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.