Amazon working on a dual display E-Ink/LCD tablet, but is it really practical?

by: AdrianAugust 31, 2012

After its booming success with the 7-inch Kindle Fire tablet, Amazon has really started to look like a contender for more than just the e-reader niche. We know that the Kindle Fire(s) 2 are coming in just a week’s time, but a great tech company is always looking towards the future.

An even greater OEM will always try to reinvent itself and not polish and tweak the same old gadget year after year (yeah, Apple, I’m talking to you). That means taking some risks and making gambles from time to time, which is exactly what Amazon could do if the company’s latest patent will ever become reality.

According to Mashable, the Kindle maker is working on a very original gadget, which could bring the best of two worlds. The tablet could use two different screens, one placed on the front and one on the back of the device.

Why the heck would someone need two displays fitted into one gadget, you might ask. Well, it’s pretty simple. The front panel will be an LCD screen optimized for watching movies, browsing, gaming and other video-demanding activities, while the back will be a more modest e-ink display meant only for reading e-books on.

It’s true, you can read books on a LCD screen with no problem, but it’s a known fact that it’s much more convenient to use an e-ink panel, which doesn’t fatigue your eyes so quickly. The sweetest part of it all? It seems that such a tablet, unlike what you might be thinking, could save up battery life by switching from LCD to E-Ink every time slow-moving or non-moving content is displayed.

Could Amazon do what enTourage was unable to?

“An electronic device including two or more display elements can provide enhanced functionality with improved rates of power consumption.” the patent filing stated, adding that “A user can cause information that does not change rapidly to be provided or moved to a relatively static display element, such as an electronic ink display, which enables that information to be displayed for a period of time with little additional power consumption.”

So you’ll have all the ingredients and spices that have made tablets and e-book readers popular, while not having to worry about power usage. What can go wrong? Well, as a matter of fact, a lot!

First off, there’s the question of the displays’ usability. If both the front and back screens will be touch-sensitive, how will one be able to hold the gadget? You might need handles, flaps, a thicker than usual bezel or something to make the tab grippable. But wouldn’t that increase its weight and bulkiness? How about the design? How can you do all that and keep the device from looking tacky?

On top of it all, there’s the price issue. A secondary E-Ink panel might not be very expensive, but it’ll still be costly than just putting a plastic casing on the tablets’s back. Not to mention that someone already tried to come out with a dual display tab with both LCD and E-Ink technology on board and failed miserably. Does anyone remember the enTourage eDGe? We do, and, as cool as it looked, it simply wasn’t that practical, so it died before it was even born.

Not to end the post too grim, we should probably refrain from judgements at this time and just wait and see exactly what Amazon has planned for this tablet. Let’s give them some credit, eh? Maybe they’ll be able to pull it off and launch an original, innovative and functional gadget. What do you guys think?


  • Jesus Esteban Medina Cruz

    To your question about how to hold the tablet if both screens are touch sensitive: It could be solved simply by implementing either an accelerometer, gyroscope or even a light sensor and having it detect what screen is facing down and deactivating it temporarily. It will also save battery power. Just common sense really, the same concept is used to mute some smart phones when they are facing down.

    I hope that Apple doesn’t decide to pattent this idea though.

    • That is one way to solve the problem, but there’s another issue I forgot to mention in my post… If you put your hand directly on one of the screens while holding the tab, you’ll need to make the panels scratchproof or even waterproof… And that will again add up to the costs and probably make the final price simply too high…

  • raindog469

    Are you forgetting the original Nook, which had a full sized e-ink screen and a smaller LCD touchscreen? I don’t think it was very successful, but it was enough to get them to develop the more traditional Nook Color.

    I think the “flip display” model could work as long as there’s an accelerometer in there that turns off the downward-facing screen… with an option to lock it to one screen or the other, as some tablets offer for auto-rotation, for when we’re lying in bed holding it over our heads.

    Better still would be Pixel Qi’s “it’s an LCD, no, it’s e-ink” display… if its contrast weren’t so bad compared to normal LCD and e-ink displays.

  • Jesslyn Hendrix

    I say don’t bet against Amazon. As long as they’re not following the pack their ideas have at least been good and developed into great. I still remember that 1st Kindle that the tech world laughed and sneered at. It was as much of a game changer as the iPhone.

    And I can see using some kind of clam shell to cover one side or the other or better yet some sort of flap thing combined w/ a clam shell so that both sides could be covered up,