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Color E-Ink and Color eReaders: The Hanvon Initiative

Chinese firm Hanvon has decided to use color E Ink in its new color eReader to be launched in March. There are problems associated with the vibrancy of color E Ink, though it beats LCD in terms of battery life and readability under strong lighting conditions. Will that be sufficient for color E Ink to succeed with Hanvon? Time will tell but the company certainly expects it to.

Will color E Ink add pizzazz to color eReaders?  It's a moot question, but most dedicated E Ink eReaders are at a disadvantage when compared to tablet computers - the lack of color. E Ink offers fabulous authentic-looking text on black and white displays, particular with e-paper, but most firms have resisted its color technology because it lacks the vibrancy of LCD technology.

The problem with LCD color is that it is difficult to read in bright lighting conditions, unlike the black and white E Ink that is currently used by 90% of the world's eReaders.  However, the E Ink colors are wishy-washy, and lacking strength and clarity.  Also, while it can show simple animations it is unable to handle simple promotional videos. This is why companies such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Sony have not been using it in their eReaders, preferring to stick to black and white E Ink, and the Nook and the iPad use LCD screens in spite of the problems that LCD pose to users of their eReaders.

The major benefit of the color E Ink is its low power requirement, the battery being able to last for weeks rather than hours.  The color E Ink is currently no more than the standard black and white display with a color filter overlaid - hence its muted appearance and lack of vibrancy. It comes down to a choice between readability and brightness of color, and while it is currently evident that color E Ink will not offer the pizzazz to excite users, who knows what lies in the future!

Chinese firm Hanvon announced its new color E Ink eReader at the 2010 Tokyo FPD International trade show.  As stated by DisplaySearch director of technologies, Jennifer K. Colegrove, "This is a very important development - it will bring eReaders to a higher level".  But Hanvon is not the first. According to the article “E-paper 2.0 And Fujitsu Has It In Color”, researchers at Fujitsu have upped the ante in the very competitive E-reader market by releasing a group of color E-readers in their new FLEPia line. These E-readers incorporate Fujitsu’s ground breaking color e-paper and look to be the first in a new wave of color E-readers.

It will certainly be a start towards real E Ink color screens, but further development will be needed if it is to compete against LCD for the business of the new generation of eReader users who are already used to the glare of LCD on their computer, laptop and tablet screens. The older generation who are seeking something more akin to a proper printed book on a screen might be more amenable to color E Ink, but are they the users of the future?

Maybe the Hanvon initiative will change things - we shall see - but the advantages of battery power and less glare in direct sunlight would persuade only those for whom these aspects of color E Ink were important. Battery life is important for those on the move, who like reading books while travelling, or prefer their magazines delivered to their eReader. So too would color be, particularly for their magazines, but would they prefer the color of E Ink as it is now, or the vibrancy of LCD, glare notwithstanding?

According to Steve Haber of Sony's digital reading division, " has to be vibrant color. We're not willing to give up the true black and white reading experience", suggesting that most would prefer to read in real black and white as E Ink can offer, but that were color introduced it would have to be more than E Ink can currently provide. E Ink vice president, Sriram K. Peruvemba, believes that "It takes one company to prove the market."

Hanvon, the largest eReader seller in China, claims to hold 78% of the Chinese market - and that is potentially huge.  Their first color E Ink eReader will be a 9.68 inch color touch screen machine, and will be launched in March 2011 in China at a starting price of around $440.  Although not competing against the $590 iPad in China (though definitely the Kindle), it will offer Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity. They expect to sell it in the USA as well as China according to Mr. Liu Yingjian, the founder and chairman of Hanvon.

According to Forrester research analyst James McQuivey, color is "absolutely critical for E Ink"Science Articles, and that without color E Ink displays would be "replaced by LCD displays or other competitors." This initiative by Hanvon is therefore an important one for both businesses and whether it succeeds or not - time will tell.

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Marco Gustafsson is a professional blogger posting about new eBooks, environment, eReaders, etc. You can find his new articles here – Digital Book Readers.


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