A reader has tipped me to five new patents for electrowetting screen tech which Amazon filed last week, including at least one which suggests that Amazon wants to integrate a Liquavista screen into a future Kindle. (Thanks, Javi!)
The patents cover both making a screen and integrating it into a device. They get quite detailed, far more so than I can cover in this post, but one in particular caught my eye. That patent mentions a new hybrid electrowetting screen tech which has separate greyscale and color components. This, folks, is new to me:
By providing a greyscale picture element layer and a separate colour picture element layer, the electrowetting display device can provide high quality and high brightness greyscale images and high quality colour images independently of each other. In an example, having a dedicated picture element layer for colour and another dedicated picture element layer for greyscales allows each layer to be optimised for desired properties for colour and greyscale images, rather than in known systems where the colour properties of a colour filter may be compromised so the colour filter may contribute to both colour and greyscale display states.
The description goes on to add that this new design is easier to manufacture than Liquavista's existing designs, but I would say that is less important than the fact that it suggests the possibility of a single screen offering both a color option and high resolution grayscale option.
Update: As a reader points out in the comments, Liquavista showed off a 9.7" XGA screen in 2011. That's 1024 x 768, or about 132 ppi. If the RGB pixels are replaced by gray/gray/gray pixels, this would effectively triple the resolution of the screen. Thanks, Felix!
So far as I know Liquavista has not shown off an electrowetting screen which had both color and grayscale ability, so this truly is something new.
For those just tuning in, Liquavista is a Netherlands-based screen tech company which Amazon bought from Samsung in 2013. For the past decade Liquavista has been working on a screen tech based on the principles of electrowetting (Wikipedia). Liquavista's tech is supposed to provide a low -power alternative to traditional LCD screens, but so far it has not released a single commercial product (in spite of several missed release dates in 2010, 2011, 2012).
Originally a project in the research labs at Phillips, Liquavista was spun off into its own company and later acquired by Samsung in early 2011.
Samsung wanted Liquavista for its screen tech, but sold the company to Amazon once it was clear that one, Liquavista couldn't produce a screen which looked as good as LCD or OLED, and two, the battery problem faced by mobile devices had largely been solved (here's a more detailed explanation).
Amazon has never explicitly stated why they wanted Liquavista, but it has generally been assumed that Amazon was going to use the screen tech either in a consumer product or for some unknown internal purpose related to Amazon's warehouses (this was why they bought Kiva Systems).
I would say that it is safe to conclude that Amazon wants to use the Liquavista tech in a future Kindle. This conclusion is reinforced both by the hiring spree earlier this year and by the money that Amazon is clearly pouring into Liquavista.
Starting in December 2013, Liquavista has filed for at least 16
patents, including patents that cover the material, manufacture techniques, design, and function of electrowetting displays. That stands in stark contrast to the previous two years when Liquavista filed for a grand total of 5 patents.
Amazon is clearly throwing money at Liquavista, and I can't wait to see what ends up on store shelves. With luck, we might see the new Kindle by the fall of 2015.
Update: Unless, of course, the rumored Kindle Paperwhite Ice Wine (the one which was supposed to launch this spring) has a Liquavista screen. A reader just pointed out the possible connection. Thanks, Guilliame!