There’s been talk of the potential for Kindle vs iPad conflict since months before the latter device was ever actually unleashed on the public. While I do believe that there was some degree of overlap between them for certain customers, the larger trend appears to have involved just grabbing both, if you’re going to get an iPad anyway. The Kindle is almost universally held to be the superior eReader, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the versatility of the iPad in any other way. Apparently Apple may have decided that this situation is less than satisfactory?
Recent reports of an Apple patent just recently made public have been causing a great deal of speculation about the future of this conflict. The proposed display would contain a standard(LCD or OLED) video layer underneath a form of electronic paper(similar to the Kindle’s E Ink display), with a touch interface on top. Perhaps the most interesting part of the proposition is that since the layers would be independent of each other and software controlled, it would be possible to operate both in tandem, in theory, to create an environment extremely conducive to web browsing and video-enhanced eBook reading without sacrificing the readability of the text itself. Thinking this through, however, I’m left wondering if it really addresses the shortcomings of the existing Apple tablet offerings with regard to reading.
I’m going to make the assumption that the electronic paper display that is noted in the patent’s design is somehow transparent when not in use. I’m sure that the technology for that is available, I was just still under the impression that it was not really ready yet. This would give the proposed design an “advantage” that many Kindle naysayers have been looking for for a long time: An E Ink-like screen with a back light. Of course, this also removes a major component of the readability improvement that is enjoyed with current eReaders. Even assuming that you could completely turn off the back light any time you wanted to, and I would definitely assume that this is an intended feature that nobody would think of leaving out, you would be left with text hovering on a transparent plane over a recessed background. Intuitively this seems awkward somehow.
My guess would be that this is meant more as a power-saving measure on potential future tablets than as a serious delving into eReading as a direct Kindle competitor. Think about an iPad with a week’s worth of battery life now that the screen doesn’t need to refresh large sections regularly unless the user demands it. That would be an impressive selling point. This would also address, though to what degree would depend on proper implementation, the complaints of readability in direct sunlight that the iPad has met with.
It remains to be seen what will actually happen, of course, and I’ve only touched on a handful of possibilities. For all I know, this could end up being an offshoot of the iPhone, a competitor for the Nook Color, or the greatest thing ever to happen to the eReading world. A patent just isn’t enough to go off of if you want definitive. Any move away from standard LCDs in portable devices with batteries is always going to get the benefit of the doubt from me, though.