Fast Company

Pixel Qi: The Screen Tech Behind CES' Most Buzzworthy Gadgets

Notion Ink Smartpad

Ever tried to read an email on your smartphone in direct sunlight? Well, if you haven't, don't--because it's pretty much impossible. That's because the screens on most computers and cell phones are backlit, especially now that both types of devices are increasingly used for color photos and video. Some e-readers, most notably the Amazon Kindle, skip the backlight, but the tradeoff is that they don't have color either.

But Pixel Qi's new multitouch LCD screens are about to change all that, giving consumers the best of both worlds. The display technology allows computers and cell phones to switch back and forth between HD color video-mode and ultra-readable, black-and-white e-reader mode in an instant, saving battery life in the process. Last spring, Gizmodo declared the technology "amazing", and earlier this month Pixel Qi made the winners list IEEE Spectrum Magazine's annual winners and losers issue. And this week during CES 2010 we'll finally get to see Pixel Qi's screens integrated with real devices.

The partnership that has tech bloggers salivating is the new tablet PC code-named Adam that's coming from an Indian company called Notion Ink later this year. The multitouch tablet will run on Google's Android software and, thanks in part to Pixel Qi's screen, is said to offer enough battery power to surf the net for 16 hours or watch HD video for 8 hours straight. Notion Ink has yet to release a price or name of the tablet, but industry sources predict a June release date and a price tag of about $300 (a heck of a lot less than the $1,000 price tag of Apple's rumored iSlate).

Pixel Qi was founded by Mary Lou Jepsen, the MIT-trained electrical engineer who helped create the $100 laptop for the One Laptop Per Child project, so the fact that affordability was a priority in developing the LCD screens comes as no surprise. Jepsen's OLPC laptop helped spark the netbook trend. Will multitouch tablets using Pixel Qi's screens make the Kindle and Nook obsolete this year? Check back on Friday for video of Pixel Qi's CES demo. In the meantime, here's a demo of the tech filmed in Taipei last June.

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