For those of us who love to curl up with a good book, there’s nothing quite like the experience of immersing yourself in the written word. Okay, you know where this is headed so I won’t go all nostalgic on you. Suffice it to say that the look and feel, smell and heft of a pile of paper, bound up in leather or cloth, can be a thing of beauty. So, if a “real” book is so great, what does that make a tarted up handheld computer? Just a pile of plastic and bits of silicon? Not quite.
You see, your average MID (mobile Internet device), netbook or iPhone may be portable but they aren’t designed to do one thing well. They’re general purpose, all singing, all dancing designs able to handle smooth video playback, read your email, and throw up 17 suggestions for restaurants within two blocks of your location, all in glorious color. Can most traditional books do that? No but, what a book can provide is a highly legible, usually black and white "display" that requires no power to maintain.
Enter E Ink’s EPD, the key to practical electronic book readers, eReaders for short. An EPD or electronic paper display, is a novel electrostatic display technology that produces a high contrast, high resolution, reflective display, just like old fashioned ink on paper. The brighter the ambient lighting, the easier it is to read. On the other hand, more common LCDs or liquid crystal displays and OLEDs, or organic LEDs, are both emissive tech. Unlike paper and an EPD, which reflect or bounce the ambient light present in your environment, LEDs, LCDs and OLEDs literally squirt photons at your eyes. To do that, those three classes of device require a non–trivial amount of electricity. HanWang, jetBook, Toshiba, and maybe Audiovox and ASUSTeK have gone the LCD route for their eReaders so, to me, they seem like malformed netbooks. LCD displays are also particularly difficult to read in bright light, as you would find in the outdoors on a sunny day. Of course, PDAs, smart phones, netbooks and other mobile portables are also able to parse many eBook file types but they suffer from the same problems of limited battery life and less than ideal legibility.
An electronic paper display, on the other hand, requires power only to "paint" or alter a page of text. Once the display has been updated, no additional power is required. But wait, there’s more! Since you don't have to constantly power a backlight or light up a thousand LEDs, you can use a smaller battery, which reduces weight and slims down the overall design. That’s why the list of current and near–future EDP–equipped eReader vendors is as long as my arm: Aluratek, Amazon, Astak, Barnes & Noble, Bookeen, Ditto Book, Elonex, Endless Ideas, enTourage Systems, Interead, IREX Technologies, iRiver, Lbook, Neo Luxe, Onyx International, Sony, Spring Design, Tianjin Jinke Electronics, and txtr. This holiday season is the first where consumers have even a limited choice of eReader makes, models, features, and price, though the choices have been very slim this time around. Amazon and Sony have been at it for a while but Sony’s offerings have not sold well. Barnes and Noble have limited distribution of their Nook, and are offering consolation kickbacks for those who ordered but did not receive their gadget in time for the holidays. Easy access to a wide variety of "content," in this case eBooks, has been a particular sticking point for all vendors.