Credit For Amazon's Ugly Kindle Should Go To E-Ink Maker - InformationWeek

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11/26/2007
05:46 PM
Alexander Wolfe
Alexander Wolfe
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Credit For Amazon's Ugly Kindle Should Go To E-Ink Maker

Buried amid all the bows Jeff Bezos is taking for Amazon's Kindle is some note of where the real credit for the electronic-book reader should go. That would be to E Ink Corp. of Cambridge, Mass., which developed the technology behind both Kindle and its far more elegant looking cousin, the Sony Reader.

Buried amid all the bows Jeff Bezos is taking for Amazon's Kindle is some note of where the real credit for the electronic-book reader should go. That would be to E Ink Corp. of Cambridge, Mass., which developed the technology behind both Kindle and its far more elegant looking cousin, the Sony Reader.As I wrote on these online pages in 2005, the electronic paper concept made practical by E Ink was beginning to catch fire.Seiko had just unveiling a watch in Japan incorporating E Ink's low-power, sheet-like displays. The watch was seen as a big step towards proving the practicality of E Ink's electronic paper.

Russell Wilcox, the president and co-founder of E Ink, told me at the time that notepad- and newspaper-sized units were the Holy Grail of electronic paper. That's what we have now with the Sony Reader and Amazon's Kindle.

"It's portable devices that make reading easier," Wilcox told me then. "It's 'radio paper,' the concept that you should have something the size and weight of a pad of paper that lets you look down and see a newspaper or a manual. You want to make it wireless to be able to access today's news."

For the science-minded, here's a quick explanation of how e-paper works, from Nicholas Sheridon, a senior researcher at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center who invented one of the three main methods for placing an image on electronic paper:

"Electronic paper is a paperless display medium that uses ambient light to project an image," Sheridon said. "It can be done with liquid crystals [or] by using black and white particles with different charges, or using beads that are black in one hemisphere and white in the other, which rotate in an electric field."

Harder than it looks, right? Not that the Kindle looks all the good. Quite frankly, it's ugly. Still, remember that the big deal with Kindle isn't Kindle itself. Like I said, it's obvious to all who have eyes that Sony's Reader is better looking. It's in the pricing and availability of content where Amazon has surged way ahead of Sony. Plus, Amazon is smartly throwing in that free wireless-download feature, envisioned by Wilcox.

Still, at $399 a pop, Kindle is way too pricey to be a mass-market device. Also, it lacks the coolness factor that's key to the youth market. (Besides, are kids really going to buy a book reader? Books? C'mon.)

Remember though that Amazon is smartly pushing blogs and newspapers as content which can be subscribed to and read on the Kindle. Indeed, I see this stuff as having much more potential e-reader potential than big old -- and very long -- books. Which leads to the following very interesting market question: What'll be the big blog reader of the future: the smartphone or the electronic-book reader?

In more accessible terms, that question becomes: Who wins, iPhone or Kindle?

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