Color E-readers a hit at book fair, to be sold like handsets

There is still a debate on whether e-paper is better for your eyes than LCD screens

Taiwanese e-reader makers jockeyed to show off new technologies at the Taipei International Book Exhibition over the weekend and said the emerging model for the devices is to sell them as part of a content bundle.

Taipei is a fitting place to show new e-readers because Taiwanese companies are leading the charge for the three leading e-paper technologies on the market. They hope to push down device prices while upping the ante on features this year to compete with newcomers such as Apple's iPad.

Several companies were showing off devices with regular LCD screens on board, mostly aimed at schoolchildren. LCD screens are less expensive than e-paper screens and offer color and multimedia, but use up batteries faster. The iPad also has an LCD screen and boasts 10 hours of battery life, but e-readers can run for a few weeks without a recharge.

There is also some debate over the impact of LCD screens on eye health.

People who use video screens at work have complained of eye strain, blurred vision, headaches and neck pain, but it is unclear whether these symptoms can be blamed on the screens because similar complaints come from people in other jobs that induce eye strain but where video screens are not present, according to the American Optometric Association.

The association called the symptoms a "growing health problem" but said that "based on current evidence it is unlikely that the use of VDTs (video display terminals) causes permanent changes or damage to the eyes or visual system."

Companies such as LCD screen maker AU Optronics say LCD screens are not ideal for eye health because of the backlight, and that reading on e-paper using natural room light is better for the eyes. AU owns a major stake in SiPix Imaging, an e-paper technology developer.

Hiachieve Digital Technology (HCD) showed off the iWonder 10.1-inch LCD touchscreen tablet PC aimed at schoolchildren at the book fair. The device uses a regular LCD screen so comic books, newspapers, magazines, Web content and more can be viewed in color as on any computer screen.

The device was chosen for a government trial at a few elementary schools in Taiwan that starts mid-year, said Jim Sun, CEO of HCD. Taiwan's Ministry of Education plans to distribute e-readers to students across the island over the next few years.

HCD has already signed deals with some private schools to use the device. It will cost around NT$15,000 (US$470) each bundled with "a lot of content," he said. Prices differ depending on content agreements. The device is being manufactured by Hon Hai Precision Industry, the world's largest contract electronics maker.

Another company showing off an LCD device for children at the book fair was Aiptek International, with its inColor story book. The device has an 8-inch LCD screen and comes with 20 multimedia books on board for NT$6,900 (US$216) in Taiwan.

The only company showing off color e-paper screens at the book fair was Taiwan's Delta Electronics. The company displayed its new 13.1-inch e-readers made with e-paper technology from Japan's Bridgestone at the book fair.

Delta plans to start marketing the new 13.1-inch color touchscreen e-reader around the end of the second quarter. The e-reader is the size of an A4 sheet of paper, suitable for viewing business documents. Bridgestone, well-known for its tire business, showed the 13.1-inch e-paper technology off last year at a show in Japan.

Delta is seeking partnerships with book, magazine and comic book publishers, as well as newspapers, to launch the devices, said Hui Lee, director of the e-Paper business program at Delta. Working together, the companies will try to offer the e-reader at a subsidized price if users pay for a multi-year content agreement, similar to mobile phone contracts, she said.

The 13.1-inch e-readers allow users to write notes on them and could come with wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi or 3G once they're on the market, she said. The price of the device will depend on agreements with the content providers.

Several companies displayed monochrome e-readers with e-paper technology from market leader E-ink, which was bought by Taiwanese manufacturer Prime View International last year. E-ink technology leads the market and is used in devices including Amazon's Kindle and Sony's Reader.

The JinYong Reader, designed by Taiwan's Koobe, will be launched in April by Yuen-Liou Publishing Company for between NT$10,000 and NT$12,000 in Taiwan, depending on a content agreement, according to a Yuen-Liou representative. The device has a 6-inch e-paper screen and comes with built-in Chinese and Chinese-English dictionaries.

Greenbook, another Taiwanese company, will sell its 6-inch e-reader for NT$8,950 as part of a content deal. The device was made by Hon Hai subsidiary Netronix, which uses E-ink digital ink technology.

The third e-paper technology on display at the book exhibition was from SiPix.

BenQ is using the technology in its nReader, which carries a 6-inch touchscreen screen and went on sale last week for NT$8,990 each in retail stores throughout Taiwan. The nReader comes loaded with 40 e-books.

Taiwanese companies showed off dozens of other devices with software to make them more reading-friendly, including netbooks, laptops, smartphones and tablet PCs at the book exhibition. The show ended Monday.

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Tags Prime View Internationalamazon kindleJinYong ReadertaiwanBenQGreenbooke-readersKoobeNetronix

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Dan Nystedt

IDG News Service
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