My Thoughts on Amazon Kindle 4

Amazon has been pushing its current version of the Kindle–Kindle 3–with lots of price drops and new categories like the “Kindle with Special Offers” which puts a bar of ads across the bottom of the Kindle screen while you’re reading. I’ve been interested in the Kindle for a long time because I love reading and I love ordering books from Amazon. But also, the Kindle uses a really special technology called e-ink. It’s not an LCD screen, but a “bi-polar” ink that changes color from white to black when it receives a tiny electric charge. This technology is amazing. It’s low-power and it’s not backlit, so it doesn’t hurt your eyes. It’s way more like reading a real ink-and-paper book than any other kind of screen. I’ve been impressed by it ever since Popular Science did an article about it more than 10 years ago.

There are a few drawbacks to the Kindle, however:
1. No touch screen. This means you can’t write on the screen like you can on paper,  so making notes in books is impossible. And to be honest, have you really read a book if you haven’t made a mark in it? See Mortimer Adler’s book, How to Read a Book, if you don’t know what I’m talking about. Ok, ok, the Kindle does allow you to make notes, but only typed notes, so how does that help us folks who underline, star and bracket things all the time.

2. No SD card slot. The original Kindle had an SD card slot–just like your camera, phone or other device. This meant that the size of storage was customizable at the user end of things. It also meant you take a huge file, throw it on an SD card using your computer at work or wherever and then read it on your Kindle. But now, no can do. To get something on your Kindle from your computer, you have to transfer it over USB. Boring! This is like 10-year-old technology or more. The reason the Kindle has this limitation is so that you are tempted to get everything you read on your Kindle through the Amazon store. Yuck. Ok, they do have a lot of free public domain books, but there are so many other kinds of things I’d like to read besides them.

3. No Color. The original e-ink technology is just black and white, with a little grayscale thrown in. Not so hot for our full color world. (I mean, when was the last time you saw a black-and-white TV?)

These are the reasons I have not bought a Kindle. But there are rumors out there about Kindle 4, no real information. However, I think we have reason to hope that Amazon Kindle 4 will have a color touchscreen. And that would overcome two of my three objections! But why do I say this? Is it just idle speculation. Nope. It’s based on evidence–very clear evidence in my mind.

The Eink company, which makes the screens for Kindle, is now advertising a new product–color e-ink displays that also act as a touchscreen. The new technology is called “Triton.” They have a PDF brochure which explains the new technology. In the brochure, they describe the new color display like this:

With the E Ink Triton color configuration, a thin transparent colored filter array (CFA) is added in front of the black and white display. Now the display can also reflect color. The CFA consists four sub-pixels – red, green, blue, and white – that are combined to create a full-colorpixel. The result? A low-power, direct-sunlight, readable color ePaper display that is mass manufactured in a practical way.

So the original white pixel hides behind four color subpixels that then combine to produce visible colord. I just want to know how they tell the screen which of the four subpixels to use. Here’s a little commercial from them on how it works:

Ok, but what about the touchscreen capabilities? Will I really be able to draw on the screen of a Kindle 4 with Triton technology?

Well, on the brochure, it says, “Touch-compatible E Ink technology enables pen or finger input which enhances
the user-experience.” Now I’m not entirely sure why it says “touch compatible” instead of just “touch,” but hey, who’s counting.

All this means that we’re likely to see an Amazon Kindle 4 with a color display and touch capability. But when? That’s another important question. I vote we’ll see it in 2012. A recent CNET interview the Vice President of Eink says they don’t plan to release any Triton-based e-reader in 2011. I’m still tempted to get a Kindle 3, but these new features to be released possibly next year, make me want to wait for the Kindle 4. I don’t think I’ll be disappointed if I do.

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