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’.

eReaders with Color eInk Displays – Will we ever get them?

Color E-Ink, technology for displaying text and images on an eReader in color, exists today. It’s just not good enough and not cheap enough yet.

We have a lot of ‘Reading Tablets’ (such as the new Kindle Fire HD and the Nook Tablet). However, these are tablets with LCD screens with minor adjustments (such as an anti-glare coating) to make the LCD screen good for reading. It’s far from the ideal color eInk screen.

While LCD displays are stunning they have their limitations.

Some Limitations of LCD Screens

  • Difficult to read on LCDs for a long time. Unless you are LCD-compatible you’ll experience eye-strain.
  • Difficult to read in direct sunlight. Pretty much impossible, actually.
  • High contrast and brightness makes it difficult to read it in a dimly lit room. You have to dim the brightness and adjust the theme to a Night Reading theme.
  • Some people find it difficult to sleep after reading for a long time on a back-lit screen (LCD display). The brightness messes with the Circadian rhythm (your body assumes it’s not night yet because a bright light was right in your face so recently).
  • More power consumption, drains battery very fast. IGZO screens are trying to solve this in one way (to only refresh the screen once per second when displaying photos and other static items). However, color eInk is a much more promising solution.
  • Devices using LCD screens can sometimes heat up.

A LCD display is excellent for media consumption and performing utility tasks like checking mail, browsing (short durations). However, LCD displays are not the ideal book reading screen (unless you are LCD compatible or think that a device/screen optimized for reading is a stupid idea).

Is Color eInk the solution? Is anyone EVER going to ship eReaders with color eInk? 

Black and White eInk screens (16 shades of grey, not quite as exciting as 50) have been the screens of choice for eReaders (Sony Reader, Kindle, Nook). This is despite the fact that eInk can only display 16 shades of grey.

Why are eInk screens so popular for eReaders?

E-Ink is a reflective display technology and it works by reflecting the light that falls on it (unlike the back-lit LCD). This makes eInk ideal for reading in sunlight.

eInk also only changes the screen when required. There is no constant refreshing of the screen (as you have in TVs and Computer LCD screens). So it only uses power when the screen is changed. This makes eInk very good for uses where the screen is not often changed (reading, posters, price tags).

Since the screen is not refreshing constantly. Since the technology is very similar to actual ink on paper – there are eInk dots that are moved up and down to show different shades of grey. Since there is no light coming out of the screen at your eyes.

eInk is great for reading.

E-Ink is the closest we have got to the real paper experience. Readers find it very comfortable to read from eInk screens, regardless of duration.

LCD-compatible people claim that they can read War and Peace off a LCD screen at one go without bothering their eyes even a bit. However, for us LCD-incompatible mere mortals, eInk is the only screen that allows us to read non-stop for long stretches without eye strains or worse (headaches, loss of sleep, etc.).

eInk uses very little power and thus eReaders using eInk do not heat up. This is critical for eReaders as people hold them in their hand(s) while reading.

E-Ink displays are also light weight.

However, eInk is far from perfect

The biggest disadvantage of E-Ink is that currently eInk screens are only available in Black and White. Color eInk screens have been promised for years and years. However, they either have very washed out colors, or very high prices.

This puts Amazon and B&N and Sony in a bind. They would probably LOVE to get color eInk and makes cool new Kindles and Nooks and Sony Readers. However, the technology hasn’t arrived yet.

Limitations of Color E-Ink and eInk

  • Low/Slow page turn, page refresh rates. Since the dots of electronic ink are literally ‘moving’ every time the page refreshes, it’s hard to match LCD screens. Advances are being made but we are still a long way off from catching LCD screens on speed.
  • Relatively expensive (this is in part due to lack of bulk production capacity).
  • Limitations on natural color reproduction, dull colors, limited color palette. Color eInk screens shown so far can’t compare with the richness of IPS and AMOLED displays.
  • No multimedia, video display capability. Most Color eInk display technologies do not support Video.

To compete with LCDs (or to even have a chance), eInk needs color and video support and lower prices and higher volumes and faster evolution. Right now, none of this is happening.

Prominent manufacturers of eInk and Color E-Ink

E Ink Corporation (eInk Triton): E-Ink has almost become the de facto standard for monochrome eReader displays. Can E-Ink repeat that success with its color E-Ink Triton display?

They do have the technology and there is even a product in the market (Ectaco Jetbook Color) that uses the color E-Ink Triton technology. However, none of the big eReader makers have embraced eInk Triton.

Pixel Qi:  Pixel Qi’s e-paper display technology modifies existing LCD technology to create multiple modes. A black and white reading mode that consumes very little power. A color mode that lets you use video. Combine the modes and you can display full color video and images, read in sunlight, and consume less power.

Pixel Qi has a multi-mode screen whose back-light can be switched on and off by the reader. When the back-light is switched on, it works similar to a LCD display and when the back-light is switched off, it becomes a reflective screen for reading books. The technology has been implemented in the Notion Ink Adam tablet. Again, none of the big eReader makers have adopted the technology.

Mirasol: There are at least four devices using Mirasol displays in the Korean and Chinese markets. Kyobo eReader was perhaps the most popular among them. However, Kyobo discontinued its color eReader products. Mirasol recently decided to license its technology to others instead of manufacturing its own displays. All signs that perhaps the technology has no future.

Plastic Logic: Plastic Logic is another company with a color e-paper technology that has decided to license its technology to others. There were no products released with Plastic Logic displays, even thought they sent out a lot of very impressive Press Releases.

Fujitsu e-paper: Fujitsu was one of the first vendors to bring out an eReader using color e-paper technology (Fujitsu FLEPia Lite). They even did a technology refresh. However, their color ePaper screen was too expensive and was not released in the West.

Fujitsu is now planning to come out with improved color eReaders that are flexible (bendable) and have better displays. Let’s hope they succeed.

Samsung: Samsung bought Liquavista, a company which manufactures color e-paper displays that work with and without back-light. These displays also have limited video capability.

Samsung is working to release these electrowetting-based color e-paper displays. These will be flexible and might even support video. Samsung’s backing should increase the chances of this technology making it to actual users at some point of time.


Color eInk isn’t here yet. There are a lot of contenders. However, none of the competing technologies seem to be ready. None of them seem to be able to land a big client like Amazon or Sony.

There also seems to have been a shift. Instead of focusing on eReaders with Color eInk, companies that make Color eInk seem to be trying to take on LCD Tablets. That’s a really strange move. Why not start with a smaller, less competitive market first? Why would you try to take on a firmly entrenched screen technology like LCD technology?

It is actually quite disappointing to see that the major eReader vendors (Read: Amazon, B&N, Sony, Kobo, etc) are focusing on Tablets and aren’t releasing any Color eInk display powered eReaders. You’d think that a Color eInk powered eReader would make for a wonderful TextBook Reader and also a very good device for Magazines and Newspapers. It would have the sort of battery life that LCD powered Tablets can only dream about.

Amazon has recently released a lot of new Kindles but none of them have a color eInk screen. Will B&N spring a surprise? Will Samsung?