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E-ink vs e-paper and the difference between a laptop and the Kindle

PC World has an article called Bye-bye Kindle, E-reader Screens Coming for Netbooks where they talk about the new Pixel Qi screen that is still in development, but which offers both a full-color LCD mode and an e-paper mode. The important thing to note about this new screen, and which PC World gets totally wrong in its article, is that Pixel Qi is not making an e-ink display. PC World continually refers to the e-paper mode as an e-ink mode throughout its incredibly wrong article (Note: Engadget gets this wrong also, as do quite a few people who reblogged the PC World story). Notice the huge disclaimer on Pixel Qi’s homepage about this error that multiple journalists keep repeating:


We have seen several instances in which the press (and, more often, bloggers) imagine some connection between what we’re doing and E Ink Corporation. We repeat that our products don’t use electrophoretic technology and that we have no corporate relationship to the company known as E Ink Corporation.

The e-paper display that Pixel Qi is developing is not e-ink, it is not based on electrophoretic technology, and therefore, in some ways and for some design purposes, it’s not going to be as useful as a true e-ink display like the ones found in the Kindle, Kindle 2, Kindle DX and other e-readers like the Sony Portable Reader. For many other purposes and product designs, the Pixel Qi display technology will be a better fit.

PC World’s article is doing what far too much of American media does: it’s creating a false polarization of the issue, confusing the details, and pitting two technologies against one another in a battle royale. The truth is both Pixel Qi displays and true E-ink displays have a much larger rival than one another: namely all the extant manufacturing money that is being spent on normal LCD displays and their kin.

Also, to claim that a laptop with a Kindle-like display will destroy the market for the Kindle is a drastic misunderstanding of the Kindle’s design and the target consumer for whom it is built and aimed. The Kindle is not designed to be yet another computer device capable of reading text. Inherent in the Kindle’s design, as Jeff Bezos has noted multiple times, is the intention to provide a device for reading that you forget about so that you can immerse yourself in the reading. Just as we read paperback works of fiction and lose ourselves in the imaginary worlds we’re reading, the Kindle is designed as much as is possible with today’s technology to get out of the way of our reading process and let us lose ourselves in the text.

A laptop with a keyboard and it’s odd large-book-lying-on-its-side form factor combined with its multi-purpose functionality is never going to be able to compete with a device designed for the singular purpose of reading. It might, like the Kindle for iPhone application, serve as a nice supplement to that device, and it may be useful for reading when it’s all that’s available, but it will never be able to let you focus on the writing, distraction free, in the same ways that actual books and devices designed explicitly for reading books will.