Saturday, July 16, 2011

E-Ink Touchscreens and font darkness, and Carnoy on 7" tablet rumor


Steve Bain, of the KindleZen website, whose @kindletoday Twitter posts of Kindle and other e-reader news from all sources and viewpoints are highly valued by many, sent a news alert to a story that explains why Amazon has been slow in coming up with a touch screen edition of their Kindle.

Nick Bilton, NY Times describes the challenges facing Amazon's Touchco company in making a touchscreen that retains the darkness and crispness that Kindle 3 users are used to.

During my blog article on "Nook Touch Screen contrast shots" from a Nook forum, in which a Nook owner attempted to demonstrate that the original Nook text was darker than the text viewed on the Nook Simple Touch (NST), I had wondered if the lighter fonts at normal reading size were an end-result of settings necessary for the new touch screen and then whether or not that was causing Amazon to delay releasing one, since the Kindle 3 has a reputation for high-contrast, dark, almost bold text, which can seem etched on the screen.

Nick Bilton talked with a person who "works with Amazon" but isn't authorized by the company to speak publicly, who mentioned a number of issues giving pause, during the last half year, on moving ahead with tablets and a touchscreen Kindle.

Among them was a side effect of the touchscreen technology that "it planned to use in the upcoming tablet."  [But Bilton goes on to talk about its use in the Kindle, since touch panels for the tablets are being made in China.]

 In February 2010, Amazon had purchased Touchco, a touchscreen company that uses a technology called "interpolating force-sensitive resistance" (IRSF), which uses embedded resistors sensitive to the force or pressure applied to touch points and is very inexpensive, but:
' ...engineers have had trouble integrating the technology into the Kindle e-readers because it can reduce the intensity and crispness of the screen. '

Since that is exactly what surprised me when I tried out the new Nook Simple Touch, I had wondered if some of the pictures of the new Google Books iriver Story HD e-reader were showing this reduction also.  The screens reminded me of the nicely thin fonts of the Nook Simple Touch in that they seemed also somewhat grayish in the way you see when there are shades of gray rather than just black against a display background which is essentially a light gray already.

Then we saw the review of the iriver Story HD e-reader by Melissa Perenson for PC World and other publications, in which she said:
' ...but its black tones lack the contrast and punch of the Kindle (and the Barnes & Noble Nook, for that matter)... I routinely found the light text to be an issue while reading.  Although the sans serif font -- the Story HD offers only one font choice -- rendered smoothly and lacked pixelation, the weak contrast meant that my eyes had to work harder to read. '

Nevertheless, I think most wouldn't find the somewhat lighter text a problem just as there are those who are able to distinguish between 6 or more different types of snow, and might prefer one type or another, and there are those for whom it all looks the same.

The photo that begins this blog article is from another thorough review of the iRiver Story HD e-reader, this time by Casey Johnston of ars technica, who uses the photo to show that the iRiver "packs text right up to the edge of the bezel, and the margin width can't be adjusted," -- but in that ars technica article, the caption for the preceding photo claims that the high resolution of the iRiver "makes the Kindle's display look sloppy." Yet, in the original-sized version of this photo, the text of the Kindle, at the left, is more readable.  Although the reviewer chose a somewhat larger font for the Kindle, both are within normal reading size and the Kindle's text looks darker.

While the iRiver text's level of darkness against the background looks similar, in photos, to the Nook Simple Touch's, the touchscreen of that Nook has wow'd many reviewers and buyers, and the "weak contrast" that Perenson mentions more than once for the iRiver e-reader, which made it harder for her to read it, will not bother most buyers.

  So, maybe Amazon's tech team will worry less about that aspect and release a touchscreen Kindle, having seen that the reduction "of intensity and crispness of the screen" that concerns them has not been a problem for the reviewers, for whom just being able to use Touch instead of a 5-way button is the key feature.  While I think that avid readers who read serial text (novels) for more than 1/2 hr per day are more likely to note the difference if they've seen the higher-contrast displays before, I think that readers new to e-readers and most gadget reviewers won't.

CNet's David Carnoy addressed this rumor yesterday, using the title: "Amazon's Nook Color killer shipping soon?" and writing (all emphases mine):
' ...But much less has been said about a smaller tablet, a 7-inch model, that the company has been rumored to have in the works.

Now Taiwan's DigiTimes, which we can't say is terribly reliable, is reporting that Foxconn will deliver the larger 10.1-inch Amazon tablet in early 2012 but that Quanta Computer has already begun shipping a 7-inch model to Amazon.

We've been hearing similar reports on that 7-inch model.  A major app and content developer who wished to remain anonymous told CNET that Amazon was on the verge of announcing the 7-inch tablet "literally any day now" and that it would be designed to at least partially compete with the Nook Color.  He added that he thought the 10.1-inch model would be released in time for the holiday season. '

Again, who knows? Many have been interested in the various rumors gaining steam, but a lot of this is often wishful thinking.  Still, David Carnoy is the only writer who has been predicting a new, smaller, touchscreen Kindle in September or so, and now that particular rumor appears to have been true.
  Since I'm one of those who is somewhat oversensitive to less-dark text fonts, I'm not sure I'd want one if that particular reduction in "intensity and crispness" is similar to what I've seen in current e-Ink touch-screens.  As one who blogs about the Kindle, I'd likely get one despite my reservations over these screens, to be able to report on its functioning and the various pros and cons.

  As regular readers are aware, this blog doesn't ignore what can be felt are less-than-ideal features of any Kindle.  See the May 2009 blog entry on the situation of an Amazon customer who helped resolve the strongly-perceived problem, for some, of "too-faint fonts" relative to the earlier Kindle 1.

  As with everything else, people's sensitivities just vary quite a bit, but the one thing that has met with agreement over the last half year has been the punch and crispness of the Kindle 3 Pearl screen's non-touch display.  I'll be very interested to see what the Kindle techical engineers are able to do with their touchscreen model.

See the ongoing List of stronger Amazon tablet rumors with dates, titles and links to the Kindleworld blog articles and sources.

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  1. The tablet market moves so quickly, Amazon'd be foolish to get a large stockpile pre-delivered from the manufacturer months before even putting out the press release about planning to sell one. By the time it'd be shipping the thing would be so outdated noone wants it.
    That's why the iPad is in constant backorder status, and every other major tablet out there is also hard to get. Manufacturers plan on releasing a new model every 3-6 months, after making and selling it for something similar.

  2. Anonymous,
    I agree. It could be that they were shipped some 7" for checking out and the rumors get started that way.


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