Apple develops e-ink hybrid display

Future versions of Apple’s iPad and other iOS devices may be sporting a hybrid LCD/electronic paper (e-ink) display, according to an Apple patent application recently published by the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

The display would be smart enough to evaluate the content you’re viewing and automatically switch between e-ink for reading and a full-color display for video and other content. The device may also have the ability to separate different sections of the screen into e-ink and full-colour displays allowing you to view different content types at the same time, according to the patent application.

The main advantage that single function e-readers such as the Kindle have over other mobile devices is the use of e-ink displays that imitate the appearance of paper. E-ink devices don’t require backlighting and are easier to read under the sun. Full-colour tablet screens, by comparison, are much more difficult to view in bright sunlight.

If Apple’s new display ever comes to fruition it has the potential to kill off single-function e-readers such as the Amazon Kindle and Sony’s Reader line. Why carry around both an e-reader and a multifunction device such as a tablet when you can have the best of both worlds in the same device?

One advantage e-readers will continue to have over tablets — at least for the moment — is weight. The Amazon Kindle (excluding the Kindle DX model) weighs just over half a pound while the lightest iPad 2 weighs 1.33 pounds. So holding an iPad for long periods of time can get tiring compared to the Kindle.

Even though Apple has submitted a patent application for a hybrid display, it’s too early to tell if Apple will ever launch a new product with a multifunction screen. A hybrid display is an interesting idea, however, and would reduce the number of devices gadget hounds would have to carry around on long trips where a tablet and an e-reader would come in handy.

But even if Apple does release an iPad with an e-ink/LCD screen, don’t count on the Amazon Kindle name disappearing. Rumour has it the online retailer is hard at work on its own Android-based tablet computer.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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