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No New Kindles in 2008 but New Displays in 2009?

kindle rumorsStarting in July and continuing into August, there’s been rampant speculation about possible new versions of Amazon’s popular Kindle e-book readerSeatlePI (The Seattle Post Intelligencer) cited McAdams Wright Ragen analyst Tim Bueneman who said “there are already several new, improved versions of the Kindle in the works.”  Tech Crunch sister site Crunch Gear cited an insider who claimed two new models were due before year end. Thursday, it was time for part of those rumors to die.  

Amazon’s spokesman Craig Berman told the New York Times in an interview there won’t be a holiday Kindle release.   Despite the product’s popularity, it’s just not on the calendar.  “There’s a lot of speculation and rumor about the Kindle” he said, “One thing I can tell you for sure that there will be no new version of the Kindle this year.  A new version is possible sometime next year at the earliest.”

So at the least, the timing of prominent rumors was wrong.  As for the other parts?  Berman  didn’t address the specifics of what a new Kindle might entail.  There’s no word on whether a new model will target student audiences, provide a smaller form factor, house a larger screen or offer some other twist.

For those set on projection regardless, one bet that’s relatively safe – improved screen technology.  

eink aboutThe Kindle was built with an active matrix electrophoretic display using imaging film (Vizplex) from E Ink.  The low power, paper thin, monochromatic screens are impressively easy to read regardless of ambient lighting. In contrast to laptop screens, they’re easily read in bright sunlight.  The technology is also evolving.  (See Inset image for how it works).

E Ink supplies components for both the Kindle and Sony’s rival Reader product.  In May, at the Society for Information Display (SID) conference show in LA, the company showcased (PDF) “next generation” incarnations of their Vizplex display film technology.  CEO Russ Wilcox said “you will see new controller electronics for fast menus, pen input and typing” in future models.  Flexible plastic models, larger size displays, and color models are also in development.

As one example of what’s possible: at the show, Polymer Vision (a spin off from Philips) demonstrated both a color and monochrome rollable display.  They’ve bundled this technology into a portable reader of their own called Readius that’s due to launch in the coming months .  The distinguishing feature in the product is that it’s screen rolls up.  From a press release (PDF), Polymer Vision described their displays as “as thin as paper with the ability to be rolled up to the diameter of a pen.” 

The next version of Kindle will likely see some of the benefits of the improving technologies.  Whether that means speedier models, retractable or flexible screens,  versions with touch/tablet input potential,  or even color is still anybody’s wild guess.

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