June 13, 2011
The E-ink revolution
Legacy publishers and paperback publishers have good reason to be afraid, very afraid. I have finally seen an E-ink screen with my own two eyes.
I have three Kindle emulators/readers and two ePub readers on my computer. I've been coding and publishing ebooks for going on three years. In any case, I'm not talking about reading ebooks. I'm talking about the ebook reader screen.
This isn't some neato-keen gizmo, old technology in new bottles. It really is a paradigm shift.
Mention a grayscale display and I even I can't help thinking of my old Toshiba T1200 laptop with a 640×200 monochrome LCD screen. I'm not alone with this, hence the standard: "Who wants to read a book off a screen?" reaction.
E-ink really is much more like ink than any conventional LCD. To start with, the pixels are white and black--reinforcing the appearance of real paper--not black and "transparent."
My first reaction upon seeing a real Kindle at Walmart was that it was a dummy model plastered with a fake screen decal. I looked closer. I picked it up. It weighed less than a paperback. No, that was the real screen. And it was on.
E-ink is a "passive" technology. If you don't do anything, it doesn't do anything. It doesn't flicker, it doesn't refresh. It just sits there--like print. And uses precious little power doing so.
Press a button, and all those E-ink pixels haul their little butts out of one digital Barcalounger and plop themselves back down in another, which takes much longer than their LCD cousins. Don't expect E-ink video anytime soon.
That and the 16 level grayscale are the current technological limiting factors. Not color. Leave color to tablets for now. The immediate goals of ebook readers should be portability, format universality, and 256 level grayscale.
Plus an intuitive interface (the Kindle interface is a tad overcomplicated) and a price point that turns the product into an appliance and makes it disposable.
Once the book-buying public replaces their outdated assumptions about the capabilities of digital screens with the reality of E-ink, the paperback in particular will go the way of the LP. (And, yes, the LP is still around.)