Mirasol, the team at Qualcomm responsible for its e-reader division, has been showing off a new set of eBook readers that are built on "interferometric modulation" display technology. In slightly less geeky language, that means that they can do colour, and they can do video - something that e-Reader devices can't currently do.
The tech is based on the natural principle that makes butterfly wings shimmer. Tiny membranes that can be controlled with electric charges are laid onto a mirrored surface. Light coming through the membranes gets refracted and the interference can produce colour. As a result, no backlight is required, and the experience is better - rather than worse - in direct sunlight.
That usage of natural light also extends the battery life of devices. The company says that devices with a regular e-ink display could last 20-40% longer if they were equipped with an interferometric display instead. It's possible to do colour and video on an e-ink display, but it ramps up the refresh rates so much that it slaughters the battery life.
Mirasol reckons that when combined with a touchscreen, interferometric modulation could be a powerful display tech for the next generation of tablet PCs and mobile phones, as well as e-readers. Scrolling and animation effects are possible, unlike with current e-reader displays. We saw a very small 5cm display in action with video, however the pictures you see above were a static display, "locked" in a lab and unchangeable.
It'll be interesting to see if Qualcomm can build Mirasol's display tech into something that can be bulk-produced, and then roll it out over a wide range of devices. The company already has a gaming controller prototyped. At the moment the quality of the screen still needs a bit of work, if the prototypes are anything to go by, but early versions of a commercial product of some sort are due on the market by late 2010.