Amazon did not release a new Kindle e-reader in 2020, partly due to the global pandemic. Their current line were completely sold out multiple times for a couple of weeks, before the stock was replenished. Amazon relies on Foxconn in China to produce all of their e-readers, and the factory was only working at 30% capacity for most of the year, due to distancing measures. New Kindles this year are all but assured, most of their devices are at least 3 years old and due for a refresh, will they release a Color Kindle in 2021?
There are a handful of color e-readers that are going to be released in the first quarter of 2021 that use the second generation E INK Kaleido color e-paper. Kaleido 2 has the capability to add more colors, better contrast, better greyscale uniformity, support for for front-lit displays and it will work on screens as small as 5.84 inches to 10.3 inches. E INK stated that they are ramping up and expanding production in South Hadley in order to mass produce by CFA. They also have two factories in China, cranking out the displays.
The first wave of color e-readers, used Kaleido 1, this technology provides 4,096 different colors and has its own RGB color filter array that is on top of the standard E INK Carta display. Kaleido e-paper can produce color for each pixel that is displayed on the screen. This includes red, green, blue, black or white. Colors can be combined to give you different colors or shades. The way it works is if you want light blue, blue will be toned down and white will be brighter. If you want orange, then yellow and red would be blended. An E Ink Kaleido Module is comprised of a TFT backplane, Ink layer (such as E INK Carta HD or E INK Mobius), Color Filter layer and Protective Sheet. There are some cases where e-reader companies also use a layer of glass. It can display a maximum of 4096 different colors, at 100 PPI, while B&W text can be done at 300 PPI. If E INK can solve all of the problems we pointed out, in a very extensive post, color e-paper might be ready for prime time in 2021.
Over the course of the past six years, Amazon has been a reactionary company. They are slow to adopt new technologies and wait for their competition to do it first, work out the kinks, solve bugs and have E INK optimize the technology for a more mainstream approach. Pocketbook, Onyx Boox, iReader, iFlytek and Hisense released a ton of color e-readers and smartphones in 2020, and the number of products will double in 2021. This almost puts Amazon under the gun, will people forgo buying a new Kindle if they can switch to a brand that does color, and runs Android, so they can just run the Kindle app? Amazon might start losing Kindle hardware sales if they don’t embrace color.
I think it is reasonable to believe that E INK is tremendously bullish about color e-paper. The first gen of Kaleido took two years of development and the second gen took less than six months. They are expanding production, and it is only a matter of time before a big vendor bites, it will likely be Kobo first, and Amazon second. 2021 will be a very interesting year for color e-paper.
Michael Kozlowski has written about audiobooks and e-readers for the past twelve years. Newspapers and websites such as the CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and the New York Times have picked up his articles. He Lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.