Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Kindle News: Front-lit Kindle said to be ready by July. Another tablet by the holidays. Possible Nook GlowLight light-layer fragility

The front-lit E-Ink Kindle reported by TechCrunch's Coldewey on April 8 as in development and seen by him is now reported to be coming in July.

At the time it was reported in early April, a front-lit Kindle seemed many moons away, but it could be that Barnes and Noble's release of its Nook GlowLight may have lit a fire under Amazon's development team, although I hope Amazon has found a way to avoid the lowered-screem contrast reported for the GlowLight.  Since that is difficult to avoid with a 2nd layer above the basic screen display, that'll depend on the technology used by Amazon.

A Reuter's report, written by Nivedita Bhattacharjee, states outright that
' Inc. will launch new versions of its Kindle e-reader and tablet, including a monochrome e-reader with front lighting, a source who has seen the prototype told Reuters.

The world's largest Internet retailer is aiming to have the new e-reader in stores in July, said the source, who has direct knowledge of the matter but asked not to be named because Amazon has not yet made the decision public. '

The source also said that Amazon "plans" to launch a new tablet "closer to the holiday season later this year" and it's "expected" to have a display of 8.9 inches, larger than the Kindle Fire but smaller than the iPad's 9.7."  The iPad 3 has the very high-resolution "Retina" display, and it wouldn't be expected that Amazon would match that, as it's costly and Amazon's Kindle Fire targeted audiences looking for a lower-cost tablet.  It would be a surprising change for Amazon to target Apple's iPad, which I think they've been careful not to do except to make it possible to view movies very nicely in the wider-screen 16:1 aspect while making Kindle books easier to read than had been expected on a 7" backlit LCD tablet.  But a tablet larger than the Kindle Fire but smaller than the iPad may be attractive to many who find the 10" too large but the 7" too small.

E-Ink Holdings' Chief Marketing Officer explained that they don't comment on their customers' launch plans.

The unnamed source adds that the new e-Ink e-readers would be launched in the touch 3G and touch WiFi versions and said that Amazon was likely to keep prices the same, maybe raising them slightly if at all.  Another analyst expected the added cost would be about $10, as "the component is not very expensive."  They tend to undercut the Nook prices when they can, though.

The source said there's very little chance of a color E-Ink reader being launched in 2012 despite talks held with E Ink, since no "concrete decisions" had been reached.

Another analyst quoted by Reuters saw the color e-paper product in a trade show in October and felt that it needed "a lot of technological improvements" before it would be used in a mass-produced product.

The earlier TechCrunch article pointed out that Amazon had bought a Oy Modilis, a company specializing in this technology, in late 2010 although this happened under the radar in that no one seems to have reported it, Coldewey said.  He added that he was told that this company is "the world leader in light-guide technology."  Since Amazon bought this company would it be exactly the same technology used in the Nook GlowLight?  Coldewey added, re the Kindle front-lit screen he saw briefly:
' [I] thought that the text looked better as well, but it’s possible that this was the result of improved font rendering and aliasing reduction, or perhaps something to do with the light...

... the whole point of purchasing the light-guide company was to get the team and their patents, which essentially laminate the light diffusion layer right onto the screen without adding much in the way of depth or interfering with the touch system.
  I was told the industrial design isn’t finished yet, but I ruled out things like ruggedness, waterproofing, or a flush-front screen — all things, by the way, I suggested they look into.
[Coldewey makes a good point there.  Gizmodo's Kyle Wagner, an e-Ink Nook fan, found that when he inadvertently dropped a remote control on the front-lit unit from about 6" above, the result was a "frightful little light tunnel" as well as scratches on the light layer.  Wagner's article is titled, "You Really Don’t Want to Drop the New Nook Simple Touch" but he is extremely apologetic for having dropped his remote control on it, leaving a "gash" and a "super distracting hole of light" like a "coffee stain on a page -- except it's on every page of every book you own."  Nevertheless, he felt the Nook is good and you shouldn't ruin "every one of your books with a single act of idiocy."

Then Nate Hoffelder of The Digital Reader referenced Gizmodo's article, titling his, "Here's why you shouldn't get the new Nooklit," which seemed too quick a judgment to some of his readers and he then tested his Nook GlowLight by dropping a set of keys from about 4 inches above it.  While the Gizmodo unit suffered only one light hole, Hoffelder's unit had 4 light holes.  Both writers have good images of the light layer damage, which is mostly not seen when the Glow light isn't used.

Another commenter wrote that he had returned his because the unevenness of the lighting seemed to make reading in low light conditions harder than it is with the backlit Nook Tablet.

Other commenters said people should use cases, but most don't use a case to cover the screen while reading.  It does make me wonder how Amazon will get around these problems.

Hoffelder then decided to try the key drop, this time from 6 to 7 inches above, on an Asus Transformer, a Samsung Galaxy Tab, a Kindle DX, an Innosoul Android tablet, and the Kindle Touch.  None of these showed any damage, he reported.

As I said on that thread though, the damage described in Gizmodo’s overapologetic report is to the light layer and not to the basic layer underneath that displays text and images.  The damage reported is to the top layer only, but that can cause the light to be unusable.]
It shouldn’t be any thicker, though it will have to accommodate the LED circuitry and presumably a larger battery.'

B&N claims two months of reading on the non-lit Nook Touch on one battery charge if reading only 1/2 a day on average.  But for the lit unit, it's one month at that daily reading rate, so the battery runs out twice as fast under those conditions.  That'll likely be the same for the new lit Kindle.

Photo credit and disclaimer:
TechCrunch's image at the top, left, is, they explain, just a concept image from Flex Lighting
and not a real device.

Current Kindle Models for reference, plus free-ebook search links
Kindle Fire  7" tablet - $199
Kindle NoTouch ("Kindle") - $79/$109
Kindle Touch, WiFi
- $99/$139
Kindle Touch, 3G/WiFi - $149/$189
Kindle Keybd 3G - $189, Free, slow web
Kindle DX - $379, Free, slow web
Kindle Basic, NoTouch - £89
Kindle Touch WiFi, UK - £109
Kindle Touch 3G/WiFi, UK - £169
Kindle Keyboard 3G, UK - £149
  Keybd: w/ Free, slow 3G WEB
OTHER International
Kindle NoTouch Basic - $109
Kindle Touch WiFi - $139
Kindle Touch 3G/WiFi - $189
Kindle Keybd 3G - $189
  Keybd: w/ Free, slow 3G WEB

Check often: Temporarily-free recently published Kindle books
  Guide to finding Free Kindle books and Sources.  Top 100 free bestsellers.  Liked-books under $1
UK-Only: recently published free books, bestsellers, or £5 Max ones
    Also, UK customers should see the UK store's Top 100 free bestsellers.

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  1. A couple of these articles claimed that the July release would be timed for "back to school". A glowlight for an e-ink kindle seems like an underwhelming "back to school" feature to me. The 8.9" kindle (presumably a KF "upgrade") would make more sense for schools. Maybe Amazon has given up on the professional/education market? That would be a mistake IMO. US publishing revenues are on the order of $30BN/year -- split about evenly between mass market and educational/technical/professional segments -- they would leave a lot of $$ on the table.

    I'm finding it hard to get excited about the coming release cycle. I don't see anything coming on the H/W front that others haven't already done (iPads, Android tablets, etc). Also with the coming of Ultrabooks, and Windows 8 x86 tablets, and W8 (called Windows RT) ARM tablets, the H/W landscape going into XMAS is going to be very busy.

    I'm hoping more for some innovative S/W announcements instead, and of course that perennial Amazon bellwether: lower prices :D.

    1. Edward, like you I haven't been excited to see a lit screen on the e-Ink models so I wouldn't get very excited about it, myself, but I think forum feedback (general and e-reader) has shown that tons of people really do want this, though it's a question of how much loss of contrast due to the light-layer above or even slight unevenness of light will be acceptable to most.

      The 8.9" tablet, if the source is accurate, is due by the holidays, and I'd rather them get this right than try to get it all in place by the Fall semester. I think that if Amazon hasn't given up on the professional/education market, the company is not going to admit it. They tend to work on things and then, pop. Lowered expectations work best. I do think they wouldn't make an 8.9" tablet unless they plan to give it more features than the first, basic Kindle Fire has.

      The current Samsung Galaxy Tablet 2 has a built-in SD card (which the Tablet 1 AND ipad3 doen't have) and of course can do network tv video of current series shows, which are in Flash. iPad friends are forever telling me they can't access features on this webpage or that, because Flash can't be run. They accept that.

      But if the new Samsung Galaxy Tablet 2 has a built-in SD slot right now, which the iPad 3 doesn't have, and can do Flash and already sells for $100 less than the same-sized iPad 3, I imagine Amazon will follow a similar route for their 8.9" (or 10") tablet (rumors vary).

      As we've seen with recent software changes (and no other reader matches the Reading View for web pages that the Kindle Fire now has -- a terrific feature!), they may well eventually have a product attractive to the school market.

      With this economy, schools cannot willy nilly go for the most expensive tablet and there are more restrictions on being able to share iPad books on other devices -- such as the fact Apple doesn't allow that kind of sharing whereas both Amazon and B&N do allow it.

    2. I read a couple of reviews of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 rev 2. Basically they said the product is underwhelming -- in many ways the previous version of the 10.1 has better performance. Thought was that Samsung is trying to follow what Amazon with the KF has taught us: price matters -- a lot. The 10.1 rev 2 is underpowered in an attempt to bring the costs down. Unfortunately for Samsung they cannot cross subsidize with content sales as Amazon has done with the fire -- hence inferior H/W in the 10.1 #2.

    3. Edward, yes. I read about 5 of those reviews this morning due to someone else wanting one. They made the display a bit less in quality over the older one that I have.

      It does have speakers in front (something I'd really like) and a built-in microSD slot (another item I'd really like, as would iPad users). With mine I have to carry or use an external one.

      Re the camera and focus, the reviewers don't seem to have used it enough to look at the 'tools' on the left, because they say this about the 10.1 tab 1 also. There is a spot meter that also causes autofocus to optimize it for that spot, and you can move it slightly to adjust it for surrounding areas if the contrast is too heavy. A spot meter makes all the difference in the world.

      The Ice Cream Sandwich OS is a plus, as there are new features that do sound good. Two of the reviewers did not like the 16:1 aspect of the Samsungs but I prefer these by far (as with Kindle Fire) because I use tablets for streaming videos online and it is a lot better with this kind of screen.

      Those who use these primarily for reading will tend to prefer the old 4:3 aspect ...


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