Chip supplier Marvell is hooking up with e-reader companies, hoping to take the lead in silicon design for this nascent market.
The market for e-readers, currently led by the Amazon Kindle and Sony Reader, is poised for growth, according to Weili Dai, a Marvell co-founder and general manager of the consumer and computing business unit. "The timing is right for the e-reader market to take off in volume," Dai said in an interview.
Marvell, though not a household name like Intel, is a major supplier of communications, storage, and wireless chips. Marvell, for example, supplied the Wi-Fi chip in the original iPhone and is a leading supplier of controller chips for solid-state drives.
In the e-reader market, Marvell is hoping to play a leading role in making e-readers a low-cost, mass-market device. "We're targeting a retail price of $150," Dai said. Partners include E Ink, a supplier of electronic paper displays; FirstPaper, an e-reading and advertising start-up; and Plastic Logic, an e-reader maker. Both E Ink and FirstPaper are backed by media company Hearst.
The Marvell Armada 166E system-on-a-chip, which will power a number of upcoming e-readers, integrates key features onto a single piece of silicon, such as the main processor--called an application processor--and the display controller. Armada is based on intellectual property from U.K.-based ARM, whose designs power most of the world's cell phones. Marvell ships 1 billion chips per year, two-thirds of which include Marvell processors running the ARM instruction set.
Marvell processors running at 1GHz will be used in many of the initial e-readers, though Marvell has designs that scale up in performance to 2GHz, according to Dai.
One of the first products to use the Marvell chip is the Entourage Edge, which claims to be the first "dualbook"--combining an E Ink EPD (electronic paper display) with an LCD and Netbook, notepad, and audio/video player functions.
Marvell will also power the dual-screen Alex e-reader from Spring Design. Like the Edge, Alex's dual-screen display design combines a monochrome electronic paper display with a color LCD screen.
"Periodicals are the next big frontier in eReading," Gil Fuchsberg, president of FirstPaper, said in a statement. To enable better newspaper and magazine reading experiences, e-reading devices will need richer layouts and more complex content, according to FirstPaper.
Corrected on November 3 at 7:40 a.m. PST: This story initially described FirstPaper incorrectly. It is an e-reading and advertising start-up.