When you get right down to it, a new development in electronic ink technology is generally about as exciting as, well, watching a screen refresh. So it’s hard to blame a site like MakeUseOf for resorting to sensationalistic headlines to spice the news up a little.
“Don’t Buy an E-Reader!” the headline warns, exclamation point and all. Then it promises the low-down on “2 Upcoming Technologies that Kill the Kindle.”
So what are these technologies, and how much of a threat do they really pose? The first one is a reflective color-capable display called CLEARink. The breathless copy in the article seems to have been taken from a press release with miminal alteration, but if it can be believed, this CLEARink stuff offers the response time and color capability of LCD with the low cost and power consumption of e-ink. File under “sliced bread, comma, greatest thing since.”
The other new technology is a new system-on-a-chip called the Freescale IMX.7. Without delving as deeply into technical jargon as MakeUseOf, it promises to make e-ink screens refresh faster by clearing up an image-processing bottleneck that slows everything down. The article originally claimed this chip is used in the Dasung Paperlike Pro e-ink monitor, which gives it a refresh rate close to that of LCD. (Nate Hoffelder, who owns a Paperlike Pro, has subsequently messaged me that the Dasung Paperlike Pro actually does not use the Freescale IMX.7, and the article got that detail wrong.)
I’ve heard all these stories about amazing new display technologies before. The thing is, as I’ve pointed out before, the e-ink reader market has dwindled to the point that we’re not likely to see an amazing new display technology adopted into them. Too few people buy them anymore to make adopting new display technologies economical no matter how good they are.
The e-ink Kindle’s screen is more than adequate to the dedicated tasks for which the Kindle is meant—reading text on the screen and not much else. They’ve never even pretended to be useful for full-service web browsing. Amazon hasn’t bothered to keep the built-in “experimental” browsers updated, and I can’t even log into GMail or Inbox with them anymore (apparently they don’t like the three-factor “tap the button on your phone screen” authentication mechanism Google uses now). And by now, anyone who gets one doesn’t expect it to do anything else.
And these new display technologies don’t make existing Kindles any less easy to read. There are still people out there who happily read all the ebooks they want on their boxy, angular first-generation Kindles. My old Kindle Touch is still perfectly readable in sufficient light, and my couple-generations-old Paperwhite likewise in any light. While some books would look better in color (for example, Charles de Lint and Charles Vess’s sumptuously illustrated The Cats of Tanglewood Forest, which I read on Kindle the other day), the vast majority of text-only titles are just fine that way.
The thing about these technologies is, if they offer the sort of promise MakeUseOf gushes over, the article might have been better titled “Don’t Buy an LCD Tablet or Smartphone!” Because if CLEARink can display color just as well as and more cheaply than LCD, then it would be much better suited to supplant LCD in multi-purpose devices than to supplant e-ink in ones people just use for reading books. It’s those multi-purpose devices that are really “killing” e-ink readers, anyway, as people decide to carry devices that are “good enough” jacks of all trades instead of ones that do just one thing really well.
In any case, one swallow doesn’t make a summer, and all the marketing hype in the world doesn’t mean a new technology actually will be adopted. But if it does, I’ll be happy to see anything that makes tablets and smartphones cheaper, regardless of what effect it might or might not have on e-ink readers. If I could get a device that was as easily readable as e-ink that could also do color and video, at a lower price than existing tablets, I might not care what happens to e-ink readers after that.
(Thanks to Mike Ameden for sharing the link with me on Facebook.)
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