E-readers have become immensely popular over the last few years, although admittedly there has been something of a fall-off in sales since the advent of tablets. One problem that e-readers faced when put up against the tablet was the quality of the picture, a slower framerate and the lack of a good colour palette. E-readers just couldn’t compete with the quality of a tablet’s image.
However, in recent months there have been several advances in the technology used in e-readers, not least by Kobo, who revealed a ‘high definition’ e-reader back in March. Kobo’s Aura HD's 6.8in screen has a resolution of 265 pixels per inch, compared to Amazon's Kindle Paperwhite, which has a resolution of 212ppi on a 6in screen.
So clarity is getting better. But what about colour? This is probably one of the biggest factors in the fall in sales over recent months of e-readers. Most that use a traditional e-ink set-up are monochrome. It took the launch of the Kindle Fire to demonstrate that e-readers could be full colour. But even this hasn’t helped the e-reader to re-establish its once dominant foothold in the market. What could change the game now is the advent of plastic screen technology, as developed by R&D specialists such as Plastic Logic.
Why would plastic screens make such a difference?
One of the big attractions for devoted readers is that a Kindle, Kobo or Nook gives you the ability to carry around hundreds of books in a single mobile device. The principle of the e-reader is very much akin to the iPod, and that has been its attraction for thousands of consumers around the world. However, e-readers use glass fronts, and even Kobo’s recent development of a flat, edge-to-edge display still relies on a glass screen.
So why is a glass screen a problem? Well, it’s heavy and it’s fragile. While you may not be carrying around hundreds of books in your luggage when you head off for your holidays, that glass screen still makes an average e-reader heavier than it could be using a flexible plastic display screen.
It’s also vulnerable. Glass screens crack easily – a quick check on eBay will confirm just how many Kindles are for sale with a ‘damaged screen’. With even budget e-readers coming in at around £50, that’s an expensive weakness that could be completely negated by using an organic polymer-based screen that is far more robust.
These two weaknesses may not be the only thing that’s bringing about the untimely demise of e-readers, but they certainly play a part. And there’s a fix to these problems that could also be a valuable USP for the companies that sell e-readers – flexible screen technology. It’s designed to work with e-ink formats, and with new advancements in the inclusion of colour screens that are as comparable as their LED cousins, there’s no reason why e-readers shouldn’t see a resurgence of popularity in the near future. Plastic Logic’s CEO Indro Mukerjee sums it up succinctly: “Plastic Logic’s development of a colour flexible plastic display is particularly significant, since the same process could enable unbreakable, flexible display solutions with other media such as LCD and OLED.” Team up this technology with the existing e-ink format and you could revive the fortunes of what is still a very popular and practical bit of technology.
Verena blogs about gadgets and technology, covering everything from the latest mobile advancements to display technology. When she’s not online Verena enjoys swimming, cycling and travelling the world.