Sunday, April 19, 2009

My Visit to E Ink

Last week I mentioned I was heading to our Cambridge office and had a meeting scheduled with E Ink, the company that makes the Kindle and Sony Reader displays. I wound up spending the better part of an hour with Russ Wilcox, CEO of E Ink, and got to see some very cool stuff.

I need to preface this by saying that the E Ink technologies I got a peek at are still a ways off. Don't look for them in a new Kindle version anytime soon. IOW, if you're thinking about buying a Kindle today but wondering if a new version is about to arrive with any of these display capabilities, forget about it! You're better off buying a Kindle 2 today, not waiting for this stuff to arrive.

First up, I saw a display that supports animations. You probably know your Kindle can't show anything other than static text/photos. A prototype I saw allowed for simple animations. I say "simple" because I'm talking about animated line-art, not video like you see on YouTube. Nevertheless, it was implemented in a manner that lends itself nicely to simple, motion-filled ad blocks on a portion of the display. Although the Kindle's content is currently ad-free, I'd like to see Amazon enable ad support so that publishers/authors will have a new way to monetize their content.

I saw several prototypes and all of them offered crisper renderings of text and graphics than what I've seen on either Kindle 1 or Kindle 2. And it's important to note that the animations described above were done without the need for the annoying reverse-out (and ghosting) effect we've all grown accustomed to on first- and second-generation Kindles.

Most importantly, I'm here to tell you I've seen a color display and it was very attractive. The colors were a little washed out but the clarity was excellent...and don't forget E Ink has plenty of time to address the colorization before a device ever ships. Like today's E Ink displays, the color prototype had no backlighting. As a result, I can see where it too will be much easier on the eyes than staring at my backlit LCD laptop all day.

So for anyone wondering whether progress is being made on color displays for e-readers, I'm pleased to report the answer is "yes." And don't be surprised if you see a post-2 Kindle display that's still monochrome but has more bells and whistles than today's model. Just don't look for it anytime soon!


goldeng8 said...

"...I'd like to see Amazon enable ad support so that publishers/authors will have a new way to monetize their content."

And animators/screenwriters, too, not just publishers & authors.

Chuck Smith said...

I sure hope they don't put animated ads on ebooks. They're annoying enough when trying to read articles on the web! Otherwise, sounds very cool. Color e-ink, bring it!

Karen said...

If my eBooks had animated ads, I would quit reading them. I deal with ads in everything else - I won't accept them in my books.

Joe Wikert said...

Not surprisingly, lots of concerns about animated ads (or any type of ads, for that matter) in e-books. Would you feel differently if it lowered the price? Maybe there could be two versions: One without ads at full price and one with ads at a lower (free?) price. Then you could pick and you'd have no one to blame but yourself!

Joe Wikert said...

Btw, I should point out that the animated ad I saw in the prototype was on a newspaper page, not an e-book page. It looked pretty darned normal there, probably because I'm so used to seeing the same thing on newspaper websites.

GJN said...

I agree with Karen, Joe. If ads ever come to Kindle eBooks, I'll go back to lugging paper books with me. It's not a question of cost for me; I wouldn't get an eBook with ads if i was paid to do it.

To enjoy a serious book and be respectful to its author requires a certain amount of concentration on the reader's part. Ads are designed to distract and to break one's concentration. As such they are antithetical to the purpose of a book.

Too much of our consumer-focused culture involves flooding our senses with images that eventually destroy our attention spans. Books and classical music have provided a refuge from this constant stream of messages and I, for one, hope they will continue to do so.

vhen said...

Entirely agree with GJN, even for newspapers. I can look at ads as I browse my paper. When I read an article, I fold the paper so as to hide distracting material. Online also, I scroll as much as I can to hide the bulky ads that have movement whose main effect is to prevent article content from sticking to your head.

Animation capabilities are great, but to welcome them just so that we can have ads in our content is a little short-sighted, methinks.

Why not look forward instead to the enablement of richer learning content by animations, for example?

Karen said...

Joe, I think ads on a computer screen or a newspaper are one thing. On a screen the size of a paperback page they would just be much too distracting.

Joe Wikert said...

Karen, good point. Don't forget though that the current display size isn't all we'll see in the future. Plastic Logic is one company who's going to use E Ink displays (I believe) and their prototype was the size of a piece of paper (8-1/2" x 11").

I have to say though that the animation I saw on the smaller display at E Ink last week was effective without being distracting. vhen also makes a good point above: We should not only be thinking about advertising potential for something like this but also the richer content opportunities it presents.

Anonymous said...

When ebook readers are sophisticated enough to display ads, they'll probably be sophisticated enough to run ad-blockers, like those found on most browsers today.

Jon H said...

"I have to say though that the animation I saw on the smaller display at E Ink last week was effective without being distracting"

You weren't trying to concentrate on difficult or complex subject matter, you were getting a demo.