2009 has been an exciting year for readers and the readers who love them. Not only did we have a variety of new models with ever-improving features and technology, but also it has been a year in which the reader has really started to make its presence known to the mass consciousness. We have also seen prices driven down by the ever-increasing competition in the ebook reader market.
2010 promises even more technical advances and increased adaptation by the general public. I will take a quick look at what I feel are some of the new technologies that will make the most impact on readers in 2010.
Faster chipsets for readers will mean faster page turns and quicker and easier library management and navigation. Marvell has developed a new System-on-a-Chip that is much faster than the chipsets that current readers are using. Marvell’s Armada 166E SoC will not only triple page-turning speeds when compared to today’s readers; it also will help lower manufacturing costs, as it integrates features including WiFi, Bluetooth, a 3G modem and other features onto one SoC. This should help to continue bringing the prices of e-readers down.
Marvell’s Armada SoC is also designed to make fast renderings of high-resolution PDF documents, so we can probably expect to see improved PDF handling in next-gen leaders.
Marvell has partnered with e-Ink, which makes ereader display screens, to integrate their products. A few readers have already been announced that make use of the Armada 166E SoC. These include the Plastic Logic Que, Spring Design’s Alex, and the enTourage eDGe. I would also expect the next generation of Kindle readers to make use of this new chipset.
Flexible display technology as applied to readers probably doesn’t mean something that you can wrap around your wrist (though someone will probably make that too); rather I’m referring to shatterproof plastic-based displays instead of the relatively easily cracked glass screens found on today’s readers.
A more durable display is necessary to bring readers to children, Kindles for Kids, and to usher in the widespread use of readers in schools.
Several manufacturers are working on flexible e-reader displays, including e-Ink and even Bridgestone. Plastic Logic’s Que reader will have a shatterproof screen and is due out in the first part of 2010.
There are a number of manufacturers that are working on color display technology for readers. I don’t expect any of this tech to be in production until the third or fourth quarter of 2010, and it remains to be seen whether or not color readers can actually make it to market by Christmas 2010.
E-Ink, which makes most of the displays for the e-readers currently on the market, is working on color but has said it will probably be 2011 before it can bring a color product to market. Perhaps one of the most interesting color display technologies and one with the best chance of making it to market by holiday season 2010 is Qualcomm’s Mirasol. This technology, which was apparently inspired by the iridescence of butterfly wings, also has very good video capabilities.
Pixel Qi is based on LCD technology but has the ability to switch between transmissive (like a regular LCD) and transflective (like e-ink) modes. Production has already begun at the end of 2009, but devices using Pixel Qi displays have not been announced as of yet. Probably there will be a few at CES.
It remains to be seen if any dedicated readers will use Pixel Qi, but this type of display could serve to turn netbooks, notebooks, and tablets into very viable ebook readers. While using an LCD screen for casual reading is fine, the backlighting can cause eyestrain and discomfort when used for longer periods of time. Pixel Qi should have the capability to solve this problem.
We should see more multifunction and convergent devices with reader capabilities introduced in the coming year, and Pixel Qi displays will probably play an important role in this type of device.
An Increasingly Crowded eReader Market
Consumer demand for ebook readers will be increasing next year, and consumers will likely be barraged with a flood of me-too ereader clones with few standout features to differentiate themselves from the competition. While perhaps being confusing to the consumer, this increased competition between devices should help to bring prices down even further and continue to drive innovation.
If you will be in the market for an e-reader in the coming year, there are a couple of important things to keep in mind.
First of all, an e-reader is primarily for reading books – so if you are a serious reader you will want a non-backlit display that you can read for long periods of time without eyestrain. You also don’t want a device that keeps distracting you from your reading. Multipurpose devices are great, but in many cases, they don’t perform as well at particular tasks as do devices designed for dedicated purposes.
Also, keep in mind that an e-reader is only as good as the ebook stores that it is tied to. Most readers will have a good supply of public domain ebooks, but what about DRM’ed current titles? Currently, I think that Amazon’s Kindle store has the widest selection and best ebook prices, but that could change.