From eMediaVitals: Qualcomm spreads the gospel on new e-reader display technology

I’m going to pretend I haven’t posted here in nearly eight months. Anyway, this post originally appeared on eMediaVitals:

Apple hasn’t cornered the market on cool color e-readers, despite what you might think from the overhyped iPad. By this fall, expect to see a new generation of devices that support full color and full-motion video, featuring new Mirasol display technology from Qualcomm.

The technology, from Qualcomm’s MEMS Technologies subsidiary, was originally designed for mobile handsets. But Qualcomm has scaled the technology up to larger form factors, such as the 5.7-inch display it demonstrated at the Consumer Electronics Show in January (below).

Qualcomm expects to begin announcing partnerships with e-reader manufacturers this summer, with the first Mirasol-equipped e-readers reaching the market by this fall, according to Cheryl Goodman, director of marketing for Qualcomm MEMS Technologies.(There are rumors that the Kindle will be one of the devices that use the technology.)

The core element in the Mirasol display is called an Interferometric Modulator, or IMOD. Qualcomm can describe itbetter than I can:

The device is composed of two conductive plates. One is a thin film stack on a glass substrate, the other is a reflective membrane suspended over the substrate. There is a gap between the two that is filled with air. The IMOD element has two stable states. When no voltage is applied, the plates are separated, and light hitting the substrate is reflected as shown above. When a small voltage is applied, the plates are pulled together by electrostatic attraction and the light is absorbed, turning the element black. This is the fundamental building block from which Qualcomm’s mirasol displays are made.

Or, as Goodman notes, “it’s a very thin, very simple design. The display becomes more crisp and bright depending on the ambient light in the room.”

The technology has three distinguishing features for e-readers:

  • Support for full-motion video. A rapid refresh rate will replicate the experience of watching digital video on a desktop, says Goodman.
  • Support for full color. “Everyone wants a solution that’s color,” says Goodman. “Kindle and other e-ink displays do a great job showing monochrome text. But magazines need a full spectrum of color. Our display technology is the window to their content.”
  • Low power consumption. “Consumers have an expectation of battery life of weeks, not hours,” says Goodman. “Low-power devices are critical – otherwise you’ll have frustrated users.”

Too many publishers have a limited view of e-readers as a distribution channel for what I call SOC – same old content – either a digital edition of a print product or a replica of the website. Technologies such as Mirasol could give publishers an opportunity to create a completely new content experience for users.

“Most publishers haven’t fully embraced the concept of rethinking the magazine,” says Goodman. “They need to be more flexible with new formats and let go of certain aesthetics that work on other platforms.”
If Goodman sounds like an evangelist, that’s because “publisher liaison” is now part of her job description. She took on the role after fielding so many questions about the technology from journalists at CES.

Spreading the Mirasol gospel to publishers is an interesting role, since Qualcomm won’t get any direct business from the content producers. “It’s not a direct win for us,” Goodman says. “But we want publishers to know about us and our technology, so when they have discussions about e-readers they know what questions to ask.”

Engadget had a chance to play around with the prototype device and provided a quick review.

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