Devin Coldewy of TechCrunch has just gotten back from a tour of Lab126's offices. This Amazon sub is where Amazon has been developing the Kindle since before it was a gleam in Jeff Bezos' eye, and while Devin was there he was shown a new Kindle prototype with a front-lit screen.
He didn't get to see any part the device itself, but someone did demo the front light in action. Devin The touchscreen equipped device hs shrouded by cardboard with just the screen visible, and Devin reported that:
With a tap, a slider popped up on the screen, and as it was dragged to the right, the screen lit up evenly with a rather cool light. In the dark, it was plainly noticeable as a glow, and in uneven light — say, shade or a shuttered room — the slight illumination made the screen much more readable. At full blast it was definitely projecting some light (technically speaking it was reflecting it), but it was still a soft glow and not the harsh flashlight of a backlit LCD.
The light itself is based on tech developed by a company that Amazon bought a couple years back. The company, Oy Modilis, was founded in 1991 and then quietly snapped up by Amazon in 2o10. The company is described by Amazon as being"the world leader in light-guide technology". On a related note, I suspect that Amazon bought Oy in the same tech buying spree as the touch screen company they reportedly bought in. Amazon was probably looking for the next great tech and bought everything that looked like it had a shot.
When I first read this report I thought that here's a product idea that I hope isn't going to come to market. I've seen any number of front light screens and I'm not sure any of them worked all that well. They were always a compromise between power conservation and effective lighting thatI ut up with because I needed them rather than because I liked them.
But this one might be different. Devin was impressed by the evenness of the light. He thought that the lower settings would help make the screen much more readable in dimly lit rooms. This might be worth getting, if Amazon really does have the bugs out of it.
As for me, if I want a lighted screen I will get a tablet with lots better color and refresh rate. Also, I suspect that the front light Amazon's working on is probably going to be enough of a power drain that tablets might be a viable competitor.