Pixel Qi is preparing to introduce new display technology that could change the way we interact with laptop computers, starting with 10 inch netbooks. The screens will combine a high contrast, low power ePaper mode with a fully saturated color mode. In other words, under some conditions you’ll be able to read the screen outdoors while using very little power, but when you need to watch a video or look at high quality color photos, you can sacrifice a bit of battery life to do that.
PC World raises an interesting point that I hadn’t really thought about. While I remain unimpressed by hacks that attempt to turn netbooks into eBook readers simply by letting you rotate the screen on its side, if you throw a Pixel Qi ePaper display together with a swivel that lets you fold the screen down over the keyboard, you’ll have an amazing eBook reader that’s a bit heavier than an Amazon Kindle, but which offers a similar high contrast display and far more functionality.
Amazon charges $359 for a Kindle. For that price you can pick up a netbook that lets you read eBooks, surf the web, edit spreadsheets, play games, and do much more. The goal is to keep the cost of Pixel Qi screens low enough that it makes sense to add them to low cost machines like the OLPC XO Laptop that will be distributed in the developing world. So there’s no reason to expect that the display technology will greatly add to the price of today’s netbooks.
This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad development for Amazon. Sure, the company is trying to sell a standalone eBook reader right now that might be obsolete by the end of the year. But the company stands to make a lot more money on eBook sales. And Amazon has already developed a Kindle eBook reader for the iPhone. I suspect if netbooks with ePaper displays take off, Amazon will come up with an eBook reader that works on Windows and Linux netbooks.
On the other hand, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe people don’t want or need a multipurpose device for reading eBooks. Maybe what they really want is a thin and light machine that fits comfortably in a hand and ways just over 10 ounces. And I don’t expect we’ll see netbooks that light for at least a few more years… if ever.