Apple iPads and Barnes & Noble Nooks have rich, colourful screens, but their LCD screen technology drains battery power and sunlight renders them almost impossible to read from.
That's 90% of e-readers are light, low-power, and readability-focused—they use E-ink technology. The only problem? E-ink is two things and two things only: black. And white.
However, this week at the FPD International 2010 trade show in Tokyo, a Chinese company will announce a color display using technology from E Ink, according to the New York Times.
“Color is the next logical step for E Ink,” said Vinita Jakhanwal, an analyst at iSuppli. “Every display you see, whether it’s a TV or a cellphone, is in color.”
Jennifer K. Colegrove, director of display technologies at DisplaySearch, said it was a milestone moment. “This is a very important development,” Ms. Colegrove said. “It will bring e-readers to a higher level.”
However, the Times rightly points out that the new color E Ink display, "while an important technological breakthrough, is not as sharp and colorful as LCD." The vibrancy of colours are inferior in E-ink screens, and it cannot handle full-motion video.
These are reasons Amazon, Sony and the other major e-reader makers are not yet embracing it. Amazon says it will offer color E Ink when it is ready; the company sees color as useful in cookbooks and children’s books, and it offers these books in color through its Kindle application for LCD devices. Sony is also taking a wait-and-see approach.
“On a list of things that people want in e-readers, color always comes up,” said Steve Haber, president of Sony’s digital reading business division. “There’s no question that color is extremely logical. But it has to be vibrant color. We’re not willing to give up the true black-and-white reading experience.”
But, in the end, readability is the most important factor in an e-book, which is why E-ink technology is adopted by the extremely successful Amazon Kindle, among others, including the Sony Readers product line. Because, after all, colour is nice, but the books we read in real life are black and white and we've never complained about that.