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.

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14 replies on “Could netbooks with ePaper screens spell the death of single purpose eBook readers?”

  1. ActuallyI don’t see the point of e-paper.

    Software can enlarge the font and do variable speed automatic scrolling. You don’t even have to hold the netbook. Just stare at the screen while the text scrolls up.

    The problem with the Kindle is that it doesn’t fit in a pocket. I use an Archos PMA400 as an e-book reader, it fits in my pocket so I can just pull it out whenever I want.

  2. Yes and no. I mean, I never grasped the appeal of an “e-reader” myself (I mean, doesn’t every other device in the world, from a DS to a MacBook Pro let you read ebooks?) – *until* I realized that the Kindle comes with lifetime always-on wireless Internet. That’s the (only) appeal of the Kindle to me. I mean, think of how that will pay for itself many times over if you use it for years.

    I’d love a dual-mode screen on a netbook. I don’t know that it would steal people away from the Kindle – but it would be a very cool feature – and would probably steal buyers from other non-lifetime-Internet-offering-ereaders.

  3. YES YES YES! 🙂
    Great that Pixel Qi are finally giving us some photos. I am completely convinced that Netbooks with e-ink-ish screen modes will take a big part of the ebook reader market.

    Weight is an issue but keep in mind that
    (1) a lot of heavy duty reading does not require ultra low weight: reading at the office, at school, at your own desk at home.

    (2) standard college textbooks or industry manuals today are very often heavy, bulky things. Many weigh a kilo. A netbook is not so different. And one netbook can still fit an unlimited number of ebooks of course.

    (3) netbooks are getting slimmer rapidly. Next year we’ll probably have < 500 gram netbooks.

  4. You can build an ARM laptop with a Pixel Qi screen that’s just as light as a Kindle.

    – And costs only $100,
    – runs 40 hours on the battery in ereader mode,
    – loads Google Chrome, Google Wave, Google whatever just fine (what else do people need anyways),
    – Runs Android OS cause it’s light and optimized (free of Microsoft/Intel bloatware),
    – Just swivel the screen to cover the keyboard in e-reader mode, even provide touchscreen but a couple buttons on the side in e-reader mode for next page and previous page would be fine as well,
    – Pixel Qi can do any sized screen not only 10,2 inches, they announced a 7,5 inches version as well through a Wired article recently (same size as OLPC XO-1 laptop),
    – Amazon will sell them as well, current Kindles just have worse interfaces and less features for more expensive prices.

  5. Absolutely awesome! It’s going to be very nice to see these screens shipped in the dual-screen XO-2 laptop — or in a commercial dual screen netbook!

    But this is what I want on my Santa Claus wish list — i.e. THE ULTRA / ULTIMATE netbook:

    1. Dual touchscreens (or simply just one for now!). Exactly as the OLPC XO-2.

    2. Hybrid SSD storage to achieve the battery 25-hour battery life in the Wind U115. Example: 32 GB SSD drive with an additional 500 GB 2.5″ inch.

    3. HD Capable Graphics processing. 1080p.

    4. 12″ inch screen available.

    5. Ability to switch between a smaller/lighter two-cell battery and a larger 9-cell!

    6. Optional USB Remote Receiver w/ remote and TV-Outs for turning the netbook into a media player.

    4. An extra spare battery with a solar charger / mat designed for it! The solar mat option + battery and charger would be $250.

    Total Cost — $1000.00 or less. I’d buy it in a heartbeat!

    1. About 2., I think that an external disk would be better. Well, it would be harder to carry but I think that sometime some laptop/netbook maker will make one with a bay for them, specially for 2.5/1.8″ disks.

  6. How about putting together a Pixel Qi screen with an ARM processor in a tablet configuration with a keyboard that can snap on to turn it into a traditional netbook? The keyboard section could house the ethernet, video, audio and a couple of USB ports. With the Pixel Qi screen and an ARM processor the thing could last days on a charge when running in e-reader mode. The two part machine would give you the best of both worlds. Amazon might not like it because a non-restricted machine would be able to get reading material anywhere.

    1. Great concept!

      I have a netbook, a Sony eReader and an iPhone. When I travel, the weight really adds up (add a digital camera and an unlocked GSM phone – and all the chargers and power adapters). So anything that lets me lighten and reduce the number of devices and adapters will get my vote.

      1. Wow. That’s a lot of stuff to carry with you. I can see the eBook reader being a weight-saver, because you don’t need to bring a stack of books with you.

        I imagine that for short trips you could leave the netbook, camera, and 2nd phone at home. The iPhone could handle all three of these functions in a basic way…

        Anyway, I was just amazed at how much technology you pack with you – even if it’s all small stuff…

  7. My personal desire is for a 10″ touch tablet with one of these screens and an arm processor. It could function as an internet device, e-book reader, writing/annotating tablet, and graphics tablet. Use open source software to sketch on the run; plug it in via USB and use it as a mini Wacom Cintique with photoshop when at home! Combined with an OS designed for touch and hand writing (which, as far as I know, doesn’t exist yet) it would be my ideal device.

    1. Forgot to add the relevant point that yes, I think something in between a netbook and an e-reader would be the “killer device.” Better battery life than a netbook (though less than a simple e-reader), smaller than a netbook and more generally useful than a simple e-reader.

  8. The combination of the two would be fantastic for the education market. Imagine carrying all your textbooks, study notes, and drafts of papers in the same compact machine.

    In addition, I would like to see an e-ink writing application where someone could write for an extended period of time without having to boot a complete computer OS.

    Currently, I carry either a MSI wind (converted to OS X) or an eee pc 701, depending which OS I need at the time. My Sony PRS-505 tags along with both.

    It’s frustrating that I have to charge the netbooks each night while I have to charge the reader once a month.

  9. Yeah I think weight is key in the ebook readers. I know i find myself wishing my iPhone weighted less after an hour in iKindle. 🙂

    So I think the winner would be a slightly more featured reader than a slightly lighter netbook-reader.

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