which other eReaders don’t – such as FB2, CHM, and DJVU.

Perhaps the most impressive Pocket Book achievement is surviving 2010. If it can manage to release a Mirasol powered Color eReader by Q3, 2011, it’ll force Amazon and B&N to release color eReaders quicker than they otherwise would.

Kobo and PocketBook might play a bigger role than we realize

Kobo kicked off the race to $100 eReaders with the $150 Kobo Reader. It’s also doing a lot of price-cutting in eBooks. It’s going to continue to play a big role in eReaders in 2011. If it keeps improving at its current rate, it might replace Sony as a member of the Big 3 eReaders.

PocketBook might kick off the entire color eReader movement – If it manages to release a color eReader by Q3, 2011. If it brings Qualcomm’s Mirasol ePaper to market, it’ll force other eReader companies to scramble and release Color eReaders using Mirasol, eInk Triton, or another color ePaper technology. It would be remarkable if PocketBook turns out to be the company that drags eReaders into ‘The Promised Land of Color ePaper Screens’.

At a time when Kindle and Nook Color seem far ahead of the pack, it’s good to have a couple of dark horses competing in the eReader wars.