Understanding The Evolution of E-Reader Processors

September 13, 2016

E-reader processors have come a long way in a very short time. The very first e-readers burst onto the scene in 1997, with some initial success. However, their limitations in terms of power and capability, coupled with poor display abilities, caused e-reader to take a back seat for almost a decade. It was not until 2004, when the modern e-reader as we know it began to develop, that commercial sales really took off.

As the market has grown, people have started looking for bigger, better technology. Three out of ten readers have read an e¬book and half of them now own a tablet or e-reader. Devices need to be faster, need to connect more easily and need to have a far wider range of features in order to attract buyers. With such stiff competition, e-reader processors have been seriously stepped up and the internal technology of these devices has gone through major changes.


Accessing Early E­books

The very first e-readers include the Rocket eBook and the SoftBook, both of which were simple LCD displays on which users could download and read e­book content. This sole function required very little internal power and offered a few functions and abilities. Early readers could store very few books and required either a memory card or a modem connection to access content.

Meanwhile, Motorola’s microprocessor developers Freescale and semiconductor specialists NXP were hard at work creating CPU solutions for handheld devices and gadgets. Around this time, the Freescale e-reader line really began to take shape. By 2011, the company had become the leading provider of e-reader processors and in 2015, i.XP developers NXP acquired the Freescale brand.

21st Century Breakthroughs In E-reader Processing

Big players in the e-reader market include the Amazon Kindle, the Kobo Aura and the Sony Reader. These devices, like many others out there, rely on Freescale NXP i.MX technology to power their functions. In the early days of the modern e-reader, this came from the Freescale 532 MHz, ARM­11 90 nm processor ­ a robust if limited system that could handle greater connectivity and faster performance. With these breakthroughs in central processing, e-reader manufacturers have been able to step up their devices features. Making significant improvements to loading, page changing, storage, download speeds and display capabilities.


Today’s E-reader Hardware and How It Compares To The Past

The modern e-reader processor is still a single core system. Notably, it performs to a 1.0 GHz average and has 128kb cache space ­ far greater than earlier e-reader models. The most widespread CPU by far is the Freescale i.MX 6SL Solo Lite Processor, used in everything from smartphones and tablets to the Kindle and Aura.

Users need their e-readers to handle more tasks and expect better connectivity between devices. As the Internet of Things becomes more prevalent in everyday life, all devices will need greater internal processing capabilities to handle complex requests. E-readers of today require attentive development of EPD drivers, and integrating seventh generation processors with current EPD technology will be a slow and arduous process for developers.

The worry is that while demand increases significantly, the actual technology is lagging behind and leaving gaps in the market. The time taken to ship i.MX 7 should be the major concern about the future of e¬reader microprocessors. While the consumer market and its related businesses are expressing frustrations at the hold¬up in development, experts at leading processor suppliers are advising patience and calm during this phase of the rollout.

Dual­core Delays and The Current Market

After recent exciting news that the i.MX

7 dual core processor for e-readers and smartphones was on the way, we received information from NXP suggesting it could be a while before the technology actually reaches us. “EPD technology is very unique and takes some time to understand,” says Freescale and NXP developer Nik Jedrzejewski. “I hope that we/they will be able to share something publicly soon, but for now please assume that we are engaged with many of the same e-reader customers on the i.MX 7 as we were on the i.MX 6SL.”

Dual core power for e¬readers is a very exciting concept, but one will have to wait a little longer for it. In the meantime, i.MX 6SL is still going strong and the solo processor will be a common feature of e-readers the coming months. Even when i.MX 7 hits, we should expect a gradual filtering down from high end devices to the general market ­ again, this could be a slow process, NXP have warned. Watch this space for any future changes and developments.