Freescale's new chip could revolutionise e-readers

Processor could double eReader speed, support large color screens, improve battery life & lower the retail cost by about $30

eReaders are about to get hotter, faster and cheaper. Freescale Semiconductor -- makers of the guts behind Amazon's Kindle and Sony's Reader -- announced it has created a chip that will rock the eReader world. The forthcoming i.MX508 processor will double eReader speed, support large color screens, improve battery life and lower the retail cost by about US$30.

Faster and Long-Lasting

Current eReaders generally flip pages in about two seconds; Freescale wants to cut that down to size. Glen Burchers, a marketing director at Freescale, purports that its new chip will populate E Ink screens in less than half a second -- that might even be faster than turning a physical book's page.

In terms of battery life, the i.MX508 processor includes "special power modes" that allow the eReader and some peripherals (eReader apps?) to operate at full speed and then switch off to save power. Given the extensive battery life of current eReaders, adding more juice is just icing on the cake.

OMG When?

Freescale's Web site says the i.MX508 will be available to "select customers early in the third quarter of 2010." By "select customers" Freescale likely means its most powerful clients, Amazon and Sony. Burchers was careful to add that it usually takes about six months from sampling a chip to a finished product going on sale.

With a job posting that hints at bringing color to the Kindle, Amazon's device could wield serious competition to colorful tablet devices like Apple's iPad, and just in time.

How Much Will eReader Prices Drop?

The new chip will cost manufacturers less than $10 in quantities greater than 250,000 units and will have a minus $30 effect on retail sales. Some are predicting the Kindle could drop to under $150. Again, this could give the iPad and its comparatively bloated price tag a run for its money and further Amazon's reign on the eReader market.

Will Traditional eReaders Still be Relevant?

The big question is whether or not people will still be buying traditional E Ink eReaders by the time Freescale's chip is released. Color, touchable screens could experience a massive boom in the next few months, which could lead to a decline in consumer interest in E Ink.

Tablets are one thing; eReaders are another. Amazon always stresses that its Kindle is meant for book readers, whereas tablets are for people engaged in other interests as well. And with such fierce competition out there, and eReaders' relative newness to the market, it's likely to me that Freescale will arrive just in time.

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Brennon Slattery

PC World (US online)
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