The world of the e-reader is big news. E-book sales have risen yet again: for the first quarter in 2012, digital sales rose by 89.1% - compared to the shrinking of the physical books market by 0.4%. A huge part of this was the increase in fiction sales, which rose by 188%. Increasingly, more and more people are going digital. Whether this is due to the ease of your entire library stored on a device similar in size to a sheet of paper or whether there is something else remains to be seen, but the market has changed somewhat from its beginnings. With the likely addition of new e-readers, perhaps in full colour, to the market, how will the market consolidate again? |
The Lure of the Amazon
Amazon is the biggest bookstore in the world right now. From its humble beginnings as a loss making bookstore, the company has grown to become the biggest go-to-place for all online goods, from clothing to computers and furniture to bicycles. Yet despite all this, it has remained true to the premise of the book store and in 2007, we saw the launch of the ground-breaking Kindle e-reader. After selling out in just five and a half hours, the Kindle has gone through a number of changes. Apart from the colour tablet, the Kindle Fire, these devices all have one thing in common: e-ink.
E-ink is a display that, instead of emitting light like the LCDs in tablet computers, reflects light like the page of a physical book. While this means that it cannot be read in the dark, it does mean that reading it puts no strain upon your eyes. The technology in e-ink is an electrophoretic display and the display is updated by rearranging charged pigment particles using an electric field. Currently, all the major e-readers on the market use E Inks technology to power their devices. However there is increasing competition from other rivals and this competitive charge has somewhat developed into a bit of an arms race.
Colour Me In
If you want colour as well as your E-Ink screen, then you’ll currently have to go for a tablet computer such as the iPad or one of the smaller 7” models from Amazon or Barnes and Noble. There is one major downside to this: they all use LCD screens. While this means that rich media is readily available and visible – on the high end tablets in full HD – it also means that, for reading, your eyes are going to get tired a lot sooner. Therefore, developers of e-paper have been searching for a colour alternative. This uses carbon-based conductive polymers instead of silicon or copper, producing items that are more flexible.
This has led to the development of flexible, almost indestructible organic screens which are now progressing into colour. The drawback so far is that these screens cannot display full video as of yet, delivering just 12fps. The colour is gained by placing a second layer of plastic over the first and filtering each group of 4 pixels through an RGB filter (the fourth remains black and white). This reduces the PPI of the device, but it’s a step in the right direction for the technology. One area that this technology really holds the upper hand in is its durability: the display can be dropped, stood on and even cut in half and it will still work.
With billions wasted every year replacing broken screens on mobile phones and tablets, this is a huge selling point for this technology. It’s inevitable that it will break through, the question is when.
Simon writes about technology, covering everything from flexible plastic displays to smart phones and new technologies.
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