For some time I’ve been discussing the inevitability of products that represent various cross-breedings of eBook readers (EBRs) and netbooks. The first wave of those products are here. Two of the most interesting are Plastic Logic’s QUE proReader and Spring Designs Alex Reader. The QUE has a large E Ink display and is optimized for accessing and working with large numbers of business documents and periodicals. The Alex runs the Android OS and browser on a 3.5-inch, half-VGA color LCD that supplements the 6-inch E Ink screen that has been the de facto standard for Gen 1 EBRs.
Senior Analyst and Editor
Both the QUE and the Alex must deal with the limitations of electrophoretic display (EPD) technology — the technology that underlies both the E Ink and SiPix approaches — while leveraging its strengths. The strengths are light weight, very low power consumption, thin profile, and ruggedness. The limitations are lack of color (at least for now) and slow refresh, which is not a problem for the EBR’s basic task of reading pages of text, but is a serious limitation for more computer-like applications.
The QUE has a powerful platform for accessing and managing documents, and doesn’t try to perform functions that are beyond the capacity of an EPD. But it does utilize the ability of an EPD to be large (8.5×11 inches in the QUE’s case) while still being light, thin, and energy efficient.
The Alex uses its auxiliary LCD for browsing and computer-like functions, and restricts its touch features to the LCD. By not having a touch overlay on the EPD, the EPD’s paper-like matte surface is preserved. This is clearly an interim solution. What the industry is looking for is a full-color, reasonably fast, ePaper display.
Until recently, I saw such displays as successors to conventional monochrome EPDs. It is now clear that some major players are seeing them as successors to color LCDs in significant portable products.
At CES I saw the latest iterations of three such displays we have been tracking for some time: LiquaVista’s electrowetting display, Qualcomm MEMS Technology’s mirasol display, and Pixel Qi’s unusual transflective LCD.
LiquaVista has moved forward rapidly since wisely deciding to move directly to eBook displays instead of using wristwatch displays as a steppingstone. Electrowetting is a low-power technology that is capable of video rates. At CES, the company showed a color version that looked surprisingly good for a color-filter display. Power consumption for a 6-inch monochrome EBR display is 50 mW static; 150 mW for 60Hz video said LiquaVista CTO and founder Johan Feenstra.
The electrowetting mechanism is fast enough for frame-sequential color, and Feenstra is looking toward a transflective solution in which a monochrome reflective display is combined with transmissive FSC. "Think of this as LCD 2.0," Feenstra said. He said he’s talking to leading panel makers who see it that way, and not just for EBR applications.
There’s more to be said about the LiquaVista display, and a lot to be said about the new Qualcomm MEMS Technologies (QMT) 5.7-inch color XGA mirasol EBR-display prototype, and the novel Pixel Qi transflective display. We now know enough about the Pixel Qi display to actually say something interesting. And we will say it in the in the forthcoming issue Mobile Display Report.