Kindle 4 can improve on Kindle 3 via optical touch

Mr. Bezos was talking about the Kindle 3 on the Charlie Rose show and mentioned that having a touch layer disrupts readability because it adds glare and reflects objects.

However, there is an easy solution for adding touch without disrupting readability that Amazon should consider for Kindle 4.

IR sensors can be used to give Kindle 4 touch without disrupting readability

My PC is an HP TouchSmart (it’s got a multi-touch capable monitor) and it uses IR sensors in the frame around the screen. It’s just like the red infra-red security beams they show in movies that involve stealing diamonds in form-fitting clothes. You break one of the beams and it registers a touch.

There isn’t any physical touch layer to disrupt reading. The IR sensors would be around the frame/border of the eInk screen and wouldn’t get in the way.

This is how the HP TouchSmart’s screen works –

  1. There are infra-red sensors around the frame of the screen.  
  2. When your finger is about half a centimeter away it triggers the sensors.
  3. You don’t have to actually touch the screen. Just tested this multiple times. Plus it works with a pen or a finger.
  4. An x coordinate and a y coordinate are calculated corresponding to your touch (or touches). There must be some algorithm to approximate what point on the screen your touch was intended for. Since there are a lot of beams disrupted and we know the coordinate each represents we can approximate the exact point you intended to touch with your finger.
  5. The IR sensors convey this information to the PC and it indicates a touch.

You basically get a multi-touch capable screen without having to add any physical layers to the screen.

We can also add algorithms that ignore your palm or hand resting on the screen. That would let the IR sensors capture handwriting and the Kindle 4 could be used as a Notepad. 

We could easily place IR sensors along the edges of the eInk screen. Checking out my Kindle 2 and the eInk screen is already slightly recessed and there probably is enough space to fit in IR sensors.

Could Kindle 4 handle optical touch?

We know the reason Kindle 3 isn’t using touch is because of readability. However, are there other considerations?

  1. Battery Life Issues – This may or may not be an issue. If it is an issue the solution to this would be to use a proximity sensor – turn on the IR sensors only when a user’s hand comes near the screen. 
  2. The Touch sensing would probably not be as good – There’s no denying the touch would probably not be as good as it would with an actual physical layer. However, optical touch is still much better than zero touch.
  3. Perhaps it is a distraction – Well, Touch adds to usability by making things easier. It’s not really distracting from reading unless you specifically make an effort to create touch based apps that are a distraction from reading.
  4. The cost – Not sure of this since don’t really have any information on the cost of these IR sensor powered touch screens.
  5. Weight and Fragility – Would it be easy to break the IR sensors? Would they add a lot of weight? The answer is probably no and no.

We basically get to add a killer feature (even though it isn’t strictly required for reading it is a killer feature) and we get to do it without compromising on the quality of reading. It’s definitely a feature Amazon should consider for Kindle 4.

Optical Touch is easier than a lot of the alternatives

We’ve seen Amazon explore a lot of interesting ideas for letting users interact with the Kindle – Kindle Electronic Pen, Kindle Gesture Recognition, Multi-touch technology from TouchCo.

Each of these have specific drawbacks – An electronic pen would be an entire new purchase and people would keep losing it, Gesture Recognition sounds a bit complicated, and TouchCo’s technology probably requires a physical touch layer. Plus all of these haven’t yet been implemented. Two are patents and one (TouchCo) is in development mode.

With IR sensor based optical touch you have lots of companies implementing it and it’s a proven technology – HP has been selling TouchSmart computers for close to 1.75 years.

Whatever objections there might be to using optical touch in Kindle 4 there’s one very strong argument for incorporating it.

Qualcomm is already doing it with Mirasol

Qualcomm has a video of Mirasol color eInk screens at SID 2010 and it’s claiming a mirasol display with Optical Touch (it’s at 00:40 in the video) –

mirasol shows two 5.7″ XGA displays

1. mirasol Display with Capacitive Touch
2. mirasol Display with Optical Touch

If Mirasol can do it there’s no reason Amazon can’t introduce it as a killer feature in Kindle 4 or in Kindle DX 3.

Will Amazon actually add optical touch to Kindle 4?

That question has an easy answer if you believe Kindle 4 is going to use Mirasol screens. In that case one out of the two touch technologies Mirasol is showing off will probably make it into the Kindle 4.

Going with Qualcomm and its optical touch screen would deliver four key features in one go – A color screen, video support, super fast page refresh speed, and touch. With the optical touch screen there’s no loss in readability since there is no physical touch layer to cause harm.

Basically, if Amazon incorporates the Qualcomm Mirasol screen with optical touch in Kindle 4 we’ll probably get a release that outshines even the current Kindle 3 release. Chances are that it’ll be at a higher price point and it makes you wonder if there’s place for a new member in the Kindle family – Kindle Pro or perhaps Kindle Color.

In case Amazon doesn’t go with Qualcomm Mirasol it should still consider adding optical touch technology. Kindle 3 is a very impressive release and Amazon is going to have to add some solid improvements in Kindle 4 to make sure it measures up. Adding optical touch gives you touch capability without hurting readability and its definitely worth considering for Kindle 4.

Touch Kindle? Multi touch tech acquired by Amazon

A Touch Kindle might be arriving in 2010 or 2011.

The biggest clue? Amazon just acquired a tiny New York based multi touch company.

NY Times broke the news and the Bits Blog just happens to have video and photographs of the technology. Nick Bilton of Bits Blog had interviewed the company, Touchco, in January.

Touch Kindle – Touchco and their Multi Touch Technology  

Touchco is a company formed to commercialize IFSR technology.

  1. IFSR stands for Interpolating Force-Sensitive Resistance. These are really advanced sensors.
  2. IFSRs were developed at New York University’s Media Research Lab by Ilya Rosenberg and Prof. Ken Perlin.
  3. IFSRs can detect any object – not just a finger. Would work great with the Kindle Electronic Pen 😉 .
  4. IFSR technology can determine the amount of pressure being applied at various points.
  5. It uses less power than capacitive sensors.
  6. It is much cheaper to produce.
  7. It’s completely flexible.
  8. It has a really elegant design behind it – There are horizontal and vertical wires and the amount of current at an intersection varies based on how close the touch is (and perhaps the pressure).

In a nutshell – Amazon just acquired technology that might be the best multi-touch technology around.

The fact that IFSR can catch both finger touches and a pen or stylus is critical. It allows Amazon to design a Kindle Touch version that captures handwriting via pens (perhaps the Kindle Electronic Pen – the one with the inbuilt camera and whispernet) and also page turns and other finger touches.

Touchco Details still available

While most of the search engines’ caches have been updated to show nothing you can still get the inside scoop – Here’s a cached page explaining the technology that might soon be in Kindles.

Some of the interesting technical specifications –

  • Thickness: 0.01″ (0.25 mm)
  • Speed: 60 Hz to 500 Hz
  • Resolution: 100 dpi* (254 µm)
  • Pressure Range: 5 g – 5 kg**
  • Production Cost: $10/sq. ft. in high volume
  • The 100 dpi resolution can be improved by using finer wire spacing.

    Touch Kindle – When? How? and the iPad Angle

    Pretty much every article on the acquisition paints this as Amazon’s move to take on the iPad and they’re right.

    This acquisition has ‘We’re ready to fight the iPad’ written all over it.

    When will the technology be integrated in the Kindle?

    Probably sometime in 2010 or 2011.

    There’s this really interesting snippet from the Bits Blog’s original coverage of Touchco (do check out how the sensor can capture the variation in pressure levels of a pencil drawing) –

    Mr. Perlin believes you will see a new range of multitouch e-readers in the coming year …


    That could mean a multi touch Kindle is slated for 2010 – Even if it gets delayed we might see a touch kindle by early to mid 2011.

    It’s entirely possible that Amazon had the technology already lined up for use and decided to buy the company to prevent its competitors from getting it. Or perhaps after the iPad was released Amazon looked around and found Touchco.

    TouchCo worked on a digital sketchbook with Disney

    A multi touch Kindle with handwriting support becomes a definite possibility when you consider Touchco’s Disney project –

    Touchco has also been working closely with Disney animators to create a true digital sketchbook replacement, utilizing extremely sensitive pressure sensors to determine pencil thickness or even use of an eraser.

    The software behind the sensors can easily differentiate between the palm of a hand, a brush or a pencil.

    A screen that can differentiate between your palm, your fingers, your brush and your pencil – that screams multi touch Kindle with handwriting support.

    Is Amazon building a multi-touch Kindle or a multi-purpose Kindle?

    This acquisition brings up an important question – What exactly are Amazon’s plans for this amazing new multi touch technology?

    1. Perhaps Amazon is simply adding a great multi-touch screen to the Kindle which doesn’t cause glare and does make the Kindle easier to use.
    2. Perhaps Amazon is creating a new dual-purpose Kindle that supports reading and writing. 
    3. Perhaps Amazon will introduce an entirely new device that will be multi-purpose.

    I doubt Amazon will turn the Kindle into a multi-purpose device. This acquisition probably has to do with making the Kindle a much better eReader and possibly an eWriter.

    Random Thoughts

    Here are some thoughts –

    1. It really does seem to be a great technology. 
    2. What happens to the sketchbook project with Disney? It’d be perfect for a Kindle Journal feature. 
    3. It’s just a six person company – Amazon might have saved itself a few hundred millions dollars by acquiring it early.
    4. Would this work well with eInk? It’s supposed to be built to work with LCDs.
    5. It’s great to see Amazon make a solid technology move to improve the Kindle.
    6. Multi-touch certainly improves the prospect for Kindle Apps – imagine a 3D touch based folders app.
    7. Why would the Touchco guy be talking about an eReader arriving in 2010?
    8. How soon will eReaders with this technology arrive?
    9. Could Amazon be planning a Nook style dual screen design or perhaps one like the Entourage Edge?

    There are a lot of unanswered questions and that’s certainly the way Amazon likes to do things. 

    Hoping for an excellent Multi Touch Kindle

    It’s about time we got some huge jumps in eReader technology.

    • Color is certainly something to look forward to.
    • Kindle Apps are going to be great and hopefully will be followed by apps for other eReaders.
    • A Multi-Touch screen that can distinguish a palm from a finger and also work with a pen or stylus is certainly exciting.

    2010 is turning out to be quite the year.

    By buying up Touchco Amazon has gotten itself a significant competitive advantage over other eReaders – The only question left is how soon they’ll bring a Kindle with this technology to market.

    Cool UI – Multi-Touch without Touch

    Microsoft Research has done some cool things in the past (though people tend to forget it because who wants to admit Microsoft can do anything good 😉 ).

    Here’s a video from the Microsoft College Tour 2009 which redefines multi-touch (jump to 00:40 for the magic, courtesy istartedsomething) –

    [wpvideo Xl9AIZlx]

    Is this relevant to eReaders?


    • We do know that adding a touch screen messes up readability.
    • Touch screens also smudge easily.
    • We also have size vs screen issues i.e. the virtual keyboards are too small and so forth. 

    Having multi-touch and gestures that don’t need a screen means –

    1. You don’t have to have a touch screen layer that messes readability.
    2. No marks on your reading screen. 
    3. A small 6″ device can create a touch area that is much larger.
    4. You can support a variety of gestures which gives you a lot of ‘buttons’. Instead of 3-4 actions to change the font size – just one gesture.

    This in fact goes very well with pico projectors and projection screens.

    We could dream up a 3-4″ device that fits in your pocket and that projects a 10″ screen and lets you gesture and write on a 20″ surface.

    Lets consider an example –

    Kindle 7 with Microsoft Research Touchless Technology

    Consider a Kindle 7 that –

    1. Is just 4″ by 4″.
    2. Projects a screen anywhere from the size of the Kindle 2 screen to A4 to larger. It does this on to any surface and even on to the air.
    3. Has touchless touch on either the screen or (if you prefer) on another projected surface that can be as big or as small as you like.
    4. Lets you change the font, change the scrolling speed, and turn pages with simple gestures – with one gesture.
    5. Perhaps uses eye-tracking and eye gestures to scroll and to do highlights.
    6. Lets you write notes on the air/virtual surface.

    Note that this is just an option – there will still be the existing models. However, there’s no question which one I’d prefer.