Mobile Tech

Is Barnes & Noble Sending Nook Over the Rainbow?

Barnes & Noble may soon announce a full-color version of its Nook e-reader, acording to a Cnet report.

The bookseller is likely to unveil the device at an event it will hold Oct. 26.

The new Android-based e-reader will be called the “Nook Color,” Cnet claims.

It will reportedly have a seven-inch touchscreen and will be offered at US$249.

However, Barnes & Noble did not respond to requests for comment by press time. “Nothing’s been substantiated; it’s a possibility in a way,” Susan Kevorkian, a program director at IDC, told TechNewsWorld.

Nothing’s Impossible

Barnes & Noble already teams up with photo frame maker PanDigital to offer a color e-book reader, the PanDigital Novel. This has a seven-inch color display.

The PanDigital Novel has a built-in dictionary, word search, a virtual keyboard, and it lets users access email and browse the Web through WiFi. It also plays music and videos, has a photo viewer, alarm clock and calendar features, and lets users play games.

With a 600 x 800 pixel digital TFT (thin film transistor) LCD touchscreen, the PanDigital Novel runs on Android. It measures 5.5 b 7.5 by 5 inches and weighs 19 ounces. It has 1 GB of storage and a two-in-one card reader that lets users add up to another 32 GB.

The next Nook “could be another version of the Pan-Digital Novel,” Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld. “If Barnes & Nobel go that route, they’d find it easier to bring a new product to market, and it’s fairly cheap,” he added.

It’s not as if the Nook has only a black-and-white screen.

“Even the first-generation Nook added a splash of color with a little color display at the bottom of its screen,” IDC’s Kevorkian pointed out.

Screen Technology

Like the Nook, the Apple iPad uses a TFT screen. TFT-LCD display technology is used in a multitude of devices, including TV sets, computer monitors, mobile phones, and handheld video game systems.

Unlike semiconductor transistors, which are made from silicon formed into a crystalline silicon wafer, TFT-LCDs are made from a thin film of amorphous silicon deposited on a glass panel.

“Most of the Android tablets also use TFT screens,” Enderle said.

There are other screen technologies in the market. One is Qualcomm’s Mirasol, which is a reflective display technology that uses very low power and is very bright. It uses micro-electromechanical systems to drive Interferometric Modulator (iMoD) displays.

The iMoD technology creates colors through the interference of reflected light. The color is selected with an electrically switched light modulator consisting of a microscopic cavity that’s switched on and off using driver integrated circuits similar to those used in LCD displays. An iMoD-based flat panel display can include hundreds of thousands of iMoD elements that can be individually switched on or off.

In one state, an iMoD subpixel reflects light at a specific wavelength, giving a bright color. In a second state, it absorbs incident light, appearing black to the viewer. An iMoD display is clearly visible in bright ambient light such as sunlight.

Yet another possibility is a screen from Pixel Qi, Enderle suggested.

Pixel Qi is working on technologies that will create an integrated multitouch screen in the same layers that turn on or off the pixels of the screen. This will make for very inexpensive screens that consume very little power. Pixel Qi screens were used to create computer screens for the One Laptop Per Child project. In addition to offering better resolution and consuming less power, these screens were cheaper than conventional screens and could be read in sunlight.

The Nitty-Gritty on Alternatives

However, Mirasol technologies won’t be available for some time.

“We’re not expecting to see Mirasol-based e-readers on the market in 2010,” IDC’s Kevorkian said.

Further, Mirasol screens are too small at present.

“The Mirasol is a five-inch product just now, and Qualcomm’s just starting to ramp up the volume,” Enderle said. “I’m not expecting to see anything from them until next year.”

Pixel Qi screens might be a possibility, Enderle said.

“Pixel Qi screens might be more expensive than PanDigital’s TFT, but using them is well within the realm of possibility,” he said.

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