E Ink Does Well This Holiday Season

It’s possible that this goes without saying, but the huge jump in sales of the Kindle has resulted in some major benefits for their screen producer, E Ink Holdings.  E Ink, for those who are unfamiliar, is the company that currently drives the eReader market with its durable, low-power, highly readable displays, and is used on both Amazon’s offering as well as the original Barnes & Noble Nook.

Projections regarding E Ink Holdings are indicating that the company is likely to post better than expected profits for the fourth quarter of 2010, in spite of the fact that earlier estimates already placed them at a 60% improvement over the previous quarter.  Overall, it’s been a good year for them, it seems.

Even better, for E Ink and for fans of eReaders in general, 2011 is looking like it will be anything but a plateau for the industry.  Analysts are anticipating as many as 22 million sales this year, up from slightly fewer than 11 million in 2010.  It only makes sense.  Sales are up, prices are down, selections are only getting better, and people are starting to finally get over the idea that Tablet PCs will negatively affect the eReader market.  E Ink themselves claim that one in ten consumers already have an eReading device, which is definitely a persuasive factor for many potential customers.  A large user group, few of whom have complaints, means a reliable product, after all.

Moving forward with existing screen technology isn’t all that e Ink has going for them, either.  Recently, especially since the introduction of the Nook Color, people are thinking that color displays on eReaders are just ever so slightly over the horizon.  I’d tend to agree, personally.  The offering along those lines from E Ink is their Triton display: a color active matrix display that uses the proven tech we know and love, adapted to show us thousands of entertaining color combinations.

This, assuming it takes off in the face of competition from other widely anticipated display products such as Mirasol’s product, will allow eReaders using the new display to take on things like textbooks, cook books, books for kids, and any number of other types of books traditionally relying on colorful illustration.  Is anybody else looking forward to digital copies of Where’s Waldo?  I know I am!

For now, the Kindle is doing amazingly with the E Ink Pearl screen technology and manages to stay consistently on top of the market.  The screen clarity and contrast is unmatched, so far as I’ve experienced, and it lends itself to battery life that is almost too good to be believed compared to anything we’ve seen previously.  Also, it doesn’t hurt that it’s a non-backlit option for reading which most (though yes, I know not all) people who give it a chance tend to appreciate.  It’ll be fun to watch where things go from here, but it’s hard to deny that they earned the success they’ve gotten so far, or that things are looking up for the very near future.

Kindle 3 Positive Reviews Summary

In case you haven’t read Kindle 3 reviews I’ve published before, here they are:

  • Original Kindle 3 review (July, 29th) – largely based on official Amazon press release and personal speculations.
  • Kindle 3 review round-up from online media (August, 6th) – summary of opinions from sources.
  • Kindle 3 review (August, 28th) – my personal hand-on review of the device with battery life estimations, screen contrast comparison, partial disassembly and other useful bits of information.
  • Kindle 3 review follow-up (August, 29th) – some minor things I forgot to mention in the original review, comparative screenshot of different typefaces of Cyrillic characters and in-depth look at some of the negative reviews on Amazon.com

This time around I would like to focus on positive Kindle 3 reviews people left on Amazon.com so far. There are 151 positive reviews on Amazon.com out of 168 total reviews right now. Of these 151 reviews, 124 gave Kindle five out of five stars.

Reviews are split almost equally between Kindle 3G + WiFi and Kindle WiFi Only so both versions sell equally well.

I have read though most of the reviews and compiled some numbers which indicate what users like about Kindle 3.

Screen seems to be the biggest hit as it’s mentioned 150 times in all of the reviews. While people who previously owned eReaders mostly note the improved contrast, those who didn’t have eInk device before are very enthusiastic about how comfortable it is for prolonged reading.

Next big thing is the size. There are 94 mentions of how small the device is. Again this aspect is equally appreciated by both long time eBook reader adepts and new converts.

After that comes improved browser with 68 mentions. In this case, positive feedback is mostly in the form of comparing to Kindle 2 “basic web”.

Surprisingly only there are only 43 mentions of weight.

Then come 39 mentions of WiFi, which mostly note speed improvement over previous generation 3G connection and different font options.

There are very few mentions of magazines and newspapers in these reviews (only 7 and 8 correspondingly). Reviewers don’t seem to care much for this aspect of Amazon Kindle. Although personally I never liked dead-tree paper newspapers because they were bulky and messy and get most of my news from online sources it’s still nice to relax and read a well written article in WSJ without the temptation clicking on any of the gazillion links that websites offer.

Here are some quotes from specific reviews that you can check out:

Kindle vs. Nook:

If you’re trying to choose between a nook and a kindle, perhaps I can help. My wife and I bought a nook, a kindle 2, and a kindle DX last month, just days before the kindle 3 was announced. After using them intensively for a few weeks, we returned them and pre-ordered two kindle 3’s, which we have in our hands now. We’ve each read a few chapters and a few newspaper articles on our kindle 3’s and are very happy with them, so far.

K3 is perfect:

The size is absolutely perfect. In the Amazon cover, it is exactly like reading from a paperback book. It’s noticeably lighter and easier to hold for reading, even with arthritis in my hands. The page turn buttons are wonderful. Almost no noise, and you don’t have to push them as hard. It should make it much easier for those with weak or disabled hands. I also like have next page and previous buttons on both sides. I didn’t think it would make a difference to me, but it really does.

K3 Even Better than its Predecessor:

My wife and I share a last gen 6″ Kindle and just received a new 6″ display K3. I know, Amazon doesn’t call it that, but how else can users refer to it? In twenty words or less, it is an improvement over an already excellent product. Smaller, but not too small to be held comfortably. Same size display, but sharper and crisper, better contrast. Easy to use, somewhat smaller keyboard that takes a little, but very little, getting used to. It took me a few hours to stop accidentally pressing some neighboring keys, but now using the keyboard is second nature. And the page turning buttons are silent, but have sufficient tactile feedback, excellent feel.


Improved eInk Displays

Well, the news of the day revolves around the recently announced improvements to the eInk technology.  Honestly, it looks like good news.  I know, many people are holding out for color, but this is still something to be excited about.

According to information from the recent Red Ferret interview, we’re looking at the potential for significantly higher contrast and refresh rates on eInk displays being made available by the end of the year, as well as some noticeable improvements in durability not too far off beyond that.  Comments were made regarding the potential for animation now that the refresh rate has been improved so significantly, but we can probably take that as more of an example case than a real goal for the technology.  Maybe for scrolling effects?  I can certainly see those being a major boon for eInk based web browsers, if nothing else.

Anyway, good news for the future of eReaders in the face of the increasing competition from the tablet market.  It comes at an especially good time, we can hope, with the prevailing opinion being that the next generations of both the Kindle and the nook are probably coming in the next year or so.

eInk in the Military

I’ve always been fascinated by the way in which new applications drive new developments in technologies.  What’s got me interested today is the military applications of eInk.  The potential benefits are clear.  Low power draw, huge standby times, clear to read in pretty much any conditions, and far more durable than your average LCD.  If production costs on the material itself can be driven down sufficiently, this technology could significantly reduce the average infantry load of batteries and equipment at a reasonable price without costing functionality.

HP’s prototype, according to the Wired article on the subject, should be available starting next year.  They have some thoughts on how to make the production more efficient, the basic idea being to use the flexible nature of the material to print continuous runs of the displays instead of small batch jobs.  Take these, power them with portable solar panels sewn into fabric to charge on the go and you’ve got some really impressive versatility.

This excites me as a consumer, honestly.  Yeah, I’ll still want a Kindle or something similar for reading books, but the idea of my next road trip’s GPS being something I can strap to my wrist and forget about when it isn’t in use is quite appealing.  A decade ago we started having entertainment technology that was small and thin enough to conveniently fit in a pocket, a decade from now we may have some that can be sewn right into things.  Definitely a fun idea.

eBook emphasis plays to iPad’s weaknesses.

In an bizarre way, people seem to be looking to devices such as Apple’s new iPad as the future of electronic book technology.  This seems…shortsighted.  Let’s take a moment to look at a couple of the major complaints people have had regarding eReader adoption.

The lack of the “feel” of a book while reading is a very common theme.  Nobody can deny that a Kindle in your hand isn’t quite the same thing as a paperback.  Fortunately, after a few minutes of reading, the weight and display size are close enough that you hardly care.  What are the chances this will prove true with a 1.5lb half inch thick tablet?

As a tablet, we also have to consider the fact that eInk isn’t involved.  For many people this will initially seem a good thing.  After all, what complaints about the Kindle don’t begin with the words “no color screen” or “slow page turns”?  As anybody who has spent some time with the Kindle can tell you, however, the perception of “staring into a screen” that so many people are concerned with never seems to arrive with the eInk screen.  Will the benefits outweigh the loss for iPad owners?  How many people do you know who can spend hours a day reading books on their laptop?

Sure, Amazon is hedging their bets with the new Kindle software app for the iPad, but it seems unlikely that it will end up being necessary in the long run.

Kindle 3 to have 9.7″ eInk display?

Jesse Vincent who spends a lot of his time hacking Kindle 2 and digging around it’s source code has discovered something potentially interesting:

from rcS.d/S05video_primary_init:


Does this mean that folks in lab126 are playing around with larger screens for next generation Kindle 3? Could be… There are some rumours circulating the web about next generation Amazon Kindle possibly being available this fall (holiday season 2009).

I promise to collect more rumors about Kindle 3, verify them, crosscheck and post a summary here soon enough.

Touch screen Kindle could be on its way

PVI touch screen KindleHave you ever wished that you could use a stylus to write notes on a page or use your fingers to turn the virtual page on your Kindle? well your wish might be about to come true, the company which supplies Amazon with its Kindle EInk displays, PVI (Prime View International), has partnered with a company called F-Origin (of which it owns a 20 percent stake) to incorporate zTouch, a proprietary touch screen technology, into EInk display panels.

From the F-Origin press release:

The functionality and flexibility in design provided by zTouch is the perfect solution for ebooks and other products that utilize PVI’s ePaper displays. zTouch enables users to control book navigation and numerous management functions, such as turning pages, making selections or simply making edits or comments via touch and through gestures and hand writing recognition. The ease of use and high-functionality of zTouch are an ideal match for eBooks by PVI.

From the separate PVI press release:

When a user touches the display, proprietary software calculates the location and intensity of the touch with input from the sensors. There is no additional layer of materials on top of the display as there is in traditional touch technologies; as such, there is no impact to the reflective qualities of the display. This technology requires no ITO (the most fragile component in traditional touch panels), hence exhibits superior robustness. Unlike capacitive touch panels which requires the touch medium be conductive (such as a finger), this force sensing technology works with either stylus or fingers

You can read the full accompanying press release from PVI’s perspective on their website and you can read up on the zTouch 3.0 Technology [PDF warning] with this product information guide provided by F-Origin.

What does this mean? will the next Kindle offer a touch screen interface as standard? The Kindle isn’t mentioned by name by either PVI or F-Origin in the press releases, but its hard to see this technology not making it onto any future incarnation of the Kindle. These certainly are interesting developments and would strongly suggest that Amazon is working on a Kindle v2.

Source: Teleread