Readius Rolls Out a Floppy-Screened First

Polymer Vision, a Philips spin-off, announced Tuesday the upcoming availability of a combination mobile phone and e-reader with a with a five-inch rollable display. Dubbed “Readius,” the device provides users with the functionality of an e-reader in a highly mobile cell phone-sized package, the company said.

“People are demanding greater choice and flexibility in having overall instant access to personal content and information,” said Karl McGoldrick, CEO of Polymer Vision. “They do not want to be concerned with small screens, not being able to read in sunlight, a dead battery or a device being too bulky to carry in their pocket. Readius solves these worries and is generations ahead of anything else out there today.”

Reader-Friendly

Set for release in mid-2008, the Readius is the first device to include a flexible, foldable screen with a resolution of 320 by 240 pixels in 16 shades of gray, which provides users with twice the surface area of even the largest current mobile phone displays.

Weighing in at 115 grams, the device is one-third the average weight of typical e-readers and has a battery life six times longer than mobile phones, enabling up to 30 hours of continuous reading.

The Readius’ phone operates on the tri-band 3G HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Access) network, commonly used in Europe and Asia, and allows worldwide calls as well as high-speed instant updates from personalized news sources, e-mail and other services. The device supports standard POP3 and IMAP for ISP e-mail as well as Yahoo Mail, Google’s Gmail and Microsoft Exchange.

Up to 8 GB of storage for e-Books and other information is available with a micro SD chip. The Readius also offers audio functionality for listening to MP3s, podcasts and audio books.

Making calls to numbers not stored in the address book could prove tricky, as the Readius has only eight buttons, the functions of which change depending on the what application is being used.

Users can sync the device wirelessly using its Bluetooth 2.0 interface or take the wired route and connect the Readius to a PC using its USB 2.0 connection to upload phone numbers and other information. Unlike just about every other mobile phone on the market, however, the device has no camera or video playback functionality.

E-Readers in Vogue

During the Internet boom of the late 1990s, several companies launched e-readers, touting them as the next great evolution for book lovers. Their efforts, however, were not successful, mostly due to the fact that existing technology did not make the devices a better experience than actually reading a book.

In the intervening years, technology advanced significantly, and manufacturers have put the e-reader back on store shelves with the release of devices such as Amazon.com’s Kindle reader.

“Why are e-readers being developed again? First, I think that technology is starting to catch up,” said In-Stat analyst David Chamberlain, referring to both the availability of mobile broadband networks and new screen capabilities. “Second, I think its part of the inexorable march toward digitalization of absolutely all content.

“Arthur C. Clarke famously said, ‘Eventually, everything will contain a microchip, even a broom.’ Well, it looks as if books are heading that way, doesn’t it?” he added.

Tough Enough?

As a technological achievement, the Readius may be an exciting advance, but the device may also fall short for consumers when they compare it to other mobile phones. Others may question whether it is sturdy enough.

“While the concept sounds intriguing, the end product is competing with relatively high-res displays on things like iPhones and high-end smartphone displays. Outdoor performance, contrast ratios, etc., are all questions for this technology, not to mention its inherent ruggedness, for lack of a better term. Also, there’s the whole area of consumer inertia — why switch away from paper-based books that have excellent contrast ratio [and] can easily be read indoors and outdoors?” posited Mike McGuire, a Gartner Research analyst.

Comparisons to other mobile phones are a bit unfair, said Chris Hazelton, an analyst at IDC.

“This device has 16 shades of color, the iPhone and comparable smartphones have 16 million colors. It’s kind of an unfair comparison because [the Readius] is dedicated to providing a very large and flexible screen and is kind of generation one. But it’s a very exciting generation one because it points to a very strong potential for a mobile phone to become and provide a very similar PC experience,” Hazelton told TechnewsWorld.

Open the Door

As Polymer Vision improves the technology enabling the screen to display colors, consumers may begin to see a host of new video devices with flexible screens.

“This does, however, start the industry on a path that permits bigger viewing area in smaller packages, which has been one of the biggest problems with mobile video. If this technology could provide high-resolution video display, then I think there would be an eager market of companies that want to build a variety of mobile video devices, whether they’re cellular or not,” Chamberlain told TechNewsWorld.

U.S. consumers may find the Readius’ flexible screen technology compelling, but it will be a few years before a device using the technology is widely available, according to Hazelton, who pointed out that the Readius’ network would not be ideal for consumers outside of Europe and Asia.

“This technology is progressing, but it looks like it will be a number of years before there is a commercialized color flexible screen. It will be several years before this hits the mainstream and there are phones out there. This is kind of like a demonstration case; it will be available in a couple of months but there is no content deal and no carrier deal,” Hazelton explained.

“It looks exciting and points to a very cool future,” he concluded.

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