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Qualcomm Mirasol Still on Schedule for a Fall Release – So What?

I’m attending the WirelessEdTech Conference today, and i thought I’d take a moment and post an update on Mirasol.

It’s been some time since I last touched base with Qualcomm, but not much has changed since May. Qualcomm is still working with the same 5.7″ screen, and they are still on  schedule to meet the current release date of some time this year.

I decided to post this update because while Mirasol may have stood still for the past 5 months, the tablet and ebook reader markets have changed drastically.

Unfortunately for Qualcomm, it looks like working out the bugs in the production issues simply took too long. The ereader market and LCD tablet have both grown large enough and cheap enough that I’m not sure there’s a market for Mirasol anymore.

Just to refresh your memory, Mirasol is a screen tech being developed by Qualcomm. It’s color, low power, and visible in sunlight. And that means that Mirasol combines some of the better aspects of E-ink with the color of LCD. It doesn’t have quite as good color as LCD but Mirasol does have better color than E-ink’s color screen.

Unfortunately, Mirasol is also going to be expensive when it is first released. My estimate is that a Mirasol screen will add at least $100 to $200 to the cost of a tablet. We now have good $200 Android tablets with better color quality and we have a $109 Kindle which has more battery life than I know what to do with. Price is clearly going to be a concern, and battery life isn’t going to be the bonus that you might assume. Do you really want to pay an extra $200 for such a small screen? I would – if the Mirasol screen measured 10″. But not on something as small as 5.7″.

And then there’s the much hyped competition. Amazon has come out with a killer tablet and they’re going to attract a lot of consumers. (I wonder if the B&N NookColor Acclaim is going to have a Mirasol screen?)

Mirasol is also about to lose out on one of its advantages: color. Ectaco is already working on a 9.7″ academic ereader with a color E-ink screen and it’s going to be out this year. It’s going to cost $350 and while it’s not terribly fast (video) it does still encroach on one of the few things that makes Mirasol special.

At this point the upcoming Mirasol device is going to need to be pretty spectacular or it will be a resounding thud. IMO, Qualcomm is  going to need a pretty spectacular partner, as well. The one that I know of (Pocketbook) is a lightweight – in the all-important US market. Qualcomm is going to need one or more heavyweights showing off a Mirasol device.

Would you buy an expensive first run device from a no name company? Heck, do you plan to buy one at all?

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Mike Cane October 20, 2011 um 10:46 am

There could be a market for Mirasol as a premium device.

Nate Hoffelder October 20, 2011 um 11:00 am

Not with the current screen size, I don’t think. The Kindle Fire offers a better value.

Mike Cane October 20, 2011 um 8:11 pm

Too bad Sharper Image no longer exists other than as a brand name selling crap! It’d wind up there.

Although with Amazon’s move into HTML5 today, you have to wonder if they’re waiting on this screen still. Didn’t Mirasol get a massive secret investment from someone months ago?

Peter October 20, 2011 um 11:26 am

I’ll buy it if it’s the nook. Anything that justifies my pre-existing opinion that Amazon isn’t really all that innovative 🙂

Otherwise, no. It’s terrible.

But that’s how these things go- it’s the innovator’s dillemma. At scale (to reduce the price) and with further development (to modify the screen size and work out any kinks) this technology can and probably will easily wipe out both tablets and ereaders. But at first it will stink and need to be massively overpriced- remember Kindle 1, or the brick cellphone?

There will only be a small market at launch. But the upside is that the early adopters WILL pay a premium.

So you look for a partner whose small and out of favor enough that even the early adopter market is worth pursuing.

What’s the market cap for Barnes and Noble these days- 600 million (million, not billion)? They’ll be happy with a couple million unit sales.

Actually, I bet they’ll be happy if they can just get people to visit the store to check it out. Maybe sell a latte or two.

Paul Durrant October 20, 2011 um 12:41 pm

5.7″, but 1024 x 768 pixels. That’s 224ppi compared to current 166ppi.

Based on what I’ve seen so far, I’d easily pay $250 for a 5.7″ mirasol tablet/ebook reader.

Peter October 20, 2011 um 1:53 pm

I’m thinking it will be more like $350-$400, depending on which brand (Qualcomm has confirmed there will be multiple partners) you get.

Paul Durrant October 20, 2011 um 5:10 pm

Ouch. It would need to have some really splendid tablet capabilities for that.

Nate Hoffelder October 20, 2011 um 2:02 pm

It will only cost $250 if someone is determined to lose money.

Peter October 20, 2011 um 3:17 pm

Ha! Lately it seems like everyone other than Apple is determined to lose money.

Syn October 20, 2011 um 4:17 pm

Two years ago, even a year ago, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this display. I have to agree with Nate, that shipped has sailed. It took them way to long to get to market.

Maybe they’ll make a 10" and Apple will use it or Amazon in their next Kindle once they have a larger display.. We’ll see..

Avi October 21, 2011 um 10:13 am

Watched Cheryl Goodman, QCOMs Mirasol rep, in a video discussing the upcoming, but still undisclosed, release of several products using the display. She made the point that a Mirasol enabled device will create a new niche, more ereader than tablet, but an enhanced ereader. She conceded that LCD displays are more suitable for tablets, as they produce a much more vivid output, but as ereaders go a Mirasol device would be way ahead of the pack, since it could co-opt some tablet features, color and video, while maintaining ereader staples, reflective and low power. I think she may be right, and the small lightweight (low power – small battery) display–not unlike a paperback–makes for portability, not found in tablets.

Nate Hoffelder October 21, 2011 um 10:37 am

Yes, but we already have that with E-ink and we have it cheap. Why would I need color if adds a lot to the price?

Avi October 21, 2011 um 10:39 am

does eInk do video?

Nate Hoffelder October 21, 2011 um 11:03 am

Not well, but if I want video i will get a tablet.

Avi October 21, 2011 um 11:11 am

So, an ereader for reading ebooks and a tablet for everything else? And, you carry both around with you?

Also, think of a new breed of ebook with embedded video, perfect on a Mirasol ereader, no?

Nate Hoffelder October 21, 2011 um 11:48 am

Nope, not at all. I don’t have a need for tablet for video becuase I don’t have a need for videos on the go.

But I do carry several devices around, including my laptop. Also, i can usually forgo the tablet becuase videos play quite nicely on my laptop.

Avi October 21, 2011 um 11:27 am

Of course, think also of the cost, two devices, or even a tablet alone, and the extra expense for the Mirasol seems less problematic.

Nate Hoffelder October 21, 2011 um 11:54 am

But will the cost of (for example) a Kindle Fire + K4 really be more than the cost of the Mirasol device by itself? I doubt it.

Avi October 21, 2011 um 12:20 pm

Well, that’s still two devices, and color ebooks and video enhanced ebooks (sure to be coming down the pike), won’t work with the K4. Besides, the price is sure to drop for the Mirasol, if and when it gets established. And, I’m not sure everyone’s needs are the same as yours, some may want "video on the go", without having to resort to a laptop or heavy battery munching tablet (which you can’t see in bright sunlight and strains the eyes and wrist arms hands when reading,) or two devices.

Avi October 21, 2011 um 3:22 pm

Just a few closing comments, before I exit this discussion. Firstly, I’m grateful for the edified repartee. Secondly, I should admit that I’m not at all versed in the workings of the marketplace or the tech industry, so I have no real faith in my predictions of the success of the Mirasol display. I’ve simply latched onto the technology as something seemingly really cool–as I did similarly to the superior, but mass market non-starter, minidisc technology when it first appeared (I now have an outsize antiquated collection of players, recorders and discs)–and am therefore partial. Thirdly, I am currently pursuing a masters in library and info science and have a keen interest in the intersection of libraries and technology, and the future of the book and publishing–so, ereaders are a natural affinity (though to be honest I prefer the good old-fashioned book, because I grew up with it I suspect). I think one day soon we will see children learning to read on interactive ereaders, complete with hyperlinks to educational games, etc.; and, this generation will undoubtedly be indifferent to the traditional bound book. Maybe Mirasol will have a place in this world, maybe not–with technology changing so rapidly, it will likely be supplanted before long, even if it should become established presently. But, even if it never makes a splash in the ereader/ tablet market–where, were it cheaper, it would make a killer ereader, and, were it more brilliant, would make a killer tablet; and, as it stands, makes a killer compromise–I think we will see it popping up in the smart phone sector, where the low power–weight savings and battery life–and sunlight readability would make it quite attractive. Cheers, and thanks for reading 🙂

Zinj October 22, 2011 um 10:49 am

Agreed, Qualcomm dropped the ball with getting this to market. But, I still think it has unique capabilities which will find buyers who read outdoors and don’t want to carry a tablet for everything else (like me). And yes, I will still gladly pay an early-adopter premium and buy their first device. It has the potential to become the standard display of the future, but only if we far-sighted consumers take a chance.

ZStranthan October 23, 2011 um 1:37 am

Yes, I agree with Zinj and Peter. Like blog author, it is disappointing, but I think it still early and Qualcom is smartphone company, not ereader, in long run, agree? Innovator dillema quote quite right. and Zinj proves it, like me, we will buy as early adopters. Will be interesting when they can build enough for Amazon or whoever, but for now, we wait. I Enjoy the blog, thank you!

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