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Is Color eInk a Game-Changer?

My answer to that question is "no", and here's why...

Approximately 3 years ago I got a tour of eInk's facility in Cambridge, MA. During that tour I got to see a few prototypes of future eInk products. One of them featured a standard greyscale display but a quarter of the surface area was able to show simple animations. (And by "simple" I mean moving stick-men, not videos!) Another one was a color eInk display but it looked very washed out. The colors were there, sort of, but they weren't anywhere near as vibrant as what you see on a backlit display like an iPad or your laptop screen.

Last week's TOC NY event featured a "digital petting zoo" where we showcased almost 40 different devices for attendees to test drive. One of those devices (from Ectaco) featured a color eInk display. I can honestly say that the color display I saw last week looked pretty much the same as the prototype I saw three years ago. It's still quite washed-out.

Is color eInk today better than gresyscale eInk? Absolutely. I'd much rather have some color on the screen than none, even if it's not as crisp and bright as a backlit display offers. But is it worth a premium over greyscale eInk? I don't think so.

Rumors are floating around about Amazon supposedly getting ready to release a color eInk device. My question is simply this: Why? If it's going to replace their existing greyscale eInk devices, like the Kindle Touch, that's great. But if they're planning to have a color eInk device sit between the Touch and the Fire it seems like they're splitting hairs. On the one hand, I'm sure some customers would love to have a color device with the longer battery life eInk offers. On the other hand, don't kid yourself into thinking a color eInk device will replace a tablet. After all, the only animation I've seen on an eInk display was on a prototype that apparently never saw the light of day...so that means color eInk won't support many of the games and other apps that have become so popular on a tablet. It's just a dedicated e-reader with washed-out colors.

It's entirely possible color eInk technology has progressed in the last year or so. If that's the case all bets are off. But if the Ectaco device is any indication I don't think a color eInk device from Amazon will be a game-changer.


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