touchco One fairly big news item to hit today involves Amazon’s purchase of Touchco, a 6-person startup company with a new multitouch-capable, completely transparent touch-screen overlay technology.

A number of the blogs and news sources linking this story remark on how this technology is capable of use with the current multi-color LCD technology that drives the iPhone, iPad, and other forthcoming tablet PCs. They speculate that Amazon may be planning to go head-to-head vs. the iPad and deliver a multimedia experience with its next iteration of Kindle.

However, it is worth noting there is no reason this overlay technology couldn’t still be used with e-ink displays, too, producing a touch-sensitive e-ink display much more readable than the glare-haunted Sony PRS-700 I reviewed last year. I have to question whether Amazon would have any interest in leaping from its core mission of providing a superior reading experience into realms where Apple is much more accomplished.

Speaking of touch-sensitive displays, Slashdot has a link to an Engadget story about Displax Interactive Systems, a company that has developed a film that can be applied to any surface to turn it into a touchscreen. Suddenly those Star Trek: The Next Generation control panels are looking a lot more plausible.

E-ink vs. Backlit LCD: The Eyestrain Factor

Meanwhile, a discussion over on the Yahoo E-Book Community Mailing List has been talking about the question of e-ink vs. backlit displays and eyestrain. A number of people have complained about backlit displays causing more eyestrain than e-ink, and whether or not that was really true.

Bill Janssen wrote:

[As] far as I can tell, there’s no medical or scientific evidence to support this frequently heard urban legend. Light is light, and your eyes can’t tell the difference between photons emitted from the screen and photons reflected from the screen.

I’d be happy to be informed that I’m wrong, if anyone has pointers to real studies on the subject.

And Brenna Lyons replied:

According to ophthalmologists, backlighting is not bad for the eyes UNLESS you are in a darkened room. With an appreciable amount of ambient light, they say it’s no worse than any other reading. In a darkened room, the single area of light is not good. They also highly suggest reading from a screen for vision impaired patients, since they say it’s EASIER on the eyes than the printed page. Just what I’ve heard from them. If they have studies to back it, I don’t have them.

On the other hand, I have seen a number of people claim to have tried reading from backlit-screen devices and experience eyestrain that they did not get from e-ink—but the glare from the touch-sensitive layer on the PRS-700 sometimes caused me more eyestrain than reading off my iPod Touch did!

And, of course, we all “read from backlit screens” a lot every day: our computer monitors. Maybe we don’t read novels on them, but we read e-mail, Facebook, websites, news, and otherwise spend a considerable amount of time in front of the screen—especially those of us who write as a hobby or for a living.

I suspect that to a certain extent it may be subjective. Just as some people are able to enjoy the 3D effects in movies such as Avatar while others get a blinding headache, some people may be more prone to eyestrain from LCDs than others. On the other hand, it might be they simply have the brightness adjusted incorrectly.

Regardless, this bodes well for the effectiveness of the iPad as an e-book reader, at least for those who do not find backlighting induces eyestrain. And of course, there are a number of non-backlit color display technologies on the way for those who do.

I’m still skeptical Jeff Bezos is going to want to throw e-ink over for that same kind of LCD just yet, however.

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Amazon purchases touch-screen startup; on e-ink, LCD, and eyestrain
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