Gadgets

How The Sony Reader's New E-Ink Touchscreen Works

Back In July, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos told The Charlie Rose Show: “The first thing that you do when you add a touch display is that you add a little extra layer of glass or plastic and a little bit of glare” as an explanation to why we don’t have a touchscreen Kindle yet. But Sony’s latest readers have a glare-free touchscreen interface. How did they do it?

Steve Haber, President of the Digital Reading Business Division at Sony, explained the new touchscreen interface:

“We developed a UI two years ago [for touchscreen] , and then continued to launch touchscreen. We’ve spent our development time and investment on developing the best touchscreen experience.

“We’re using is called “e-ink Pearl”. So you’re getting the benefit of a brand new, latest generation e-ink display, with no layer on top. 16 grades of contrast – you’ll have more blacks and better whites. The point is to replicate paper, otherwise we’d use an LCD.”

But how does it work? Essentially there are two extremely thin IR sensors on the top and side of the Reader’s screen. When your finger or the Reader’s stylus interrupts the IR beams at a certain point, the Reader registers the interrupted IR signal as a touch and works from there, but because the beams are so thin, you need to get up close to the screen for it to work, making it act like a touchscreen.

The benefit of this UI method is that it requires only the softest touch – apparently you can use a feather to change pages on the device – while at the same time allowing you to double tap words to launch the dictionary function.

So technically, it’s not quite accurate to describe the Reader as a touchscreen device, although it is a very clever way of creating a touchscreen interface without the need for adding an actual touchscreen.


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