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The History Of Ereaders
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A Short History of Ereaders - How The Colour Ereader Has Evolved

Ereaders are getting more popular, but many still argue that they will never completely replace the good old fashioned paper type. One reason given is that the colour ereader - a relatively recent introduction to the market - have been pretty pricey compared with their wood pulp predecessors. This has been changing however with the recent introduction of cost-effective colour ereaders like the Nook. The Nook is powered by Android, better known as the OS that powers smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy and the HTC Desire. It is now showing up inside a bunch of different low price handheld devices and tablet PCs, all of which come with ereader functionality as part of the package.

Another example is Velocity Micro’s Cruz Reader. It launched in mid 2010 and has an LCD touchscreen with 800x600 resolution. And it runs Android 2.0. It even comes with the added bonus - it is an Android device after all - of being capable of running applications other than its ebook reader. It is available from a range of big retail chains like K-Mart and Sears and starts at around $170.

So when did colour enter the picture? The very first colour ereader in the world was the Fujitsu FLEPia, which was released in March 2009 and retailed for a staggering $1000 (or 99,750 Yen). It had some decent enough specs, including an 8” screen, Bluetooth, Wifi and touch screen functionality, but many potential ereader buyers still couldn’t get past the price.

It was also sold as a relatively basic tablet PC, coming with Windows CE 5. So you could also do spreadsheets and basic web browsing. But at the end of the day, it was slow, expensive and consequently didn’t last long on the market.

Fujitsu didn’t give up though, and the FLEPia Lite came out the next year. The next model, due out later in 2011, is even lighter (at 220g) and dumps Microsoft’s CE for a Linux build. It’s a lot thinner too, due to the use of a very recent development, the cholesteric display, which doesn’t require backlighting or layers for polarising, reflecting or filtering. The drawback with cholesteric LCD displays is that they are slow to refresh compared to other types like standard LCD and E-ink (which we’ll get to in a moment). Their advantage is that they are “no power”, meaning longer battery life and therefore longer reading time.

The biggest leap in colour ereader technology was E-ink, or electrophoretic ink - a proprietary form of electronic paper developed from research at MIT. It is currently the most popular type of display for pure ereaders (such as the Amazon Kindle, which was the first ereader to use the second generation of E-ink, known as ‘Pearl’). Its third and latest generation, ‘Triton’, is used in the Hanvon ereader device.

E-ink is set to soon be unseated from its dominant place in ereader display types however.  Last year a UK company developed a prototype of a device that uses drops of oil in its display instead of drops of E-ink. One result of this was a display that refreshed up to a hundred times faster. The other big threat is tablet devices like the iPad, which are perfectly great ereaders in their own right as well as being able to do a hundred other things - like play videos and place phone calls.

In just a couple of years, the colour ereader has come a very long way, and the mind boggles at what lies in store in the next two. True, paper-thin epaper?
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ereader