Ebook readers are arguably coming of age, but don’t assume e-ink – and the push to produce color e-ink panels – have won the game quite yet. SlashGear met up with Qualcomm’s mirasol team to discuss their latest display news, and while you might remember the technology from their early 1.1-inch single-color panels, they’re now showing off a 5.7-inch display capable of full color and video playback, with minimal impact on battery life. They’ve set themselves the target of having color ebook readers with mirasol panels on the market by the latter part of 2010, and are working with OEMs now to achieve that.
Mirasol borrows the same elements that allow a butterfly’s iridescent wings to shimmer, using tiny flexible membranes that react to electrical charges, overlaid onto a mirrored surface. Light reflected back out through those membranes is refracted so that interfering wavelengths create colors, and because the membranes used are bistable, once they have been set to display a certain color they require virtually no power to maintain it, only if it needs to be changed. The system also needs no color filters, no strong backlighting to be visible in direct sunlight and no polarizing lenses.
It’s important to point out that the device you see here is merely a mock-up the mirasol team have put together, and while non-functional overall the 5.7-inch display panel is from their fab plant and an actual, working unit, its bistable pixels locked into a color image. Qualcomm are working with multiple OEMs – the names of which they wouldn’t disclose – on a variety of ebook reader devices, and while they couldn’t confirm any particular form-factors, they did say there are plans for units with and without QWERTY keyboards, together with touchscreen and non-touchscreen models.
Where mirasol shows its strength is in battery performance. A standard ebook reader – such as the Kindle – could last for roughly 20-percent longer if its monochrome e-ink display was switched for a mirasol panel, assuming the same sort of use. As the mirasol team explained, however, once you start pushing traditional e-ink panel refresh rates, up to the point you can display smooth video, and introduce color, power draw can actual go beyond that of a regular LCD display. A color e-ink video-capable Kindle would last roughly a day using the same battery; meanwhile the same unit with a mirasol panel would last around a week.
I think this is a more radical jump in display technology than OLED. Essentially, you’re able to achieve bright, colorful images with NO backlight. And the colors become more intense when you take the screen outdoors – the opposite of what we experience with LCDs. While reducing power consumption.
I guess we’ll soon learn if the saw about “e-readers will become popular when they get a color screen” – means anything?