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This New Qualcomm Technology Gives E-Readers Color

It’s still early here at the Consumer Electronics Show–the halls bursting at the seams with exhibitors open later this morning for the first time. But if someone asked me what the most interesting thing is that I’ve seen so far, the answer’s easy: It’s the low-power color displays for e-readers and other gadgets from Qualcomm’s Mirasol division, which the company was showing off at the Digital Experience event Wednesday night.

Mirasol’s technology produces screens that look a lot like the E-Ink ones found on nearly every e-reader to date–they’re unilluminated and therefore look better in bright light than in dim environments.  But Mirasol’s displays, unlike E-Ink, do color and have decent refresh rates. If the shipping version of the display technology’s as impressive as the demo, that means that it’ll allow for e-readers with color pages, video, and slicker user interfaces. Here’s a photo of a concept device that doesn’t do the technology justice.

The Mirasol technology, which involves tiny mirrors creating colors by refracting light, doesn’t have anything to do with how E-Ink works, but it shares some of the virtues that make it a good candidate for e-reading devices, including extremely low power consumption. (Like E-Ink, it only draws power when the page is being changed, not when an image is static.) Actually, a Mirasol representative told me that it uses far less power than even E-Ink.

The tech demo at Digital Experience knocked my socks off, but Mirasol isn’t quite ready to go into consumer products yet. Qualcomm says to expect an e-reader incorporating the the technology by the third quarter of the year.