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Amazon has purchased Touchco, a start-up that owns technology to super-cheap multi-touch displays. The move could signal Amazon preparing to launch a multi-touch Kindle to compete with the Apple iPad.  (Source: Nick Bilton/The New York Times)

Google showed off a video showcasing tablets big and small -- two days before Apple's iPad launch. Amid the Apple-related fuss, the annoucement was overlooked until this week.  (Source: Google)

The Chrome tablet UI will accept a broad array of multi-touch gestures.  (Source: Google)
Amazon and Google look to upset Cupertino's star

Amazon is understandably a bit troubled by Apple's entry into the tablet market.  The iPad represents perhaps the most significant threat to Amazon's e-Book empire yet (Amazon currently holds around 60 percent of the market).

Apple dealt an indirect blow to Amazon, striking a deal with media mogul Rupert Murdoch to sell e-books at a higher rate.  The move gives Murdoch ammo to make similar demands of Amazon, which current sells best-sellers for $9.99.  Despite the fact that Amazon pays publishers the same wholesale prices as it does print books and that Amazon actually loses money to provide e-books cheaply, publishers are looking to force the company to sell them at higher prices to avoid customers getting used to the notion of cheap new books.

Amazon is looking to strike back, though, with the acquisition of Touchco, a New York startup that began as a research project at the Media Research Lab at New York University.  Touchco currently only has 6 employees and has not yet delivered a commercial product, but if it can deliver on its claims it could be an extremely valuable acquisition to Amazon.

The company uses a technology known as interpolating force-sensitive resistance.  It says it can deliver completely transparent, touch-sensitive displays at a cost of under $10/sq. foot.  The displays offer complete multi-touch support and a virtually unlimited number of contact points.  

The technology is significantly cheaper than Apple's iPad touch technology (if the claims are true).  That means Amazon may soon be able to launch a multi-touch Kindle variant to compete with the iPad, potentially at a lower cost.  Humorously, the Touchco folks will soon be neighbors to Apple, moving into Google's Kindle hardware division, Lab126, which is based in Cupertino, California -- also home to Apple's headquarters.

The acquisition could mark Amazon's departure from E-Ink technology.  Touchco's demonstrated products work primarily with LCD screens.  And despite the low power consumption and reduced eye-strain, Amazon may have other reasons to move to LCD screens in the next Kindle as well.  Donald Norman, a professor at Northwestern University says that E-Ink "is too slow and ponderous" for multimedia or reference works.  He says that Amazon will likely move to "switch to some other type of display."

Amazon isn't the only one to be cooking up a competitor to the iPad, though.  Google, which already mounted an impressive campaign against Apple in the mobile phone arena, is now looking to take out the iPad early with superior tablets powered by Google's new Chrome OS.  Glen Murphy, a Googler who helps design the user interfaces for the Chrome browser and OS, tweeted "Apparently our tablet mocks have been unearthed" on Tuesday, dropping a link to image and video concepts of a Chrome OS-based tablet.

The company actually aired the videos two days before the iPad launch, but everyone was so caught up in the Apple circus that hardly anyone took note.  The videos show users interacting with tablets large and small and using advanced multi-touch gestures to perform functions such as window and stacking.

A Google tablet would have the advantage of being able to leverage Google's largely stable of web apps.  It could also use Google Books to meet peoples' e-book needs.

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RE: Amazon dropping eBook readers?
By spwrozek on 2/4/2010 4:19:54 PM , Rating: 5
E-ink is an old technology that's hardly moving forward. If people demand lcd, which is continually progressing even still, then this is where Amazon should focus their business.

Personally I would never want to do heavy reading on an LCD screen (work on computers all day already). The E-ink is easy on the eyes unlike an LCD. If they change the product then sure but as an e-reader it will be better with e-ink. This is why I feel like the iPad should not do well in the e-reader market as people will find it too staining on their eyes.

RE: Amazon dropping eBook readers?
By AstroCreep on 2/4/10, Rating: -1
By Runiteshark on 2/4/2010 9:19:36 PM , Rating: 2
True but its still has its own light source, which shines into your eyes.

By Oregonian2 on 2/4/2010 10:41:33 PM , Rating: 4
Then I ask you if you've use an eInk display device for long term use. I've spend a couple decades sitting in front of CRTs followed by another with LCDs. eInk display in my Kindle beats both by a mile for book reading (in my direct experience).

Having a touch screen is not related as such. One of Sony's eBook readers has a touch screen on top of the eInk display. The new B&N "nook" has a touch screen below the eInk screen where one's book is read.

If Amazon adds a touch screen (which I think is a mistake, it's not needed) I think it's more a response to the nook than anything else (possibly Sony's touch screen model, but I don't find folk really getting wild about that feature on it.

As much as you like an LCD over a CRT, the eInk screen will be better than the LCD by even a greater margin (IMO - for text book reading, like novels). Try it, see if you don't love eInk displays. :-)

RE: Amazon dropping eBook readers?
By xii on 2/4/2010 8:11:11 PM , Rating: 3
What would be great is this touchscreen tech with a mirasol display (, which displays video and only reflects ambient light (easy on the eyes). If Amazon pulls that off, I'm sold, completely.

By atlmann10 on 2/5/2010 2:17:39 AM , Rating: 2
The Mirasol display is nice. I personally would like a tablet device as a do everything device except for gaming which I see on of course the iPad and people comment on in this topic. I do not really wan a Table for gaming, my desktop does that fine. I would like one with another chip that enables cellular network and wireless connection, bot to any CDMA and GSM even though I don't use GSM. I think it makes better sense to have the option than not. Either way I have seen several promising e-reader type screens in the same capability stack as the Mirasol. However; I like the Mirasol the best out of any I have seen these glossy screen make no sense to me for this type of device.

"Google fired a shot heard 'round the world, and now a second American company has answered the call to defend the rights of the Chinese people." -- Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.)

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