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Don't hold your breath for a Kindle with a color screen any time soon

Amazon's surprise purchase of Liquavista has prompted theories that a Kindle with a colored screen is inbound

Amazon's Kindle e-readers and tablets could someday be brighter, cheaper, and more battery efficient, now that the company has acquired Liquavista--but the acquisition doesn't necessarily mean color e-ink screens are in our immediate future, as many have been quick to speculate.

Liquavista's technology uses a principal called "Electrowetting," which applies voltage to move black liquids within the display. A video by IEEE Spectrum from January explains that the liquid acts as "curtain," displaying red, green or blue light from a pixel as the curtain is raised. The result: A colored (if slightly washed-out looking) image.

It's more than just a pretty face, though. Liquavista claims that its technology offers a lower bill of materials than LCD displays, while fitting into manufacturers' existing infrastructure--no doubt a key interest to Amazon, which likes to peddle its wares at rock-bottom prices.

Electrowetting also offers features that lend themselves well to e-readers.

"The performance of Liquavista technology makes it well suited for use in mobile applications such as e-readers, mobile phones, GPS devices, portable media players, and cameras because of the ability to see displays in all lighting conditions combined with the ability to show video content at very low power," Liquavista's Website claims.

Building for tomorrow, not today

Sure, color quality and detail may still be issues for Liquavista's technology, as The Digital Reader pointed out in January, but if Amazon can produce "good enough" displays at lower prices, it would fit the company's goal of selling lots of tablets on the cheap and getting people hooked on the Amazon ecosystem.

The idea of cheaper, more power-efficient color displays is certainly alluring to Amazon. A multi-hued, long-lasting e-reader would be perfect for kid books and comics, for example, but it isn't possible with current display technology. Electrowetting might just be the key.

Let's not get too ahead of ourselves, though. The tech world has fantasized about color E-Ink and similar technologies for years, but greyscale E-Ink still dominates for e-readers, and LCD is still tops for tablets. Also, just because Amazon acquired Liquavista doesn't mean the technology is directly en route to Kindle devices. A few years ago, Amazon bought Touchco, a company that promised transparent, pressure-sensitive, multi-touch color displays, but so far that technology hasn't debuted in Amazon's Kindle Fire tablets.

"We are always looking for new technologies we may be able to incorporate into our products over the long term," Amazon said in a statement to The Digital Reader, which broke the news. "The Liquavista team shares our passion for invention and is creating exciting new technologies with a lot of potential. It's still early days, but we're excited about the possibilities and we look forward to working with Liquavista to develop these displays."

Even Amazon's official statement suggests that buying Liquavista is a long-term play. So hang tight; it'll likely be a while before Electrowetting technology finds its way into a Kindle of any kind.


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