Amazon Upgrades Kindle DX E-Reader with New E Ink Display

Can this device take on the iPad? Last night, Seattle-based Amazon.com announced its new version of the Kindle DX (its larger e-reader device), which it touts as having “50 percent better contrast for the clearest text and sharpest images,” as well as a slew of other features including long battery life, 3G wireless connectivity, and a reduced price of $379. Its new screen comes courtesy of E Ink, the longtime Boston-area company now based in Taiwan, which today is officially announcing the availability of its “Pearl” display technology.

E Ink is all about making electronic displays that look like ink on paper. The company was founded back in 1997 by MIT Media Lab researchers, and it has endured a long road to widespread adoption in millions of devices worldwide—not just the Kindle, but most of the top e-readers including those from Sony and Barnes & Noble.

The new Pearl display uses E Ink’s core technology of microcapsules filled with white and black particles that respond to electrode charges. The key advance now is chemical engineering that has made the whites whiter and the darks darker. The company says this means the contrast between the words and the background has gone from the look of a typical newspaper to that of a paperback book. And, unlike the backlit LCD screens of laptops and tablet computers, the E Ink display is readable outdoors in direct sunlight (something we haven’t had to worry about in Seattle yet this year).

It sounds simple, but it’s the kind of incremental advance that takes years of reformulating the “overall chemical stack,” and developing and testing new pigment systems that are robust and reliable, says Lawrence Schwartz, the product director at E Ink responsible for its e-reader business. A key part of the development is making sure the new systems work with large-scale manufacturing processes, and integrating correctly with device partners like Amazon’s Kindle.

OK, so everyone is wondering how the new DX stacks up against Apple’s iPad. (The DX is the Kindle with the larger screen, 9.7 inches diagonally—the same size as the iPad.) Well, the DX is now $120 cheaper than the iPad, and it certainly works well for reading books, newspapers, and magazines. But it doesn’t play video or render full-color pictures, for example. They’re very different devices with different use cases.

What about future versions of e-reader displays? Back in February, Amazon acquired Touchco, a touchscreen technology startup in New York. This raised questions about whether future Kindle devices might offer a touchscreen, full-color display, or some sort of hybrid of a touchscreen and an E Ink display.

E Ink certainly has been working on ways to integrate its technology with different kinds of resistive, capacitive, and inductive touchscreen displays. Schwartz couldn’t go into detail about any particular partners, though. “We’re trying to support all the options out there,” he says.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and Editor of Xconomy Boston. E-mail him at gthuang [at] xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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