A Mono-Tasking Machine For Reading Books: Touch Or Button

Lukas Mathis at Ignore The Code:

I’m not against having a touchscreen on an ebook reader. Tapping on a book to open it makes perfect sense, even if it does mean that the screen gets dirty. But having a touchscreen doesn’t preclude you from also adding a hardware button that makes the one single thing people do the most often with your device as easy and seamless as possible.

I agree: it doesn’t have to be an either/or. An e-reader like the Kindle can have both. But let’s try this mental exercise: if you were to choose just one, which one would you choose? The benefit of thinking through this question is you are allowing yourself to get into the mind of someone designing an e-reader that is as affordable as possible, as simple to manufacture as possible, and has the smallest chance of failure as possible.

In the long term, say five to ten years from now, I can imagine e-readers replacing paper-based magazines, textbooks, newspapers, and books in general. Whatever technologies those might be them technologies will eventually get us there. Let’s look at the question of touch versus a physical button.

Turning pages using a touchscreen also means that you have to cover part of your screen with your thumb.

And it means that your screen will get really dirty, really quickly.

Well, some use their pointy finger to swipe to the next page. Others tap the edges of the display with their thumb to ‘click’ to the next page. Although less direct, I find it more pleasurable when I flick. How you touch to get to the next page is irrelevant. What is important is that touch allows us to do what we’re comfortable doing. Watch yourself read a magazine, a catalog, or a book. You use your pointy finger and your thumb to grab a page and turn it. This is how we turn our pages and the flicking touch gesture allows us to mimic the way we’ve been turning pages for centuries. You can do this with touch, but not with a button.

Second, the screen getting dirty is only a side effect of touch. Touching the screen doesn’t necessarily have to make the screen really dirty. With advances in oleophobic coatings, coatings that make the screen resistant to oils, the e-reader of tomorrow will get less dirty. And maybe some day we’ll figure out a way to keep it from ever getting dirty.

This doesn’t matter too much with something like an iPad. When an iPad is turned on, the screen is bright enough that you usually don’t notice the dirt that has accumulated since the last time you wiped it down. The Kindle’s reflective screen is different. I immediately notice when I accidentally touch my Kindle’s screen.

I find this quite the opposite. When I look at my shiny iPhone 4 with its glare-type cover glass every little fingerprint is very obvious. The good part is that most of the time the smudges are easy to clean: just rub it against your jeans or shirt. From my experience at a local Barnes & Noble store, fingerprints on matte E Ink displays on the other hand are harder to see. Almost never have the smudges gotten in the way of my reading experience. In my mind dirty screens as a result of touch is insignificant when it comes to reading on E Ink displays.

If I were to pick just one, it would be touch. Touch allows a more natural page turning experience by flicking each page. Yes, each touch does make the display a bit more dirty but I find E Ink displays to be more dirty-proof than iPhones or iPads. If we don’t have this either/or limitation adding a button might seem like a good design choice, but I don’t think it would have turned out very well. By allowing the possibility of a button, now you need to think about many other design constraints:

  • Where do people usually hold the Kindle?
  • How big should the buttons (left and right) be?
  • How sensitive should those buttons be?
  • Should we put buttons on the bottom bezel for one-handed readers?

Etc. On the manufacturing side, more steps are introduced with each additional button. Costs increase not only because there are more components but because the procurement, quality control and overall management increase the complexity. With more manufacturing steps and more components the probability of failure, during manufacturing as well as during its lifetime of use, increases.

When I slip into the shoes of the new Kindle Touch product manager, I can imagine he or she had to make some difficult choices to bring the cost down, simplify the manufacturing, and make it durable. I think the choice to go with just touch without buttons was a good one. The result is a streamlined design based on an intuitive interaction model where we simply point, flick, and get on to reading.

Apple Thunderbolt Display (LG Display LM270WQ1) v. Dell UltraSharp U2711 (LM270WQ2): Colors And Response Times

iFixit tore down the Apple Thunderbolt Display and found many interesting components including the 27-inch LCD with model number LM270WQ1 manufactured by LG Display.

LM stands for LCD and Monitor. 270 represents 27.0 inches. WQ refers to WQXGA, which unfortunately can be confusing because it can be either 2560×1600 or 2560×1440. In the case of the Apple Thunderbolt Display it’s the later. The number 1 at the end probably indicates the version number.

  • Colors: 16.7 million
  • Response Time: 12 ms

iFixit focused on these two specifications for the LM270WQ1 LCD panel and compared them to the Dell UltraSharp U2711. The U2711 specifications show a response time of 6 ms and 1.07 billion colors. The difference:

We might be splitting hairs here, but those hairs would be viewed with 1,053,300,000 less colors on Apple’s display. Just saying.

Let’s split them hairs. The U2711 uses the LG Display LM270WQ2. Contrary to what I’ve written in the second paragraph, the last digit turns out to be not just a version number but an indication of completely different models. The LM270WQ2 is a 10-bit H-IPS LCD panel. That’s 10 bits to each sub-pixel so there are 1024 shades of red, green, and blue. Do the math (1024x1024x1024) and you get 1.07 billion colors. But there is the possibility that the LM270WQ2 is merely an 8-bit + AFRC panel or 8-bit plus dithering to make it look like you get 16.7 million and then some.

Unfortunately LG Display doesn’t make things any clearer on its LM270WQ2 preliminary specification sheet (PDF) identifying the color depth as, “1.07 Billion colors, 10Bit with A-FRC”. A 10-bit + A-FRC LCD panel would act similarly to a 12-bit LCD with the total possible colors reaching 68.7 billion (4096x4096x4096). That can’t be it. I’m not certain what bit the LM270WQ2 is, but if I had to guess it’d be 8-bit + A-FRC to make it work like a 10-bit LCD panel. So the difference in color depth between the Apple Thunderbolt Display and the Dell UltraSharp U2711 is A-FRC, a fancy word for dithering. Besides to get 10-bit color working properly, you’ll need more than just a 10-bit LCD. Check out TFT Central’s explanation for what is required for 10-bit color.

The typical Grey to Grey (GTG) response time for the U2711 is 6 ms. On the Apple Thunderbolt Display the response time specification is simply stated as 12 ms. So I found the LM270WQ1 LCD final specification sheet (PDF) and the typical rise time was 6.5 ms and decay time was 7.5 ms for an on/off response time totaling 14 ms. Maximum rise and decay times were both 14 ms. But this is on/off response times, not GTG. Unfortunately there are no GTG response times indicated in the LM270WQ1 production specification sheet, but on the other hand there are on/off response times for the LM270WQ2. So let’s compare on/off response times. On the LM270WQ2 used in the Dell U2711 the typical rise time is 5.5 ms and decay time is 6.5 ms with 12 ms as a maximum. So to compare apples to apples the U2711 has an on/off response time of 12 ms. Not that much better than the 14 ms response time of the Apple Thunderbolt Display.

To conclude, the Apple Thunderbolt Display uses the LG Display LM270WQ1 LCD panel and the Dell UltraSharp U2711 uses a different LM270WQ2. Comparing apples to oranges can get you into trouble and that’s exactly what iFixit did:

The 27-inch (diagonal) TFT active-matrix LCD has a resolution of 2560 by 1440 pixels, the standard for displays of this size and price. Its 12 ms response time and 16.7 million colors, however, fall short of the 6 ms response time and 1.07 billion colors of Dell’s comparable display.

Both are fantastic displays, but the difference between the two are not as large as iFixit might have you think. The U2711’s LM270WQ2 panel sports an 8-bit + A-FRC while the Thunderbolt Display’s LM270WQ1 is an 8-bit LCD. The difference being the dithering. The response times, when looking at on/off, are 12 ms and 14 ms with the slight advantage going to the Dell UltraSharp U2711.

Hitachi Displays 4.5-inch RGB Stripe 1280×720 IPS LCD Using Amorphous Silicon (a-Si) Instead of Low Temperature Poly-Silicon (LTPS)

Hitachi Displays (Japanese) announced its 4.5-inch IPS LCD sporting a RGB stripe 1280×720 pixel format good for a resolution of 329 ppi.

  • Display: 8-bit IPS LCD
  • Pixel Format: 1280×720
  • Sub-Pixel Format: RGB Stripe
  • Colors: 16.77 million
  • Color Gamut: 70% NTSC (CIE 1931)
  • Viewing Angles: 160/160
  • Brightness: 500 nits
  • Contrast Ratio: 1000:1

One specification that seems to be not up to par are the viewing angles. At 160/160 these are considerably less than the 178/178 that we usually see on IPS LCDs.

One significant underlying technology that was used to manufacture this technological marvel is the amorphous silicon (a-Si) based TFT backplane. Typically, high performance mobile LCDs feature a TFT backplane made of low temperature polysilicon (LTPS). There are many reasons for this.

The structure of a-Si is randomly aligned and exhibits a higher electrical resistance restricting electron mobility. The LTPS process involves the crystallization of a-Si resulting in poly-crystalline silicon or poly-silicon. The new poly-silicon structure lowers electrical resistance and improves electron mobility by about 100 times compared to a-Si.

Higher electron mobility reduces the size, especially the bezel, of the LCD by integrating the driver ICs directly unto the glass. With a glass-integrated driver IC the pitch between pixels are finer enabling higher resolution mobile displays. Another benefit includes the reduction of components that leads to increased ruggedness with higher resistance to vibration and impact.

But there is one major drawback: LTPS is expensive. Hitachi Displays has somehow used a cheaper a-Si TFT backplane and crammed 1280×720 pixels into a 4.5-inch IPS LCD. This is an amazing feat as it combines high performance with low cost. I hope the performance doesn’t disappoint. Hitachi Displays will be showcasing its 4.5-inch a-Si 1280×720 IPS LCD during FPD International (October 26 – 28).

“E-ink feels peaceful to me.”

John Gruber at Daring Fireball:

E-ink feels peaceful to me. The Kindle doesn’t feel like a computer. It feels — not to the touch but to the eyes and mind — like a crudely-typeset and slightly smudgily-printed paper book. That’s a good thing. Battery life is un-computer-like as well: Amazon measures e-ink Kindle battery life in months, and they’re not joking. It’s a surprise when the Kindle actually needs a charge. I was a doubter until I owned one, but now I’m convinced that e-ink readers have tremendous value even in the post-iPad world.

That’s some praise. A display technology that can conjure up feelings of peace. The new Kindle Touch e-reader Amazon announced today sports a 6-inch 16-level grayscale 600×800 E Ink display with a multitouch layer. The resolution is just 167 ppi, but I have no doubt E Ink displays will only get better and at some point will challenge real paper for how comfortable it is to read off of: imagine an E Ink display that pushes 300 ppi.

Already it feels like “a crudely-typeset and slightly smudgily-printed paper book” to Gruber. I’d say that’s off to a good start.

New Smartphone Buyers Increasingly Embracing Android In The U.S.

Don Kellogg at Nielsen:

According to an August survey, 43 percent of all smartphone owners have an Android device. But if you ask only those who got a new smartphone in the past three months what kind of phone they chose, more than half (56%) will tell you they picked an Android device. The preferences of these so-called “recent acquirers” are important as they are often a leading indicator of where the market is going.

In this case, with a new iPhone that will be introduced on October 4, the latest from Nielsen might not be an accurate indicator of where the market might be going.

Dell UltraSharp U2311H: 23-inch E-IPS LCD Monitor

Chris Heinonen at AnandTech:

Overall the Dell U2311H did a good job as a display, especially when you consider how affordable you can find it available for. The backlight uniformity leaves a bit to be desired, but the dE level was capable of getting to a level that was suitable for print work. The contrast ratio of 1000:1 was very nice compared to other monitors in the same price class as well.

The Dell UltraSharp U2311H sports a 23-inch 6-bit+AFRC e-IPS LCD with a pixel format of 1920×1080. Most say 6-bit+AFRC is just as good as an 8-bit LCD panel since a large majority of us can’t tell the difference. Well if color is important I recommend getting a true 8-bit LCD panel.

I must say Dell’s website is a pain to navigate through. It took way too long for me to find 23-inch monitors. It’s under “Electronics, Software & Accessories” if you’re looking. And when I got there the U2311H is nowhere to be found. I did find the UltraSharp U2312HM, which looks to be quite similar to the U2311H. The main difference is the backlight: the U2311H uses a mercury-laden CCFL backlight while the U2312HM packs one with LEDs. The CCFL backlight makes use of four tubes and is edge lit.

There are three major knocks on the U2311H. First is the 6-bit LCD panel. Folks who care about color should go after IPS displays but not one that’s 6-bit. Second is the CCFL backlight. Get the U2312HM with the LED backlight. It will turn on instantly, will be more robust, and save energy. You’ll also know that you didn’t help drive demand for CCFL and the mercury inside. And finally, the biggest flaw is mistaken identity. The U2311H seems to be targeted to folks who care about color, hence IPS, but then gets there half way with a 6-bit LCD panel and a CCFL backlight. Priced at MSRP US$319. If you don’t mind a 6-bit+AFRC e-IPS LCD panel, I recommend getting the U2312HM with a LED backlight instead, for the same price.

Living Mobile in South Korea

Yours truly quoted, Anna Rohleder at Opera News:

“Folks have their phones with them at all times. And because of the way they move around using a lot of public transportation, a good percentage actually hold their phones.” Being so visible to others, the mobile then also becomes an object to be decorated for display. He continues: “From young to not so young, people go beyond just putting a case on their phones. There are stickers, photo stickers, extensions with cute things on them or lights sometimes.”

In South Korea the ‘handphone’ is essential.

Clutter Can Kill Creativity And Innovation

Jonathan Fields writing for Unclutterer:

Over the years, I’ve noticed a strong connection between the state of my physical space and my ability to do high-level creative work. When my space is in disarray, my thoughts are generally also in disarray. I can still function, I can come up with ideas, write decent-enough content and solve-problems. But, I always know that I’m not operating anywhere near my true potential.

After reading Patrick Rhone’s Simplicity, Clutter, Compassion, & Love I was compelled to rethink how I go about simplifying, decluttering, having a bit more compassion and love. And after Fields’ article, I did what I had to do: dishes and vacuum. I feel better now and am ready for some creative work. At the moment I’m listening to the Episode 14 – Don’t worry. Do. podcast recommended by Rhone.

Fujitsu-Toshiba Mobile ARROWS Z ISW11F: 4.3-inch 1280×720 LCD

TechCrunch: 1280×720 on a smartphone is where it’s going, except for Apple. I just wrote about the Samsung Galaxy S II HD LTE that sports a 4.65-inch 1280×720 HD Super AMOLED. And about a week ago there was news regarding the 4.5-inch 1280×720 AH-IPS LCD sporting LG LU6200 Optimus LTE. And now, we have the Fujitsu-Toshiba Mobile ARROWS Z ISW11F.

The Android 2.3.5 smartphone packs a 4.3-inch LCD with a 1280×720 pixel format. That’s a 0.2 inches smaller than the LU6200 Optimus LTE but with the same number of pixels. I believe the ARROWS Z ISW11F takes the title of resolution king with a ppi of 341.5. In 2012 most high-end smartphones will most likely sport a pixel format of 1280×720. I don’t think Apple will be there though.

1280×720 has an aspect ratio of 16:9 and is great for 16:9 720p HD video playback, but we do a lot more than watch movies on our smartphones. That’s why Apple made the iPhone displays 3:2. Of course that also made it not so great for watching 16:9 videos. If only displays could morph into the best aspect ratio for what we are doing at the time…

The choice is clear. If 16:9 720p HD video playback is a really big thing for you then the three 1280×720 Android smartphones must be at the top of your list. If you already have a huge collection of multimedia and apps on your iPhone, then stick to it because the 3.5-inch 960×640 Retina Display is absolutely superb for almost anything you’d want to do on it. It’s just that the new crop of high-end Android smartphones with a 1280×720 pixel format is perfect for 720p HD video.

Other noteworthy specifications include a waterproof body, 13 megapixel Exmor R CMOS image sensor, and 1080p HD video recording. Japanese smartphone manufacturers seem to have figured out how to waterproof the body without adding bulk. I hope this becomes standard practice because I still vividly remember pulling out my iPhone 3G from my pool-dunked jeans and hoping it was going to continue working. It did, for another five minutes. If only the iPhone had been waterproof.

The Sony sourced Exmor R for mobile CMOS image sensor is thirteen megapixels. Backside illumination (BSI) technology to improve the light gathering capabilities of those thirteen million pixels is used, but I think both Sony and Fujitsu-Toshiba Mobile went a little overboard. 1080p HD video recording, on the other hand, is just right.

The WIMAX global phone is offered by KDDI in Japan and is expected to be available in November.