Delta's 13.1-inch color e-readers due out mid-year

Taiwan's Delta Electronics plans to start marketing a new 13.1-inch color touchscreen e-reader and an 8.1-inch monochrome touchscreen device around the end of the second quarter, which use e-paper technology from Japan's Bridgestone.

The new color e-reader should show up alongside a number of new devices using color e-paper screens, as the e-reader market transitions away from monochrome. Barnes & Noble's Nook e-reader, for example, uses a monochrome 6-inch e-paper screen by E-ink Corporation, with a smaller 3.5-inch color LCD screen lower down. The Delta device uses color e-paper and does not have an LCD screen.

The launch of Delta's products will move Bridgestone's technology center stage in the battle over e-paper technology. Bridgestone, known more for its tire business, showed the 13.1-inch e-paper technology off last year. The device was designed to be the size of regular piece of A4 paper so it could be used in place of business documents.

Currently, e-paper technology from E-ink dominates the market, including in Amazon's Kindle devices and Sony's Reader. Prime View International, the Taiwanese company, signed a deal to buy E-ink last year.

Hui Lee, director of the e-Paper business program at Delta, said her company is still open to finding partners to market both the 13.1-inch and 8.1-inch devices. If a company wants to brand the e-readers and take them to market, Delta will manufacture them. The Taiwanese company is a contract manufacturer.

Delta is, however, also talking to content providers in Taiwan and plans to launch the devices on its own or through a subsidiary if a partner cannot be found. Both devices offer note-taking capability, and 3G or Wi-Fi wireless technology can be added if a partner wants such technologies aboard.

In a demonstration, Lee used a stylus to manipulate the 13.1-inch color screen, which had a speedy refresh rate - much faster than e-readers on the market, which often take a pause before changing pages. The speedy refresh rate is one reason she believes Bridgestone's color e-paper technology offers an advantage for multimedia content.

She declined to talk about pricing on either device, saying that they will likely be bundled in content deals whereby customers pay for a two-year newspaper subscription, for example, and then get the e-reader at a discount to the actual cost of the hardware. The business model will be similar to that used to sell mobile phones, she said.

A 21-inch version of the color e-paper is already on the market, but she said even in that device, prices vary. "The price is determined by content providers and advertising content, not just the price of the device," she said. "We're trying to make this transition [to e-paper] easy for consumers."

A third major group working on e-paper technology is U.S.-based SiPix Imaging, which works with Taiwan's AU Optronics. The Bridgestone/Delta team vies with E-ink/Prime View and SiPix/AU Optronics in e-reader screens.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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