When it comes to reading devices like the Kindle, E Ink displays are both the primary draw and the biggest marketing problem. On the one hand they allow for insanely long battery life and a reading experience as easy on the eyes as any paperback. On the other, they offer little advantage besides that ease of reading since the opaque nature of E Ink means that even optional lighting has not been possible before now.
Recent reports coming out of Seattle indicate that the next generation of Kindles will finally have built in lighting. While we have not had a chance to actually play with any, the technology reportedly being employed will involve front-lighting of some sort that can be controlled through the system’s menus. This both gets around the problematic opaqueness of the E Ink material and avoids doing so in such a way as to produce eye strain like that found when reading on an LCD.
This will be the first big step forward for either the Kindle or eReaders in general in quite some time. For the most part, the only think that differentiates the Kindle from its competition at this point is the integration with Amazon’s Kindle Store. Other than that the Nook Simple Touch is the slightly superior device and even the less well known competition is close enough to be comparable. E Ink Pearl has just been around for long enough that everybody who is interested has managed to adopt it.
Now it is definitely cool that we will be able to do our Kindle reading in dark or poorly lit rooms after all this time. It is even cooler to discover that it won’t have tradeoffs that negate the point of owning a Kindle instead of or in addition to a tablet. Most exciting for me, though, is what this means for the generation beyond what we’ll see this year.
The major shortcoming of color eReaders using displays like E Ink Triton are that, unless the lighting is close to ideal, the colors are washed out and dull. Once Amazon has some experience with including front lighting and has the implementation of a lighting layer down, there is no reason to think that they would have trouble adjusting to meet the needs of color displays. This would probably result in having a color/monochrome toggle that insisted on turning the lighting on any time you wanted your Kindle to pull up a magazine, but it would still completely change the color eReading marketplace and eliminate the need for LCD reading tablets.
All reports indicate that the newest Kindle generation is still in development phases while the company works on things like weight, battery life, and light quality. Even so, it is safe to assume that the Kindle 5 will show up before the end of the year. Should the Agency Model be eliminated as soon as as we now suspect it might be, Amazon will almost certainly celebrate that fact with a huge push in the product line. The coinciding release of a glow-in-the-dark Kindle would round that out nicely.