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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 Justin Time on 2/4/2010 5:11:15 PM , Rating: 2
More importantly, even in low-light conditions, LCDs are not as good as eInk for extended reading.

Backlit LCD screens emit light, so you are looking into a light-source... which becomes tiring to read from for extended periods.

eInk is reflective technology, and gives an experience similar to reading from paper.

RE: Amazon dropping eBook readers?
By adntaylor on 2/4/2010 6:52:52 PM , Rating: 2
You're right about backlit LCDs, but not all LCDs are necessarily backlit.

Pixel Qi's approach is to offer an LCD that can operate either as a fully reflective display (i.e. no eye strain) with higher resolution than e-Ink but while also allowing you to display full colour and video if you turn the backlight on.

Even conventional mobile LCDs are partially reflective so do not strain eyes as much as fully emissive displays.

OLEDs are 100% emissive, so are as bad as CRTs for eye strain.

By porkpie on 2/4/2010 9:20:57 PM , Rating: 2
The review I saw of Pixel Qi's display said it had limited resolution and viewing angles. An interesting tech to be sure, but still waaaay early to write off E-ink...especially when you still have to deal with the battery life issue (LCDs require power all the time).

BTW, color e-Ink displays are on the way as well.

"OLEDs are 100% emissive, so are as bad as CRTs for eye strain. "

Huh? The problem with CRTs wasn't that they were emissive. The phosphor persistance was so low that displays all had flicker, even when refreshed 120khz or faster. Of course, that high speed refresh had benefits too...not even the best LCDs today can touch CRT for displaying high-speed motion.

"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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