Amazon started the e-reader race by releasing the Kindle. Now, it has bought touchscreen company Touchco to keep up with the iPad. The New York Times has more:
Amazon has acquired Touchco, a start-up based in New York that specializes in touch-screen technology, a person briefed on the deal said Wednesday. Amazon will merge Touchco’s technology and staff members into its Kindle hardware division, Lab126, which is based in Cupertino, Calif., this person said.
Touchco uses a technology called interpolating force-sensitive resistance, which it puts into displays that can be completely transparent and could cost as little as $10 a square foot. The capacitive touch screens used in the iPad and iPhone are considerably more expensive. Unlike those screens, the Touchco screens can also detect an unlimited number of simultaneous touch points.
The company designed its technology to work well with full-color LCD screens, similar to those used in the iPad and Hewlett-Packard’s coming line of tablet PCs. The technology could allow Amazon to introduce a full-color touch-screen Kindle, raising the question of whether the device’s current displays, which are made by a company called E Ink, will play a role in the next round of reading devices.
The acquisition “would suggest Amazon is looking to expand its platform perhaps beyond e-readers to encompass more functionality and more content,” said Colin Sebastian, an analyst at Lazard Capital. “It also could help them address some of the form-factor issues with the Kindle,” allowing it, for example, to replace the physical keyboard with a virtual one, he said. “If touch screens were added to the Kindle or other Amazon devices, it would bring them up to date with the plethora of other screens consumers are becoming used to. Any device is at a disadvantage if it doesn’t offer it.”
If Amazon is buying Touchco, it’s safe to assume it wants to develop something like a tablet computer. But if the Kindle becomes a direct iPad/tablet competitor, it will effectively lose its first-mover advantage as an e-reader. At this point, that advantage has more to do with name than anything else.
It would be a shame to give up the Kindle’s brand differentiation by morphing it into a regular tablet product. For the Kindle’s sake, I hope that Amazon doesn’t just go for a tablet. I hope that it creates a truly superior e-reader and preserves the Kindle’s name.