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Electronics Production | December 23, 2011

Ebook reader display market to double in 2011

Although worldwide shipments of displays for pure-play ebook readers are set to more than double in 2011, growth will slow in the coming years, prompting suppliers to consider spicing up their products.
Shipments this year of displays for pure-play ebook reader will reach 27.1 million units, up a resounding 108 percent from 13.0 million in 2010, according to an IHS iSuppli. The vast majority of these displays are monochrome.

The strong growth this year arises from a relentless marketing push and attractive pricing by ebook reader brands in order to promote sales of the devices. However, in the face of stiff competition from color-display tablets like Apple Inc.’s iPad, sales growth of ebook readers and displays will slow in the coming years.

Display shipment growth next year, for instance, will drop by two-thirds to 37 percent based on projected shipments of 37.1 million units, as shown in the figure attached. In 2015, the market will suffer a decline in shipments. This will prompt ebook reader makers to seek new markets and adopt color display alternatives to freshen up their product offerings.

“Ebook readers have made great inroads among consumers following their introduction a few years ago, exemplified by the success of the Amazon Kindle and the Barnes & Noble Nook,” said Vinita Jakhanwal, senior manager for small and medium displays at IHS.

“However, ebook readers’ monochrome displays are being challenged today by the vibrant color displays of tablet devices like the iPad. Ebook readers can increase their appeal by adding color displays and by focusing on vertical markets like education.”

Qualcomm Hopes Mirasol Color Display Will Prove Enticing

Ebook readers long have employed a type of electronic paper known as the electrophoretic display (EPD). However, an alternative microelectromechanical system (MEMS) color display technology known as Mirasol has been introduced by San Diego-based Qualcomm Inc.

The Mirasol display technology has been implemented in a non-English ebook reader called Kyobo, developed in tandem with the biggest bookseller of South Korea. The Kyobo ebook reader features a 5.6-inch, 1024 by 768-pixel Mirasol display, with a pixel density of 225 ppi.

Mirasol matches typical EPD characteristics, such as wide viewing angles and readability in sunlight. But what sets the Qualcomm technology apart is its capability to exhibit full color and deliver fast response speeds, without compromising the low-power benefits provided by traditional monochrome ebook readers. A charge on the Kyobo ebook reader can last for weeks, based on 30 minutes of reading per day on the device.

The Mirasol-based Kyobo is not cheap, coming at a price tag of 349,000 Korean won, equivalent to $319. This is even more expensive than a tablet device such as the Amazon Kindle Fire or the Barnes & Noble Nook Color, and nearly four times as much as the cheapest monochrome Amazon Kindle ebook reader at $79. What will be required for Mirasol to gain share will be improved cost competitiveness, deployment in large-volume products and an aggressive strategy to help create devices for attractive markets.

The road ahead, however, is uncertain. Even though Mirasol technology has the potential to become a game-changer in the ebook market, the years ahead could prove challenging, IHS believes, given the current limited manufacturing capacity and associated higher costs for producing the color display.

Ebook Growth Opportunities

Future growth in the ebook reader space likely will come from vertical markets such as education, where a single use case may be preferred over the multiple features and functionalities supported by a converged device like a tablet.

The challenge here is that the ebook reader devices for possible use in these markets have not yet been defined or designed. Nonetheless, pure-play ebook readers have a number of built-in advantages, including light weight and a battery life lasting weeks on a single charge.

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