Kobo has verified that they will not employ color technology on any of their dedicated e-paper e-readers. Michael Tamblyn the President of Kobo said that color screens and interactive features would continue “on the tablet and app side”, which now accounts for half of Kobo’s business.
Color e-paper has really never taken off in the commercial space because both developers and users claim the screens always look “washed out”. E-Ink Triton is notorious for this because of the RGB color filter. Each color pixel is formed with 4 dots which means the end result is always halved. For example the Ectaco Jetbook Color had a greyscale resolution of 1600×1200, but when you viewed something in color it was 800×600.
Qualcomm spent a copious amount of money and four years developing Mirasol technology. It was billed as an alternative existing Color e-Paper solutions on the market. It was based on IMOD (Interferometric MODulation), with MEMS structures at its core. This MEMS-based innovation is bistable & highly reflective, meaning the display itself can be seen in direct sunlight. There were only a handful of devices ever made, most notably the Kyobo e-reader sold in Korea. Qualcomm abandoned this tech for the e-reader space and tried to get smartphone and smartwatch companies to embrace it, but failed to do so.
The only other color e-paper that might be commercially viable is Liquavista which is currently in limbo after Amazon purchased it in 2013. I spoke to Kurt Petersdorff, the Commercial Director of Liquavista, around a year ago when it still belonged to Samsung. I wanted to find out what made this e-paper different from e-Ink. The essence of Liquavista is Electrowetting technology that is highly scalable. From a manufacturing point of view, it is easy for existing LCD plants to incorporate Electrowetting into its process. It is basically the same entire procedure to create the screen, except instead of using Liquid Crystals they use a different fill. One of the huge benefits of Liquavista technology is that it is flexible, which means it is much more robust. It is similar to the same type of display that LG uses in the Wexler Flex One. If you have ever dropped an iPad or an iPhone, you know the LCD glass breaks rather easily because it is extremely inflexible.
I think Kobo is making the right call to basically say they will never release a color e-reader. The technology is too immature and companies aren’t innovating in this sector.
Michael Kozlowski is the Editor in Chief of Good e-Reader. He has been writing about audiobooks and e-readers for the past ten years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as the CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and Verge.