E Ink: No successor to Pearl this year

What's in store for e-ink this year? Not much--but expect improvements nevertheless.

David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Kobo e-books and audiobooks.
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David Carnoy
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The e-ink display in the Kindle is almost paper thin. David Carnoy/CNET

Sri Peruvemba, vice president of global sales and marketing at E Ink, recently stopped by our New York offices and talked displays and reminded us just how thin the e-ink screen for the Kindle and other e-readers is.

While he was showing off a "Triton" color e-ink prototype that's been making the rounds and piqued the interest of textbook publishers, we were more interested in what's up next for monochrome e-ink. Peruvemba couldn't speak about any new e-readers from Amazon or Barnes & Noble, but he did say that the company's latest and greatest e-ink display, which goes by the name Pearl and was released last year (it's in the Kindle and Sony Readers but not the Nook), would be it for now; we shouldn't expect anything new in 2011.

"We're generally on a two-year cycle with our e-ink technology," he said. "It takes some time to develop and test the next generation."

Most of the improvement in e-ink over the next year will be speed based. In other words, expect to see the same Pearl display in new devices but faster processors and upgraded driver software should quicken refresh rates (and page turns) and simply make the devices zippier overall.

Peruvemba indicated that the next generation of e-ink would be capable of running full motion video, but companies like France-based Bookeen had already shown a tricked-out Pearl display running video at 10 to 15fps (full motion is 24 to 30fps).

In the past, we've speculated that Amazon's next generation e-ink Kindlewill include a touch screen and do away with the built-in keyboard to shrink the size of the device. However, before we see a new e-ink Kindle, we're more likely to get an LCD-based color Kindle that will double as an Android tablet.

As for Barnes & Noble, well, it's focused for the moment on the Nook Color, but we do expect it to come out with a lower-priced e-ink e-reader by fall, if not sooner. In order to keep costs down, it would probably be wise to remove the strip of color LCD that's now found at the bottom of the original Nook. We've heard from industry insiders that the component adds significant cost to the unit and makes it that much harder for Barnes & Noble to compete with the Kindle on price.