February 1, 2010

Is the iPad an eReader?

Interesting post by Andrew, and he's spot on - but with the perspective of an eReader. Which really just raises the question: Is the iPad an eReader?

Personally, I think it's not. It's certainly a better eReader than my laptop - great. Is it better than a typical eInk device? Well, that certainly depends on whether you need WiFi access, color, and quick response, versus daylight reading, easy on the eyes, and a more integrated book experience.

I think the great diversity of choices will help each company to strive for improvement quite quickly, and we're going to see a shakeout of the second tier companies in a year or two. But that's the way this happens, it's a natural part of evolution.

Some of the best writeups I've seen of the iPad in the last few days realize that it's really a new category of device, one which could even replace a computer for a certain class of users. But it's not going to replace a phone or an MP3 player. It's going to cause the makers of netbooks and eReaders to think creatively, though.

January 31, 2010

iPad and eReader?

Spurred on by Carl's contribution I wanted to share my thoughts on the iPad as an eReader.

I'll start by stating some of the non-negotiable things in my own view of what makes a good reading device (of which the perfect incarnation doesn't exist yet...)

My current eReading device which I use quite a lot is the Sony PRS 505, so I'll use that as one reference (although many of the comments will also apply to Kindle and other similar devices) and as the iPad is "a computer" I'll use a Laptop as the other reference (which juding by the "why do you need yet another device to read on" comments on blogs - is a relevant reference for many people).

  • Instant-On: The device must be able to go from a long-battery-life-stand-by state to actively reading in less than a second. I frequently read in short spells while travelling on public transport, waiting for people, even during TV adverts at home. 
    • Sony and other eReaders do this just fine.
    • Laptops (and Tablet PC's) fail miserably.
  • Battery-life, measured both by how long I can read without a charge, and how long it can be left around unused (but ready to be Instant-On!) without needing a charge.
    • Sony eReader and others nail this. I go weeks without charging it. It is the only device I would (and have) taken on a week-long business trip without taking the charger. Also, will charge from USB.
    • Tablets and Laptops: Fail. 
  • Weight and Form Factor: Must fit in my jacket pocket and my jeans back pocket, to be whipped out for a quick read at a moments notice, and not cause tears in your coat, or you to drag it on the ground! :-)
    • Sony and some other eReaders do this. Kindle is slightly too big for my tastes but close.
    • Laptops (with the exception of my Sony Vaio P !) and Tablet PC's fail miserably.
  • Comfortable hand-held reading design: Can read it holding it in one hand, while riding the Metro and holding on with the other...
    • eReaders work.
    • Tablet PC's could, but tend to be bigger and heavier.
    • Laptops don`t
  • Easy / Touch controls and navigation
    • Sony and others could do better. That's why I'm looking at the Sony PRS 600 Touch Edition.
    • Tablet PC's could, some Laptops have touch.
  • Content focused "the whole screen is content" UI designed for touch, without all the Window management clutter to handle and interact with.
    • eReaders generally do, with limitations mentioned above.
    • Windows based Tablets and Laptops fail.
  • Readability: In normal indoor conditions, in bright indoor conditions (I live in sunny Spain!) and outdoors (including the beach!). Low glare off the screen, good brightness, contrast and resolution
    • E-Ink eReaders do OK, improvements in contrast and even more resolution would be nice.
    • Color LCD's of Laptops/Tablets fail outdoors and even in brightly lit indoor situation. I HATE glossy LCD's (I have one, and will try hard to avoid buying another)
    • Hope short-term comes from PixelQi and OLEDs
Nice to haves
There are a few other nice to have features that are not in my current eReader (but I still use it), but would be great to have:
  • Color screen (roll on Mirasol / LiquaVista please...)
    • Only Fujitsu FLEPia so far, but I still need to see it to assess, and until now it has only been available in Japan.
  • Fast screen update with little energy consumer per update (roll on Mirasol / LiquaVista please...)
    • There are some low-power monochrome reflective LCD devices out there, but not many and battery life is still not up to scratch
  • Connected, without being at the mercy of Operators and contracts with fixed minimum monthly charges and minimum durations of 18months or more. 
    • Only the Kindle has really nailed this one so far...
    • I don't miss it too much at the moment in my PRS 505, but it depends on what your reading...and if priced reasonably I would like to have it as an option.
  • Digitizer: I'd like my eReader to be an eReader-Writer suitable for production not just consumption, ranging from short notes and annotations to complete notetaking.
    • iRex devices do well in this area, although constrained somewhat by the slow screen update.
    • Touch eReaders such as Sony 600 use a plastic stylus on resisitive touch screen and so is not so good (although I need to test it....)
    • Tablet PCs with Wacom digitizer (I have one) do quite well, but issues remain about paralax (due to glass thickness) and the feel of the surface for writing.
Wow! That was quite a list! A bit of an outpouring in fact of eReader desires. 
How does the iPad shape up?

I'd summarize first by saying in my opinion (without having been able to use one, but extrapolating from the iPhone experiences):
  • The iPad should be a much better eReading device than a Laptop (running Mac OS or Windows or Linux)
  • The iPad should be a better eReading device than a tablet running the Windows (or Mac or Linux) window-based user interface - HP Tablet, I'm looking at you.
On that last one: I do buy into the Apple-speak about a company developing the software, the hardware and the services being able to integrate them much better and produce a much better user experience. If that company has a strong focus and skills on user experience and design - then even better!

That does not happen in the MicroSoft - OEM devices, and MicroSoft does not yet have a User Interface that makes the grade for this type of interaction using touch.

Here's my point-by-point assessment on the list above:
  • Instant-On: 
    • YES! Just like an iPhone. 
  • Battery Life: 
    • I think I read a month of stand-by time. That's fine. 
    • 10 hours of battery life running. That's a great acheivement for that device and it's other capabilities, but doesn't cut it for a portable ereading device for me. Got to take that charger with you.
  • Weight and Form Factor: 
    • Haven't held it yet, but for sure it fails my "jeans and jacket pocket" test. Good for a bag though.
  • Comfortable hand-held reading design: 
    • Yes, I think it would fit that. Might be a touch on the heavy side for one-handed reading during any length of time.
  • Easy / Touch controls and navigation
    • YES! Better than anyone else, I have no doubt.
  • Content focused "the whole screen is content" UI designed for touch, without all the Window management clutter to handle and interact with.
    • YES. As above.
  • Readability: In normal indoor conditions, in bright indoor conditions (I live in sunny Spain!) and outdoors (including the beach!). Low glare off screen, good brightness, contrast and resolution
    • NO. Glossy screen is a pain in the ass, and it won't be too readable in bright indoor or outdoor conditions I suspect. Resolution could be higher for reading monochrome text.
  • Color screen
    • YES. At the cost of other things though, due to being a power-sucking active, backlit, emissive display.
  • Fast screen update with little energy consumer per update (roll on Mirasol / LiquaVista please...)
    • Fast, video capable, but at the cost of power consumption.
  • Connected, without being at the mercy of Operators and contracts with fixed minimum monthly charges and minimum durations of 18months or more.
    • Connected yes, but with the usual qualms about operators. If sold OPEN then I least I can put my own SIM in it...and pay for what I use, without minimum charges and fixed contracts.
  • Digitizer:
    • NO... :-(  I was actually praying for this to be the surprise "you'll be surprised how you interact with it" (Steve Jobs) feature....would be great to hold and manipulate pages with capacitive multi-touch and to be able to annotate, highlght, write, paint, sketch accurately on them with the other hand......
    • Come on Apple, you've always had the best products for "Producers" (or Pro-sumers)...this would be great for artists, designers, engineers, cartoonists.....etc.
Well that's it. So, better than Laptop and Windows Tablets, great device overall but not yet meeting my criteria for it to become my eReading device.

Apple's iPad as an electronic reader

This post was contributed by Carl Dierchow

Apple's iPad as an electronic reader

Andrew asked if I might want to offer my thoughts on Apple's announcement this week of their new iPad.  It would appear that people are still struggling to figure out what this device is.  A huge iPod Touch?  The next Kindle?  A netbook replacement?

For this blog, the most important question is:  What does this mean to the future of electronic reading?

I would point out that Apple's list of features starts out with:

  • Web browsing
  • E-mail
  • Photos
  • Video and YouTube

E-books, by the way, don't show up until number 9 on the list.

It seems clear to me that the main focus of the iPad is interacting with the Internet (web, e-mail, YouTube) and viewing content.  But the content which is most important in this environment is live, color, and interactive – photos, games, movies.  Books are on the list, along with newspapers and magazines, but don't make for such great marketing hype.

Will this change the future of e-reading?  I suspect it will, in that it is attractive to users who want most of their content online, and interactive.  For users who love books for what they are, this is a pretty face on a large slate with a bunch of distractions.  It's just not as good at being a book as, well, a book.

For me, one of the interesting wildcards in this is the ability for the iPad to run applications.  Apple-approved apps, of course, but it opens a big door for reading all kinds of formats, RSS readers, and other neat reading environments.   I see an RSS reader already available for the iPhone, so that should be a slam dunk.

In the end, though, it's the users who get to decide what this product is.  I happen to think that a number of book enthusiasts will be drawn to it because it does a better job at web browsing, newspapers, and magazines.  But on the negative side, the glossy screen and short battery life can make it less attractive than the eInk devices.

... Which I've never purchased.  It just seemed that monochrome, with slow page turns, clunky interface and limited content never compelled me to spend my money on an e-reader.  Will the iPad fix the content problem for me?  Not soon, I suspect.  I just don't have much attraction to reading the most popular books, it seems I'm always picking up things which are further down the Long Tail.

But I sure love my iPod – couldn't live without it – and am seriously looking at the iPad for all the other neat things it can do.

Carl Dierschow

January 19, 2010

Mag+ concept for re-inventing magazines in the digital age

BERG (a London based Design Consultancy) has been working with Bonnier RD (RD arm of the Swedish media group of the same name that owns many magazine titles) to envision the future of magazines, digital magazines.

You can see BERG's own explanation of the work at this page http://berglondon.com/blog/2009/12/17/magplus/  or Bonnier's page on Mag+ or view the larger video on Vimeo.

Pages or Scrolls
Two thousand years later, the debate is still raging....pages or scrolls? :-)

Some of the interesting things about their vision of a future magazine is the way that articles scroll, not flip pages. This is bucking the current trend of things going page-based (even Personal Productivity PC applications in Microsoft's Courier concept which I've posted on recently).

In some classic design-speak they think the on-screen page turning metaphor is "not honest".

It's interesting to hear the examples he uses of scrolling reading applications, where he names an iPhone app (InstaPaper - app page that includes a demo video). 

The iPhone itself has avoided scrolling (and the horrible graphics and usability of the often associated scroll-bars with small touch screen devices), and even your home screen(s) of icons are presented in pages you flip-through, and some Apple apps have a "flip side" of the page for settings and additional info.

Yet, other iPhone apps - such as contacts - have gone for the "long list" that is scrolled through, using on-screen gestures (not scroll bars) and the famed physics of the lists behavior).

But it does allow them to lay the articles out in a horizontal array of vertically scrolled articles, and that seems to work quite well.

Perfect Interaction
The thing about these design vision videos is that things always seem to happen instantaneously, with incredible response times and perfect human-machine interaction.  Off-course, this is how it should be!

The problem is that the iPhone is the only device I have seen to date that get's anywhere close to reproducing this sensation.

It will require an excellent implementation to achieve that they show, but maybe Apple are up to the challenge.

It seems they have given the non-trivial task of taking this to the next stage to one Kicker Studio in San Francisco.
"Kicker Studio is working with Bonnier to expand this concept into a robust, interactive prototype over the next several months."  (Kicker Studio's page here)
Let's watch out for that "robust, interactive prototype" eh?!

I'm glad to see some reflective, low-power, display technologies coming along (PixelQi, Mirasol, LiquaVista) that might help us get there and have a decent battery life and a more paper-like visual appearance.

The video and images also shows what a perfect display would look like, very bright (but not too much so!) indoors, even in a dark room, and very bright and readable outdoors. No sign of glare or reflections etc.

These videos and works are very fun, so enjoy it, and keep praying for reality to be able to implement them as envisioned some day.

January 18, 2010

eTextBook proposal for (yet to happen) Apple tablet

Well, there's nothing quite like developing software for a vaporware hardware product, either makes the software developer's life VERY hard, or very easy as you can imagine the hardware you want then program for it.

Well, that's what it seems the publisher of electronic TextBooks CourseSmart has been busy doing: Creating eTectBook software for the yet-to-happen or may-never-happen Apple tablet.

If you want to see their imagination sin action, you can - as they have created a video of them for your enjoyment:

I broadly agree with their statements about the need for color, interactive content and the ability to capture handwriting and drawings on a device for education. Those capabilities could open up an opportunity for whole new types of "text books", with video, animations, interactive elements and information from the web.

CourseSmart seems to be a collaborative effort from major text books publishers in the US, including Bedford, Freeman & Worth Publishing Group, Cengage Learning, CQ Press, Elsevier, F.A. Davis & Company, John Wiley & Sons, Jones & Bartlett Publishers, McGraw Hill Higher Education, Nelson Education, Pearson, Sage Publications, Sinauer Associates, Taylor & Francis, Wolters Kluwer Health.

They have had a major focus on the iPhone and iPod touch as platforms for their content, so it seems logical that they target newer Apple devices....but even before they exist?


Inaccessible Kindles get put on hold for university use

This is an interesting piece of news that might need some follow-up.

First, as a backdrop  Pace, Case Western, and Reed College Universities in the US were starting to use the Kindle as a replacement for textbooks.

But the Kindle's menus do not have spoken equivalents for non-signed users, so after law suits from organizations representing the blind, the US Justice Department wades in and forces a truce.

So, I assume there are a few people at Amazon very busy right now adding accessibility features into the Kindle's menu system (and it's associated PC software if that doesn't have it already).

This could be an insurmountable problem for touchscreen devices I guess, unless a feature could be added that read out what was under the user's finger allowing them to navigate and use a touch screen UI (in a special mode, that would not be easy to use gestures and drag and drop with).....

Teclast eReader

Yep, another eReader from CES....

The usual 6-inch display and features, plus Text to Speach.....and that's it!

From Engadget coverage at: http://www.engadget.com/2010/01/13/teclast-enters-the-e-book-fold-with-the-k3-talking-portable-libr/

Bookeen debuts Orizon touchscreen e-book reader

Bookeen comes in with their newer device. It has a sleek, few buttons, overall design although with a reasonable percentage of the frontal area NOT dedicated to the display.

From their previous models it adds the touchscreen. Sony really pioneered touchscreens for eReaders and brought them mainstream, and now many others are following. I'd be surprised if the next version of the Kindle doesn't ditch the hard keyboard in favor of a touchscreen and on-screen keyboard.

Apart from the pretty normal specs on this product otherwise, they have added an accelerometer for automatic switching from portrait to landscape orientation.

If it does come in at $250 for the touchscreen edition, then it's welcome competition.

On another point about formats. ePub supports seems to be rapidly gaining ground, either via firmware updates to existing devices, or as a standard feature on newly introduced devices.

So, it seems we will eventually get that much desired standard format for eBooks that most manufacturers support. Kindle currently stands out from the crown as a major provider that doesn't support it. Is it a coincidence that it's from a content reselling company, that also owns MobiPocket?

If you can get ALL the content you want on your Kindle, that's probably not so much of an issue. But if you can't, then it might have you looking elsewhere for a more open device.

Also, how long before Government bodies working to stimulate competition in the market take Amazon to task for their "closed bundle" the way they have done with Apple and the iPhone in some countries?

SiPix sneaks into CES thanks to Jinke

At CES, Jinke announced 6 and 9-inch panel e-readers.

At this point, after so many introductions, I'd be short of things to say about them except maybe "They're white" or "One is a Kindle clone" if it were not for the fact that they sport not E-Ink displays, but SiPix displays.

SiPix is the main direct-technology competitor to E-Ink, with a fairly similar electrophoretic display technology. They haven't been very active to date in the larger sized displays, sticking to smaller sizes and segmented displays....but now it looks like they are up for the fight!

Engadget reports that they will be multi-touch displays, the first I've heard of on eReaders.

But why multi-touch? I can't see anyone doing "the pinch" or the "rotate" multi-touch gesture on photos or web pages with these devices with their slow-update displays.   So, apart from the title, what good is multi-touch here?

Connectivity will be Wi-Fi and optional 3G. The $275 price for the A6 6-inch is not bad, especially compared to the very similarly spec-ed Samsung model for $399. 

Competition for E-Ink is good for consumers and device manufacturers, but I'd wait until I have seen the SiPix display close-up, and heard how reliable the first models of the production line are before I jump in and buy one.

Samsung get's into eReader game

There are already a bunch of lesser known, or until recently unknown, companies offering eReaders (plus Sony, as maybe the only major brand in this category to date)......so is it now time for all those well known computer and consumer electronic brands to get in too?

The design novelty is that they have brought in the "slider" design feature from mobile phones to eReaders, as you can see in the photo above.  This is one way to get close to my goal of the device being "all screen", with minimal space dedicated to buttons and controls. It makes the device look pretty sleek when the slider is shut.

There will be two models (a pretty standard now 6-inch model, and a larger 10-inch model), both with touchscreens that will support on-screen drawing and writing with a stylus (presumably a finger also works fine, just not so good for writing or drawing).

Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for connectivity, but no 3G connection.

$399 for the 6-inch model seems too high compared to existing competitors with the same display, and same or better connectivity.....so I thni they are going to have to drop prices!

The "Reading, writing and sharing" tagline seems to suggest they understand some more of the reading dynamics than others, but I don't have any details on what's behind those words yet.

Blio e-reader software hands-on

A different eReading related offering from CES - eReading Software for your PC. A change after seeing so many eReaders announced.

This software is available for buying, organizing and reading your eBook content on PC and Mac.
Interesting to link in additional content from the web, which seems nicely integrated into the "book".

I don't think such software can be built only on having a nice UI and a "snazzy" (as Engadget put it) 3D reading mode, with animated page turns. Those gimmicks can quickly ware off, and even get in the way of really "getting into your book". Personally, I'd go for the "invisible user interface" approach, where you don't even realize there IS a user interface, just a book which you quickly dive into.

The utility of this software, over either using nothing, or the PC software that comes with an eReader you buy will depend a lot on the type of reading you do and where it will be done.

Reading on a laptop (which I have tried) is subject to all my usual gripes:

  • power up time
  • form factor, keyboard in the way
  • heat generated
  • size and weight
  • short battery life, both while reading and in any "fast-boot sleep state"

One area where a PC can excel at the moment is in showing high-color, interactive material, where it ceases to be an eBook and becomes something new. If the right content is produced to take advantage of this, and the UI works, then it could lead to new types of "books", reading and education.

With recent and expected developments in display technologies (PixelQi, Mirasol, LiquaVista) we may see that ability coming to eReaders too, or a convergence between eReaders and tablets and PMPs and laptops - depending on how you prefer to view that.

Off one thing going for a PC, is the fact that you maybe carrying it anyway! With the small additional weight new eReaders represent, I take my eReader anyway - PC or not, just like I'd take a paper book - PC or not.

From Engadget coverage at http://www.engadget.com/2010/01/06/blio-e-reader-software-hands-on/ (short video included)

January 17, 2010

PixelQi displays to ship in 2010

From Engadet at http://www.engadget.com/2010/01/08/pixelqi-screens-to-be-used-by-major-manufacturer-in-2010/

I suspect that this "image" would be much more impressive in real-life, as that PixelQi display looks pretty good, but I get the sense the photo doesn't fully do it justice.

Unlike the Mirasol and LiquaVista news (covered in separate posts) we knew PixelQi were busy at work and probably due to hit the market this year - but seeing it confirmed and some samples (see video embedded in the Engadget post) is great news.

Engadget paints it as an E-Ink killer, but I'm not so sure (I might put LiquaVista in that category). I think the devices that we will see first introduced with PixelQi displays will be Laptops and Netbooks that also offer a longer-battery-life, outdoor readable mode suitable for some types of content.

It remains to be seen whether any of the manufacturers of those "PC" devices add any design novelty - such as allowing the device to be fully opened, with the keyboard wrapped around behind into a "book format", or such like.

The video is not too relevant in my mind, but even so - the reflective (backlight off) mode is not really intended for viewing movies, as the display becomes almost monochrome.

If we want a long battery life color reflective video viewing device, then we might have to wait until something like Mirasol hits the streets.

By-The-Way "Qi" is pronounced "chee" (an English rendition) and (as stated by this Wikipedia article) "is an active principle forming part of any living thing".

January 15, 2010

The Attack of the Kindle clones begins

OK, spot the seven differences between these two devices:

The first one (top) is the Boeye OEM E900 eReader, and the second one (right) is the Kindle DX.

What you can't see is that their internal specs are identical also, including the 3G hardware (but not the service behind the connection!).

We're short on details of built-in firmware functionality, any associated software and content sources and stores.....maybe that's up to an OEM to provide.

If you buy 100 of them, you can get them for $311.

Watch out for OEM versions of this design to hit retail some day...

LG flexing it's large display muscles

From Engadget at: http://www.engadget.com/2010/01/15/lg-displays-19-inch-e-ink-display-plays-loose-with-the-truth/

LG is starting to show just what it can do with E-Ink displays on top of it's metal foil backplane!

As Engadget correctly comments, a flexible display won't necessarily (i.e. probably not) mean a flexible eReader. But it does bring ruggedness.

Although it may never make it to market, remember the READIUS?

It's not clear what the minimum bend radius of these LG displays are, and so it's very possible (I'd say likely) that we won't seem them in this type of device.

Maybe a mechanical engineer out there can tell us how tightly you could bend a 0.3mm thick (Steel) metal foil and have it go back to flat at a later date. That would be the minimum, then you've got the minor (ehh hmmm) problem of the electronics on top of it withsanding that...

Engadget do this work an injustice by questioning how long such a monochrome E-Ink display will be relevant, presumably based on some surprising recent developments in reflective color from Mirasol and LiquaVista), as the real breakthrough here is the backplane of transistors on the metal substrate that drives the E-Ink front-plane. That work could be applied to other front-plane ("image forming") technologies, to a monochrome E-Ink frontplane with an RGBW color filter applied, or to any future color E-Ink like frontplane.

So, bravo LG! Keep up the good work.

January 12, 2010

LiquaVista shows color ePaper displays! Mirasol, PixelQi....Fight!

Another "dark horse" display technology shows up at CES, to avoid letting Mirasol steal the show!  

Innovation is alive and well in display technologies!

From Engadget coverage at:

LiquaVista looked a very promising reflective, bi-stable display technology with promising color performance, reflectivity levels and refresh speed. But after introducing small, segmented, single-color displays they went quiet for a long time.

I thought they were never going to make it to larger matrix displays, so it's a pleasure to see them back and competing with Mirasol, and maybe PixelQi, for the color eReader display technology crown.

At CES they were showing the current status of their technology in demonstration form. It seems they are still over a year away from production.

I expect this Phillips spin-off will be busy working with the other eReader-related Phillips spin-off (iRex) to bring us a color eReader device. 

They not only share the company heritage, but residence at the Phillips technology campus in Eindhoven. So being only a short-walk away should make for some "fluid" collaboration I hope and some great-looking, fast-update, video-capable, low-power eReader and other devices in the coming years.

In the video the company employees state that they expect to see reflectivity levels of 52% and contrast ratios of 22:1 (both very good values) when in production. It seems that that refers to the monochrome version, and they use RGBW (W = White) color filters on top of the monochrome to give the color display, which will have lower reflectivity levels (I think I hear 15% in the video).

NOTE: In the Engadget video you hear these numbers when the camera is focused on the color display, but I'm pretty sure the speaker is referring to the monochrome display beside it, out of camera.

The different options they are introducing are:

LiquaVista Bright
"high performance monochrome reflective displays with video capability..."
Reflective, 64 greyscale levels, fast refresh of all or areas of the display, giving you something akin to current monochrome (E-Ink like) eReaders, but with (monochrome) animation and video capability while still having low power consumption. The fast refresh can be used for interactivity and effects (e.g. page turning etc) while reading static pages, or to have parts of a page active with a video or animation, or to have the entire display with video.

LiquaVista Color
"high performance full color video reflective displays"
This is basically the monochrome LiquaVista Bright display with an RGBW placed on top of it to produce a color display, the same way RGB filters are placed on top of backlit LCD displays, which are inherently monochrome, to produce the color LCD display you're probably reading this on.
Due to the filter, to get a white area you have to switch-on R+G+B+W pixels. But the R,G,B don't reflect as much light as the W pixel does. So the overall reflectivity is much lower than a monochrome display - where basically all pixels are W (and when "off" they show black). Black density maybe closer to the monochrome display. Overall, contrast ratios will be lower too (same Black, not-so-bright White).

We need to see a side-by-side in controlled lighting condition with the Mirasol display, to have an interesting compare!

LiquaVista Vivid
Last, but not least, we have "Vivid".
"High performance dual-mode transflective displays..."
As mentioned, this display can be used in either a reflective monochrome mode (very low or zero power) or a "Field-Sequential Color illumination" mode, where the display is back-lit cycling though R then G then B backlights (very fast). 
The downside is the power consumed by the backlights. But due to much better transmisivity of the light from the backlight compared to an LCD display (no polarizers etc) the backlight can be of a MUCH lower power than in an LCD, compensating somewhat.
We will have to wait to see power consumption numbers for this mode though. 

A bit like the PixelQi display the dual-mode allows you to switch and chose between ultra-low-power monochrome reflective, and higher power transmissive color depending on the type of content and interaction you desire.

Mirasol shows reflective color 5.7 inch prototype display, coming to a Kindle near you?


I am really surprised to see this MEMs-based display technology in this size (5.7 inch diagonal), as I had written them off getting to these sizes due to the manufacturing processes required for MEMs....but delighted they have proven me wrong....or are about to. They even suggest they could make it in 9-inch or 10-inch diagonals.

It has a number of very interesting characteristics: 

  • fast switching speeds (video capable)
  • totally reflective and bi-stable (low-power)
  • low-power per image switch
  • COLOR!
  • 220 pixels-per-inch resolution (or 240ppi depending on who you listen to)
  • a good level of reflectivity (equates to brightness depending on ambient lighting)!

Qualcomm claims that this display can consume LESS energy than the Kindle's E-Ink display when used in the same way! Color for free (battery life wise) is something eReader manufacturers have been dreaming about!

They are correct about the power consumption that occurs in some other display technologies when you crank-up the refresh rate. You won't see those type of steep increases in power consumption as you increase refresh rates to display video on this display.

So it would be great to see this technology making it!

This is the kind of display technology that could remove the need for a Reading (static content) vs. Viewing-Computing (moving and video content) decision, and the Tablet vs. eReader dichotomy....and bring the convergence between those two categories of devices sooner than expected.

If you had a color, reflective device that can show a static page (e.g. the page of a book) as well as (say) E-Ink without consuming any power (i.e. it is bi-stable, and reflective like E-Ink) AND that is video capable (sonuming more power when doing video), why wouldn't you choose that over a grayscale E-Ink display??? Where is the trade-off?

A very nice video of it in operation is shown on the Engadget page from CES!
You can see highlight reflections of the glossy display (don't get me started on that.....) but apart from that it looks great! Partner it with a Tegra graphics chipset and a low-power processor and OS combination as we've seen in some other (LCD-screened) tablets and we could have a great little device here.

Engadget speculates on it becoming part of a future (color) Kindle...
Judging by the videos (see below also) this could be the "National Geographic" device, able to do justice to high-quality glossy magazine content.

We are lacking technical specs and resolution, but it looks great....so I can only hope that manufacturing progresses well and they are able to get this into devices in the fall (autumn) of 2010!

As the video is short and we just want to enjoy seeing that screen, here is a raft of other Engadget stories about it:

  • Game Playing variant? with another video, from SlashGear this time here, showing a smaller size but some fast moving images.
  • Another Engadget article (source a SlashGear article) with a different (Kindle likeness anyone) eReader design
  • Display Video from Engadget captured in HD resolution. Chose the "HD" option in YouTube, hit "Pause" and let it download (buffer) the entire video, then hit "Play" and the "Fullscreen" button on the YouTube window and enjoy it.

January 10, 2010

Microsoft Courier concept

From Gizmodo at:

Microsoft are showing their Courier concept. I'm not sure Microsoft have been too successful with these concepts, with the UMPC, and others falling by the wayside over the years. Another view would be that they have been way ahead of the game and foresaw/inspired the NetBook and other trends. Eitherway, not it's this "Media computer" as I call it.

Viewing the videos I link to above, they seem to be proposing Personal productivity type applications, but using more of a printed media viewing experience.

Now that I think about it, this reminds me of work at Microsoft Research that I saw over a year ago, with two small UMPCs stuck together. Doing a search I found a number of relevant pieces published from the MS Research work:

I've long been an advocate of the open-close book concept. Note that I don't say "dual screen". That is because my idea scenario is a single flexible display that is "dual" A5 portrait screens in the format shown above, but if opened fully it can also be a single A4/A sized screen when rotated 90 degrees. That's a challenge for flexible displays and electronics that will have me waiting a while, meanwhile I like these designs.

The active stylus/tablet combination is in my opinion a good one. Whether done by a Waacom-style (smarts in tablet), or a "smarts in the pen" method. Separate stylus and (finger) touch input and allow more advanced pen usage and combined use. just like you do with real paper!

My personal experience of using the buttons on a stylus has been very poor. It's not easy to hold the stylus in a comfortable way for writing and to be able to then press a button without changing grip and moving the stylus....I'd keep pursuing the goal of imitating a pen/pencil. e.g. switch it around to erase works well.
For pen color, width, type selection I'd have some two-handed twist selections or controls on the pen as they won't be done mid-stroke and need to have fine control and be seen clearly by the user.

Will MS have the moxy to release a "computer like device" that doesn't have Windows as the UI?
Recent Zune developments (and thinking about it, the Surface also) seem to suggest they maybe open to that idea, but I'll still be surprised if we see a device with a UI like this from MS in the near term.

Transparent OLED!

From Engadget coverage at http://www.engadget.com/2010/01/07/samsungs-14-inch-transparent-oled-laptop-video/

How cool is that!?

Anyone got any fun ideas for what it could be useful for?

  • Heads-up display on your car's windscreen - if they get the transparency up a bit...?
  • Watching for your boss coming while playing Solataire (or something less innocuous)?) :-)

It brings PC display privacy problems a whole new level! Even the guy BEHIND the display can see what you've got on-screen (providing he has a mirror, or Leonardo Da Vinci like skills are mirrored-text-reading)!

First look at future MSI dualscreen reader

From Engadget coverage at:

I like this design, which is reminiscent of OLPC XO 3 concepts. It can be closed like a book to produce a smaller sized device plus the screens can act as two separate screens with content from different works or pages, or they can act as one large screen (with an annoying split down the middle!).

MSI showed a larger model here, but I think that is too large and unweildy. So I agree with Engadget that this smaller seven inch concept is more interesting, at least as a eReader.

Only one screen in a touchscreen, so it can't do those scenarios shown by the OLPC XO 3 concept with two people face-to-face playing games.

It is apparently a multi-touch touchscreen with haptic feedback....but I'd need to try using it as a keyboard to know how it performs, that the importance of that depends a lot on whether you view it mainly as an eReader or as an UMPC/Netbook.

MSI seem to be leaning more towards the UMPC model by giving it an Intel processor and running Windows. There is no mention of hard-disk.

The design could support other uses, other software and a UI more suitable for reading and even different electronics more squarely focused on eReading.

It will apparently be on sale in less than a year.

I'd like to see a more lightweight design of this running something other than Windows, with:

  • dual-touch displays (face-to-face use, page turning on either side, etc)
  • longer battery life (than a Windows/Intel device can provide)
  • even thinner, maybe need to work on viewing angle
  • PixelQi or Mirasol display?

Spring Design Alex eReader

From Engadget coverage at

Another eReader provider partners with Barnes & Noble on the content front, this time it's Spring Design with their "Alex" eReader which apparently "inspired" the B&N Nook design - the parallels are obvious.

I'm not sold on these combined LCD-interactive-panel and E-Ink-reading-panel designs, but Engadget seem to like it, claiming in their hands-on that it is very slim and responds quickly. 

Watching one screen scroll rapidly though content and the other one periodically refreshing and giving you a "snapshot" of where the page was scrolled when it could be refreshed just re-inforces my doubts....but if it works for you, then go for it.

RCA Lexi

From Engadget coverage at:

AudioVox has launched the RCA branded Lexi reader at CES.

It seems a fairly standard spec-ed E-Ink device:
  • 6-inch (800 x 600) 16-level grayscale display
  • 2GB storage
  • battery life of some 7,000 page turns
A surprise is in store though as they have partnered with Barnes & Nobel for content.
It comes with the Barnes & Nobles Desktop Reader for purchasing, managing and reading eBooks.
It also supports PDF and ePub formats. 

Should be available in the US in May for $230

Fujitsu FLEPia color eReader escapes Japan for a vacation in Vegas

From Engadget coverage at http://www.engadget.com/2010/01/07/hands-on-with-fujitsu-flepia-color-e-book-reader/

Fujitsu's FLEPia has to date been the only color eReader (that I know of, and not counting Laptops and Tablets) on the market. At CES we are seeing two or three competitors to it's display being shown, but non are in the market yet.

Fujitsu have only been selling the FLEPia in Japan to date, so them showing it outside of Japan is a step in the right direction, if they still aren't announcing availability outside of Japan.

Notion Ink Adam (prototype) Tablet / eReader

From Engadget coverage at:

Design features a rounded left-edge to the device, reminiscent of the spine of a hard-bound book. But unlike a book it kind of wraps around, giving you a grip so that it can be comfortably and securely held, while you use the other hand to interact with it.

One of the first devices showing use of future PixelQi displays (see a later post on PixelQi news) that should give it full-color and interactivity when used with the LCD's backlight on, and excellent (reduced color or grayscale) readability and resolution in reflective (backlight off) mode - including outdoors. See Engadget video for an idea of that.
Glossy screen is not a good choice in my opinion, but I seem to be in a minority in hating glossy displays.
Check out the reflections in the video if you want to know what I mean! You could shave in that.
Engadget positively gushes about it in their second "In-depth" post, and they are usually a pretty tough audience.

The dual-nature of the display hints at the dual nature of this device, and (I think) other future devices to emerge as a result of the convergence of Tablet (computing devices) with PMP/eReader (media consumption devices).

Lower-power CPU running Android, Tegra low-power-but-good-performance graphics chip and the PixelQi display all should add up to good graphics performance with good battery life also. I won't repeat Engadgets speculation about batter life but wait for some specs offered from the manufacturer, but suffice to say that with that focus on battery life and what seems good component choices they should have a good story to tell in that area.
Capacitive touchscreen plus a touchpad on the back for controlling the device without obstructing content.
Seven to 8 seconds boot-up time is welcome. Not as good as my benchmark 0.5sec "wake-up" time every time I turn on my Sony PRS eReader to read, but not bad.

Multi-touch will (apparently) be in the final product but they claim it's disabled in the proto due to "issues". They also seem to have enabled gesture input for starting applications etc. Seems similar to work done by ex-colleagues of mine at HP Labs in India (which is open sourced by the way here).

Availability and Pricing
It seems it will be available in the second half of 2010, with final pricing to be given at the Mobile World Congress here in Barcelona in February.

Hanvon eReader

From Engadget coverage at:

Hanvon have waded into the eReader space with a range of five devices sporting some significant design differences around a similar display size.

They have focused on writing, annotation and note taking with all devices except one having a Wacom-like digitizing tablet incorporated and a stylus. This technology is significantly better than a pressure-sensitive touchscreen stylus. If you want to take notes well, this is what you should be looking for (pioneered in eReaders by the iRex device). Disadvantages are that it adds to device weight, thickness and power consumption (while stylus is in use).

A couple of their devices also have a (finger) touchscreen. I personally like the ability to use finger-touch and stylus-writing separately and together, where fingers can shift pages/content and pens write.....just like the real world...

They will be available in the US from Hanvon or OEM suppliers later in 2010.

From existing products and recent announcements some of the designs look familiar already....that's this crazy OEM world we all live in.

One of their images (Engadget Gallery here) made me thinks of kids scribbling on books as they read them. We will now be able to encourage kids to scribble their doodles, thoughts, ideas or anything on books as they read them, without affecting the original! They could even share their notes and doodles with other readers of the same book.
Isn't that great, I wonder if anyone has ever studied how that can affect their comprehension, learning and imagination?

HP Slate

From Engadget coverage at http://www.engadget.com/2010/01/06/the-hp-slate/

Not an eReader in the conventional sense, but a relevant product that can be used for consuming many types of media.

If your in the PC business, including Tablet PCs and mobile smartphones, can you avoid the emerging Tablet-reader....thru to ...eReader space?

Looks like the larger PC OEMs, HP-included, will not, but will come at the space from a PC angle...with Intel processors, running Windows and using a full-color, interactive LCD display.

Watch this space as the PC - Tablet - eReader - PMP convergence happens.

Quanta Tegra Tablet

A quick post on this Tablet from Quanta.

As I expect to see more and more convergence between larger tablet-form-factor PMPs (Personal Media Players), Tablet computers and eReaders I will be giving some more coverage to interesting Tablet devices coming out.

This device seems to show very good viewability and battery life even with an LCD display and could compete for viewing/reading of some types of content.

See more at the Engadget page covering it. If there is interest I may come back to this device later when there is more information on it, or when it's final and hits the market.



Here we have yet more Spanish-language-inspired naming, this time with a DRM-inspired name of: "Copy"!

I know someone will say it's news inspired (as in News-copy, Copy-writer, etc), but given the debate about content being (illegally) copied for viewing on these devices the name seems unfortunate.

They have in fact introduced an entire range of six somewhat dissimilar eReaders (three "Ocean" devices and three "Tidal" devices), and an eReading (find, buy, manage, library, etc) software platform. More reading is required to understand this and their "Open Platform" approach more.

If you can hear past the booming music in the video (why do they do that at trade-shows......allow us to talk and learn about products please!!!) they seem to be focusing on the social aspects of reading, and discovering content of possible interest to read with a combined "social networking / e-book store hybrid".

The design of the one shown in the photo above (a "Tidal" device) reminds me of the newer iRex  device's design, and they do talk about opening up the store/network to OEMs.

To see a range of photos of the devices courtesy of Engadget, go here.

I like the design of the Ocean range, with a metalic strip down the left side that reminds me of a spine, or binder, for a book, with the "pages" hanging off it on the right. If the space between the display and the edge of the device was even smaller this effect would be accentuated and the designs even more book-like in my mind. Although this one is not too bad!

If you've read this blog for a while, you'll know that I fixate on this "wasted" space around the display and that I want a device that is "all display" (in fact: "all content") with no wasted space.....so get used to it!

More on Que! (more what!?)

Well, there is more information coming in about Plastic Logic's Que (what!?) device. Just taking the ones from Engadget that I've been going through as a starting point, here are the sources and my impressions:


My first impressions

People love thin! Who can complain about that? Not the same sort of trade-off arguments we could have about display or device area. Thin is great....providing it doesn't bend or break due to that thinness.

Despite Engadget stating:
    "the 1 second-ish page refresh rate makes it pretty usable"
I have my doubts. 
In the videos I've seen it looks a bit on the slow side and not truly interactive. There were times while waiting for an update when I thought they hadn't hit the touchscreen.
The increase in display area is working against them and they have quite a few bits to render every time the screen changes all it's contents. But that is an area that they can work on optimizing in their software, and improvements in low-power mobile processors, flash and memory will all work in their favor, so I expect to see some improvements in this area over time.

Images and grey-scale graphics (see Magazine cover from in-depth hands-on video link above) look really good from what I've seen.

Recovering vocabulary
Maybe it will herald a new era for the recently maligned word "Plastic" where it becomes an acceptable, indeed sought after characteristic. 
         "It's great. It's so .... plastic"
         "It's so plasticky, it's great"
I wonder if we could design an eReader such that people marveled at how "paper-like" it felt (to read and to write on!)?

The "glass bottle full of ink" design-speak hasn't got me convinced that a piano-black glossy finish is the best for the bezel/body of the device. It's a magnet for finger prints, and we'll see how it fairs for scratches, especially if someone takes the device on the road in their bag.

Home Key out of place
From the video showing it's use in landscape mode I propose that they have the home-key in the wrong corner (assigning that turning clockwise to landscape mode is the "best" direction to turn it). The reviewed accidentally hits it a few times while holding the device and typing and sends him back to Home, out of his work, and places in Portrait mode. Locating it at top-left would be better in my mind, being less likely to be hit by accident and still "OK" to be pressed deliberately every now and again.

Plenty of space
With that big display and nice resolution there is plenty of screen real-estate and it's a luxury to have so much on-screen at a glance. 

Business documents in PDF or office formats look good, and no scrolling-and-panning to see it all. Even that big spreadsheet will be readable...

The UI looks pretty nice, but as they say: "the proof is in the pudding", so I'll have to wait to get the chance to use it to form a real opinion.

Rough Edges
I thought a saw a bit of roughness around the edges in the touchscreen operation, with touches not recognized, or gestures not interpreted. They openly talk about "spurious touches" which doesn't inspire confidence!

Apple has set a very high-bar in this area with the iPhone, and everyone is still chasing them even after years have passed.

It may take a bit more work to refine it's operation, but they should get there....maybe the first buyers will have some frustrations, or firmware updates will iron out any kinks in first versions.

If they do really get to a "light touch" touchscreen stage, then they may need some smart gesture recognition software and "palm/hand rejection" algorithms, as casual, unintended, touches could become very annoying.

Also, they force landscape rotation for some features, and force portrait for other, with no ability for the user to rotate contents. That is something I would allow the user to control (with or without accelerometer) and won't be surprised if they add it via software in the future.

SD missing
I am personally more and more coming to rely on SD (Secure Digital) as a convenient "sneakernet" way of moving Gigs of content around, fast and efficiently. 
I have SD slots in my phones (microSD), cameras, various laptops, various eReaders, even Nintendo DS via an adapter that converts micro-SD to Nintendo slot.

Small and light. No need to carry cables, no Host vs. Slave problems (USB!) no need for broadband connectivity (mobile, 3G, WiFi or otherwise) or the need to use something like Bluetooth (which I have on few devices) and no restrictions while flying or out of coverage, and off-course no charges.

Even "Mister Minimal" himself over at Apple has caved after a long wait and newer Macbooks have an SD slot!

So, I think the omission of an SD slot is an error that they should fix ASAP. It just works too well and is too convenient to be ignored. Most micro-SD cards (and mini also) come with a converter to full SD size and so no problem there. Provide a full-sized SD card slot and be done with it.