What do you do when a source known for posting incredible (and subsequently proven non-credible) rumors posts another corker? Just let it pass? Or cover it on the off chance that this time he might be right?
Last year, Michael Kozlowski’s GoodEReader predicted a Kindle Voyage refresh that never happened. In 2013, he predicted Amazon would open a retail store in Seattle within just a few months. (It eventually did open one there a couple of years later, of course, but given the timing I’m more apt to ascribe that to a fairly obvious guess than prescience. If Amazon ever did open a first retail store, naturally it would open it in its hometown.) And in 2011, the site predicted that Kindle would soon support ePub—which, as we all know, hasn’t happened yet.
And that’s just scratching the surface. But here comes another one. Yesterday, GoodEReader cited sources close to Amazon’s supply chain to report that Amazon is developing a color Kindle using electrowetting screen technology from Liquavista, who it acquired in 2013. Kozlowski adds in a comment that “The only uncertainty is the release date, but Amazon does have demo/engineering units of the 8 inch color Kindle in their possession.” This particular rumor hasn’t been mentioned anywhere else that I’ve yet seen.
It is true that we haven’t heard much at all about Liquavista’s display technology since Amazon gobbled it up. In fact, the biggest “news item” about it was an April Fool’s Day joke from The Digital Reader in which Nate Hoffelder also mentioned rumors of a new Kindle that turned out to be the decidedly non-Liquavista Kindle Oasis.
But then, that seems in keeping with the way Amazon does things. Amazon has a habit of buying technology companies for strictly internal use, as was the case when it bought warehouse automation company Kiva and terminated all its contracts with other businesses that used it. But is there really a big enough market for a color e-ink Kindle to make it worth Amazon’s while to crank one out?
Most ebooks people read—mass-market fiction—don’t even need color. Some non-fiction books would profit by it, but perhaps the biggest potential market would be the customers of digital comic company Comixology, which Amazon also gobbled up. But Comixology readers have already been able to read their comics in color, thanks to the tablet and smartphone apps that have been out for years now. Would being able to read them on an electrowetting screen be that much better than color LCD? Even if they would, how many of those Comixology subscribers would be voracious-enough readers that it would be worth their while to buy a whole new device, rather than keep reading their occasional purchases on LCD mobile devices or desktops? Would Amazon even consider it worthwhile to develop a color Kindle just for them?
This does assume that a Liquavista display would have the same major shortcoming as e-ink—slow animation speed—as modern color e-ink technology still does. However, even in 2013, it was assumed that a fully-developed Liquavista display could offer similar refresh rate performance to LCD, but similar reflective properties to e-ink. The problem at the time was that it looked duller, like e-ink, compared to the brighter, more vibrant color LCD—which was apparently why Liquavista went from owner to owner like a hot potato until Amazon snapped it up. But it hasn’t gone anywhere since then—and it’s had three years in which to advance its display technology further, freed of the need to demonstrate those advances to anyone except Jeff Bezos.
Calling the device a new Kindle instead of a Fire would make sense if electrowetting still has that dullness problem—Bezos would presumably position it like a similarly-dull e-ink Kindle rather than inviting direct comparison to the more vibrant LCD Fire. But still, it prompts the question of why Bezos would bother. It seems unlikely that the dwindling user base for e-ink readers would care much about color displays, or that the tablet-using audience would be interested in a duller display they could at least read in direct sunlight. On the other hand, Jeff Bezos has pulled rabbits out of his hat before—but then, he’s also had spectacular flops like the Fire Phone.
I may be giving this rumor a lot more credibility than it deserves, considering the source. Nonetheless, it is true that Amazon’s been sitting on Liquavista for three years now, and it must plan to do something with that technology or it would have passed the hot potato on again. I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see.
I still think “electrowetting” sounds like the reason why you’d need to change a baby robot’s diaper.