Will Color E-Ink replace LCD Displays?

Apple's IPad2

Last summer, I wrote an article on the coming color E-Ink eReaders, and I predicted that they would be here in the first quarter of this year.  It's time to take another look at the market, because it doesn't look like color E-Ink eReaders is going to make my forecast.  What's wrong with those folks anyway?

What's wrong was the coming of the Apple IPad.  The market has changed.  No one ever thought that yet another tablet, the IPad, would have the revolutionary effect it has had on the market.  The rise of the IPad, and the gradual increase in size of some eReader's has the two markets overlapping with each other.  The difference between the tablet computer and the eReader is starting to merge into one market in the consumer's mind.

The tablet computer has started to replace both the laptop and the eReader.  In a November survey, Price Grabber, as reported in USA Today,  found that 79% of consumers would rather have a tablet then a laptop, and 72% said they thought that tablets would replace eReaders.  Wow, all this in less than a year.

Nook tablet

What factors are in play here.  Certainly the size of the display is a small factor, but it's not the real reason.  The real reason is that consumers want, and are use to, having color movies and video on their devices.  Entertainment sites offering video over the Internet like Hula, Netflix, and You Tube have made video over the Internet a want in the consumer's mind.  It's starting to be normal for Internet sites to have a video window showing some sort of entertainment, or advertising.

The eReader market between Barnes and Noble, and Amazon fighting the good fight, was under a lot of pressure to provide color eReaders, because of the IPad color tablet.  Since color E-Ink technology was not quite ready yet, both companies came out with color LCD displays.  Amazon with the Kindle Fire for $199 and Barnes and Noble with the Nook Color for $199, and the Nook Tablet for $249.  The lead feature for these devices is access to movies.  Amazon claims over 19 Million movies and TV shows available, and Barnes and Nobles claims movies and TV shows with access to Netflix.

Kindle Fire

Forgive me for my digression, but let's say you live 80 years, or 700,800 hours.  Your average movie runs 2 hours, I know that's high, but let's be conservative.  That means the most movies you could possibly watch in a lifetime given your watching 24 hours a day is 350,400 movies.  OK, let's say you only watch 6 hours a day, or 87,600 movies.  Who cares if I can have access to 19 Million movies?  Let's get real folks, the most you could possible see in a lifetime is a mere 0.4% of all the media out there.  Pretty unbelievable that there are that many movies in the world.

The eReader market is drying up.  Why? Because who wants black and white, if you can get color, and who wants to just have a color eReader, when they can get a color eReader with movies.  So now the choice is to buy a larger IPad2 for $499, a smaller Nook Tablet that fits into your pocket for $249, or a smaller color eReader for $199.  The capabilities of the tablet and eReader are gradually merging to become the tablet computer, which also is an eReader.

But wait a minute folks, what happen to those features that made the eReader take off, that made people want an eReader over a computer?   Certainly size and weight were in the eReader's favor, but the big feature was the ability to read your eReader at the beach in direct sunlight, and the fact that reading a book on the eReader was easier on the eyes than that bright backlit LCD display.

Qualcomm's Mirasol display

Are these valid?  I reckon I'm on a computer about 16 hours a day.  That means I'm staring at an LCD display 16 hours a day.  I don't often think about eye strain.  It's like I don't have a choice, I want to look at the computer display.  Now I admit I do take measures to ease the bright white, glaring, background.  For example, the editor I'm writing this article with, and all my editors, have a blue-black background with lime font color.  That stops that bright white background glaring at me all day.  Is eye strain now a non-factor?  I think so.  I can adjust my color displays for my desired colors and brightness level.

What's wrong with color E-Ink?  Simple, no video, and until video is available color E-Ink will never be bigger than the LCD display.  Yes, color E-Ink will be easier on the eyes, and yes, you'll be able to read color E-Ink in direct sunlight, which is a problem for LCD displays, but without the video, it will not be the consumer's favorite display.


Samsung's Liquavista

The question is when will color E-Ink be able to show movies?  At this time, the color E-Ink displays are not quite ready to refresh their screens fast enough to show video.

There are three main competitors trying to become the first with Color E-Ink that can show movies.  E Ink the company which makes the current Kindle black and white display makes a Triton color display.  Qualcomm's Mirasol technology all ready is in some eReaders, and Samsung's Liquavista technology is in some mobile devices.  These companies are working hard at overcoming the video problem along with a slew of lesser companies working on related technology.

Triton E Ink Display

There is a huge market for color E-Ink displays, and if color E-Ink with movies happens, some company is going to make a lot of money.  The company that's first to market, or the company with significant better image quality, that can view movies with a color E-Ink display will replace all of the LCD displays on the market.  Why?  Two reasons, back to the origin of the eReader market, the display will be easily viewed in sunlight, something that is not available with  LCD  technology, but more important, color E-Ink displays will use considerably less power than the LCD displays.  Instead of 10 hours on your tablet's battery, you'll get a month with color E-Ink displays, a big plus.  That alone will make people switch to the devices with the newer displays.

We're not quite in a Beta versus VHS battle, because both of those formats matured at the same time and released a lot of product before the battle was won, nor are we in a Blu-ray vs HD DVD battle, which was solved by the HD DVD supporters giving up.  I think this is different, this is new technology trying to unseat entrenched technology.  Not quite a battle yet, but the stage is set, it's certainly going to be entertaining.  Any one for some popcorn?


Will Color E-Ink replace LCD Displays? — 6 Comments

  1. Qualcomm has decided to stop production of their Mirasol display despite having 4 Asian companies use them and acquiring Pixtronix in January to improve on their display. They just plan to license the technology. So the major players now are Samsung Liquavista and E-ink Triton who recently acquire SiPix to enhance their tech. Pixel Qi is also competing but they are a totally different technology (a hybrid epaper/LCD display). Unless the rumor of Amazon coming out with a color ereader with Triton2 display this November, I think Samsung will be the first to market a color eReader and it will be in the 1st Q of 2013. I hope so because I’ve been waiting for a while!

  2. e-ink uses “considerably less power” because the battery is only used to change the display which, when reading a book, tends to only happen once every couple of minutes, for an hour a day (e-reader manufacturers’ estimated usage). That “month” of battery life only adds up to around a thousand screen refreshes.
    If an e-ink is showing video, it will have to update at least 24 times per second, so current if current e-readers could refresh that quickly, their batteries would only last about a minute!

  3. I hate carrying around a bunch of devices.  But there are times when e-ink readers really shine, like when I want all-place or all-weather reading or maximum portability.  Other times,  I prefer a multi-purpose tablet.  It would be awesome to have the best of both worlds.

  4. I’m with you. I don’t want a single device that does everything pretty good. I want a dedicated e reader (that comics look great on) that works in the sun, has an incredibly long battery life, and that can run some very simple apps (appt book, email, blog reader etc). So my specifications require color e-ink. I just hope there is a whole market on my side. 
    What the color e-ink screen makers should be doing is trying to get indy comics on board before they sell it to the device makers. That’s one market that is way more suited to this type of device than any other.