A color Kindle? Not yet, anyway

Remember back in ancient computer times, say the late '80s and early '90s, when your only choice for a computer screen was black, with white, orange or green typeface?

That model has long since been discarded in favor of full-color screens, which are much easier on the eye and, frankly, more attractive. But then the Kindle e-book reader came along, along with a few other similar devices (such as the Sony Reader), and everyone just accepted that they were monochrome. Even the magazine-sized Kindle released earlier this month was a monochrome reader.

Later this month, at the Society for Information Display conference, E Ink Corp. of Cambridge, Mass., claims it will demonstrate a color "e-paper," as it's called. E Ink produces the monochrome e-paper used in the Kindle and other readers.

New Scientist magazine explained the technology:

In black-and-white e-paper, each pixel is made up of around 60 plastic microcapsules that contain a negatively charged black powder and a positively charged white powder. To make a pixel black, electrodes underneath the display apply a negative charge to push the black powder to the top. To reproduce shades of grey, some electrodes are positive and others negative, so some microcapsules are white while others in the same pixel are black. Once a page is set, this arrangement uses no power - critical for reading book-length content.
In the new colour display, each pixel will be split into four subpixels showing red, green, blue and white in their "on" states. That means squeezing four times as many transistors beneath each pixel to control the electrodes, which has been a challenge too far - until now.

It's not just as simple as E Ink finalizing its color e-paper technology, however, so don't expect to see new releases of the Kindle or Sony Reader in full color next month. The company that makes the displays for the two readers, PVI, pushed back its expected release of color displays until 2010 because of problems it was having with the technology.

Fujitsu in Japan released its LCD-based Flepia color e-reader in March, so E Ink isn't the first to do this, but they are different technologies, and, right now, the Kindle is the BMOC when it comes to e-readers.