The fact that every tech site in the world has now linked up a New York Times article on the debut of a color E-Ink reader from a Chinese company with no real presence in the US shows just how excited people get by the thought of a full-color version of the Kindle. But the fact that Amazon has been clear that color E-Ink is nowhere near ready for primetime is an indication that the enthusiasm is premature. We saw a color E-Ink demo last year at CES, and saying that it's a long way from a magazine experience is like saying that DOS is a long way from Windows 7. But more on that shortly.
The color e-reader that has everyone so excited comes from Beijing-based Havon Technology, and it's billed as the first commercial application of color E-Ink. Havon is targeting the device at the Asian market, but the company's president drops some hints that it may eventually show up stateside. If it does land in the US, it will certainly have a significant jump on other color E-Ink products, possibly by a few years. The reason is that it just doesn't look very good, so there won't be much of a market for it or a reason for anyone else to jump in with a competing design.
At last January's CES, we attended the launch of the ill-fated Skiff e-reader. The company was demonstrating a color E-Ink prototype, and it looked terrible. The CEO assured us that there were much better color E-Ink prototypes floating around, but even a 100 percent improvement still wouldn't be anywhere close to a printed page or an LCD screen. At this point, consumers would be advised not to hold their breath for an E-Ink version that looks as much like a decent color printout as the latest generation of black-and-white E-Ink looks like a book. This is a very hard problem to solve, and the minute some lab makes a real breakthrough, they'll put out a press release and take it on a road show for reporters to check out.
All of this isn't to say that some kind of color E-Ink product won't find a niche in the next few years. For display applications where the point of color is purely to convey information, and where aesthetics matter less than functionality, it's possible that color E-Ink will find a use. We're thinking specifically of internal company reports that feature color graphics—enough color to let you clearly tell one part of a pie chart from another may be good enough to let some business users ditch their printers at last. But for anyone who wants to publish, say, a digital magazine, there's likely to be no contest between LCD and color E-Ink for the next few years.
Source: ars technica