E-ink, e-paper and e-books: technology, business, market


One would think that e-paper holds all the aces: the displays are economical, they dont make eyes tired even when one reads for a long time. What impedes?

For the time being e-paper is not as white as we would like. It would rather be called very light grey. Besides screens made on basis of this technology are quite fragile. For many manufacturers frequent break-downs have become a real headache: if e-paper is not protected it can crack after just falling down or being lightly pressed.

And finally the main disadvantage is its price. Readers are still too expensive. Their cost is constantly falling but even today the prices start with $250-300. And the number of e-books functions is rather limited: a reader, a simple MP3-player, simple games, a photo browser in a monochrome mode. For instance, in the USA one can buy iPhone for $199, where one can not only read books but also play, watch video, listen to music with maximum comfort and etc. Of course, users vote for smartphones, MID, flatbed computers. The survey, carried out by Forrester Research, has revealed that people across the water think the fair price of an e-book is $50.

In hope of reducing the price manufacturers have produced books with 5-inch display this year. Before this the most common diagonal was that of 6 inches. The books have become lighter, more compact, fit a pocket and are $100 cheaper.

The situation is worsened by the fact that there are only a few plants in the world that produce the basis of readers a display on basis of e-paper. And only one technique is used at all the factories. It means that reader manufacturers have to assemble their devices from the same component parts, no matter if its a premium Sony, a budget Ukrainian Pocketbook or an obscure Chinese device. The competition turns into designers and application programmers rivalry. For example, Pocketbook has gained numerous fans in the countries of the former USSR only due to its good software.

In addition to reduce the price, e-book manufacturers have another way which is to raise its functionality.

The leader here is the shop Amazon.com. The first-scale retail dealer of the internet has produced the e-book Kindle. The unique feature of the device is the availability of 3G adapter module and integration with the book-shop Amazon rather than the facility of opening PDF files or the facility of reading aloud. In order to get a new book or a periodical issue the user dont need more than a minute. Such scheme has acquired a good reputation: according to Forrester Research, estimate sales volume of Kindle will come up to 3 million items. Amazon has already got its imitators.

Amazon.com is coming out to the world market with its e-book. In October Kindle is going to be on sale all over the world. Though having begun shipment to over 100 countries Amazon made time out. Because in many countries its still unknown which operator exactly is going to support 3G for Kindle. In the USA it is currently being done by AT&T which gives its users free of charge traffic. Besides for the time being Amazon.com is going to offer only books in English and American periodicals, which is sure to limit the number of potential customers in other countries.

"Independent" manufacturers of e-books not cooperating with libraries or book-shops have to work on increasing the number of their devices functions. For example the Ukrainian Pocketbook has in mind the e-book with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, sensor display and USB-host. Thus in order to survive readers will be turned into palmtops or plotting board devices.

Another way of the development of e-books has been proposed by the American shop Barnes & Noble. Its reader, as well as Amazon Kindle, is directly connected with the internet and makes it possible to get the latest press and books in a few minutes. But Barnes & Noble advanced having integrated Nook with a coloured sensor 3.5-inch display.

Apart from increasing the number of functions, e-paper has other future: thin and flexible displays. It will be much easier to use readers in the form of flexible transparent sheets than present readers, but these are only future prospects.

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