November 28, 2008

More on Plastic Logic electronic newspaper reader

Here are some more details and discussion on the Plastic Logic electronic reading device announced a while back from the future of things blog.

Previous posts of mine regarding Plastic Logic's work include (in chronological order, from oldest to newest):-
This latest TFOT post doesn't add a lot over those previous posts of mine I think, but I'll let you decide that. It's a recompilation of old news.

For example, Hearst was an early investor and hasn't been active or sayign anything about the E-Ink, E-paper or E-Newspaper space for years now and the writer doesn't offer any news from them.

It mostly serves as a reminder that this device has been announced and hence should be coming soon, although we've been saying that about the Polymer Vision Readius (see previous posts here and here or search for Readius in the search box at the top left of this page) for almost two years now and I still can't hope or request it as a Chrismas stocking filler.

If the larger size of the Plastic Logic reader suits your application and where/how you think you will use and carry an electronic reader, then it sure is pretty!

Your text books on your Kindle - an economic analysis

Jason Perlow over at ZDNet Blogs takes a closer look at some of the economics of owning a Kindle eBook reader and buying electronic, not paper books.

He decides to take a look at two markets, or use cases: higher education and consumers.
I say "use case", because some students at higher education will be consumers of other types of content also, and consumers may do study on their eBook reading devices.

He (rightly I think for this exercise) pretty much limits himself to the economics, and the other advantages (less weight, convenience etc) are left out of the equation. It's an economic analysis.

There's also the problem that most of the text books wanted by higher education students are probably not available in Kindle format at the time of writing. He limits it to legal purchases of content.

His (reasonable) summary for one scenario is that the Kindle scenario could save a student $132.00 per semester, which over 8 semesters amounts to $1056 minus the cost of the device to leave a total saving of $700. Alternatively, the break-even time for "investing" in a Kindle is only 3 semesters, then it's all beer-money with the savings.

So, now I see the need for some enterprising individual to index all the text books needed for each degree or course imparted, and checking that all of the text books required are available in Kindle format -> a "Kindle Textbook Checklist". Sounds like a good mash-up of University web-sites and Amazon Kindle Store project to me! Anyone interested?
You can then offer to certify a given study course as "100% eBook compatible".

Not counting the re-sale of the paper books after using them, and recuperating some (he estimates half) of their value is a major problem with the analysis that makes it more favorable to the Kindle.

We need some real (US for now, due to Kindle availability) students to come in with their perspective and set us all straight.

This analysis also raises an irksome point among eBook purchasers. What about the right of first (re-)sale for eBooks? If a student could sell on those "used" eBooks like they could the paper books, that would change the result somewhat.

Questions remain for me about how content production and sale for education will change when good reading (and maybe writing/annotating) devices become available at the "right price" (anyone know what that is?) for students. We may well see collaborative authoring of free texts, or professors or institutions putting their content in the open for free. One example of that is MIT's open course-ware initiative. THAT would change the economics a bit!

Will text book editors, educational institutions and resellers ever drop prices significantly on this type of content and dynamite it all, making the economics of buying your text books in eBook format a wash and opening up the other advantages of eBooks for this application to all?

P.S. Why do people insist on using the word "literally" when it's clearly not literal? The Kindle cannot literally be "A closed book". One, because it's not a book, it's an eBook reading device. Two, because it has no way of being closed. It is a closed book, figuratively.

November 27, 2008

Black Friday eBook deals at NewEgg

May be "Black Friday" doesn't need to be so black after all, thanks to JetBook with this great eBook offer.
Seems to me like they should call it the "Jet-Black-Book" :-)

JetBook ups the ante and addresses those thrifty "financial crisis" buyers with an agressive $198 offer (with free shipping!) to be found at NewEgg, a hundred dollars cheaper than their usual (white) version.

That offer won't last long, so follow it now or never.

I have covered the JetBook device in two previous posts:-
  • The original version in this post.
  • And in this post covering an update of theirs, targetted especially at travellers.

Kindle and PRS-700 compared

The Amazon Kindle Review blog does a direct comparison here of the version 1 of the Kindle eBook reader with the 3rd gen Sony reader, the PRS-700.

Noting their obvious partiality to the Kindle, they chose to list their (perceived) advantages of each and let you decide.

When they say "back-light" as an accessory for the Kindle, they mean front-light.
When they say "front-light" for the Sony, they mean side-light.

In general, I agree on most their points, except the Kindle keyboard which takes up precious real estate that I want to see filled with a display AND makes the device look ugly and NOT like a device mainly for consumption or reading.

To put that another way, if I took the two lists of advantages and could combine them into a new device with all of them, would that be a device I like and would want to own?

Yes, with the exception of the keyboard.

FUNAI announces development of "newspaper quality" electronic ink display technology

FUNAI have announced a new technology for ePaper that is causing a bit of a stir and lots of interest. There is excellent coverage of it at the TechOn Japanese web site which I summarize and comment on here (see references below)

Its an electrochromic technology, that is monochrome for now:
Gray scale representation is also possible with pulse width modulation. Although the device supports only four levels of gray scale at the moment, it will be possible to provide higher levels in the future, the company said.
with plans to move to color in the future. It remains to be seen whether via putting a color filter on top of this monochrome technology, or via an inherently color display as hinted at by some of their patents.

They able to do a very fast update (0.1ms) of each pixel.

No TFT Active Matrix is required, it using a line scanning passive matrix addressing scheme. That should make it cheaper, easier to manufacture and easier to move to flexible substrates (for conformability or robustness advantages). Although it seems they need to have a controlled gap in the display which complicates the move to plastic (or at least flexible plastic). They have their sights set on it though:-
The latest prototype was manufactured by using a glass substrate. Spacers are dispersedly located in the device to maintain the gap of 50μm. Another device that employs a plastic film is also under development, the company said. It aims to reduce the price of the latest device to 1/3 of that of the existing LCD panels.
They hint at a multiple pass line-scanning to increase contrast or the dye's optical density.
Because the contrast reaches 100% within 0.1 seconds, the device can smoothly display images on the entire screen just like an active matrix panel. At present, the device scans the screen two to five times before the contrast reaches 100%.
They claim:
A6-sized image within 0.1 seconds when the electrode density is set to 3 pieces/mm.
A6 size being one quarter of A4 or A size or 105mm x 148mmm / 4.13inches x 5.83inches

The reflectivity of the white state is very high at 80%! (remember, monochrome)

The side by side comparison of the display with newspaper, does make the white reflectance, black density and contrast ratio look very good and competitive with newspaper (which is not as white and reflective as standard office/copier paper remember).
The resolution is not so good, but that can maybe be improved.

Their white reflectivity vs. contrast diagram here illustrates very well where it lands compared to print, E-Ink like EPD displays and LCD, although remember that this diagram cannot tell the whole story. Color capability and spatial resolution being at least two other factors when comparing to print, but it's still impressive.

One disadvantage versus competitors such as E-Ink technology is that it is not bi-stable and needs a voltage to retain the image.
In other words, the device requires a voltage to retain an image on the screen, and it is not a bistable ultra-low power device like e-paper.
But the actual power consumed to write and hold the image may make that a non-issue:
The power consumption is 0.16mW/cm2 for writing and 0.08mW/cm2 for holding.
But 0.08mW/cm2 is not a lot!
Doing the maths I make that for an A6 display: 12.4mW for an A6-sized display


November 26, 2008

800 Newspapers for the iRex Digital Reader

iRex Technologies announce here on their official blog (i-to-i) with pomp that the iRex Digital Reader (specifically the DR1000 model) will now be a reading platform with 800 electronic newspapers available to be read on it.

These 800 newspapers have appeared overnight "in one fell swoop" through the porting of the Newspaper Direct PressReader Software (which has until now only been available for PC, Mac and some SmartPhone/PDA platforms) to the iRex DR1000 eBook reading platform.

Here is a 2m20sec demo of the PressReader software on the DR1000 (no sound).

The general reading approach appears to be to display a full page (not two-page spread) layout on the large DR1000 display, and then have one level of zoom-in to read and article. At that zoom level you can then pan around to read the article in it's original (sometimes crazy!) article layout. All those manipulations in the video are done using the stylus (remember, no touch screen!) although I suspect keys/buttons can also be used.

Newspaper Direct, as you may suspect from their name is a company dedicated to the direct delivery of newspaper around the world using digital means.That is not necessarily restricted to electronic reading of them, as they could be printed-on-demand close to where they are to be read.

The equivalent Newspaper Direct press release can be found here

If you have an iRex DR1000 device and are raring to get started, you'll have to wait until December when the reading plug-in is due to be released.

Folding Quantum Dot display anyone?

Hot on the heels of my earlier post on a demonstration from Samsung of a "folding" OLED display here is a Technology Review article on Quantum Dots displays and a new manufacturing technique for them being worked on by a start-up called "QD Vision".

Compared to the state of development and manufacture of OLEDs, the story is two-sided.

We already have small OLED displays in manufacture and use (mainly in cell phones and portable TVs), so in that sense the state of OLED technology is MUCH more advanced than Quantum Dot displays.

However, there are known difficulties in making large OLED displays (as well as some difficulties with their lifetime), which is one area that the proponents of this quantum dot technology think they may have a fundamental advantage - at least with this new technique described.

So, in a sense they hope to come from significantly behind, and overtake OLEDs in larger size displays and take the market from LCD displays.

What do they claim to offer over LCD? Mainly lower power, maybe slightly lighter and thinner. Then off course if they can make them flexible that's a game changer.

What do they claim to offer over OLED? Brighter, sharper color, and off course maybe easier (cheaper?) to manufacture at the larger sizes.

November 25, 2008

Folding OLED display

Well, Samsung have come nicely to my aid with a video from the FPD 2008 trade-show of a working, folding OLED display (in this case embedded in a mobile phone) that makes an excellent follow-on to the previous post about dual-display eBook research.

The video is pretty tedious (1m49s long), but there are a couple of high-points when the working, bright OLED display in the cell-phone is folded flat as the "side-ways clam shell" is closed shut.

In an update post here on the OLED-Info web site they claim it is actually two individual OLED displays side by side. The video isn't close enough, perpendicular to the displays or of good enough quality to get a really good look at the middle of the display but there is no visible seam between them.

If they can get the two displays to stitch together perfectly, and fold double and lie flat - then who cares if it's flexible? It looks great.

I can imagine this going down great in a fold-out iPod for viewing video, with a smaller even lower power display used for audio, phone, etc.

And off-course, a larger version of the same as an eBook reader (maybe with a touchscreen Sony PRS-700 like integrated into each one) that due to brightness and response times of OLEDs would also be very good for viewing photos and videos and so making it more of a generic eReader. OLEDs are lower power (especially when displaying black or darker colors) but still not as low-power as E-Ink or other reflective displays, and so battery life would be worse - but could still be acceptable and worth the trade-off for all those other capabilities.

Apple, PMP manufacturers, Laptop/Netbook manufacturers and eBook/eReader manufacturers all please take note!