Kindle screens could get touchy-feely

Perhaps spurred by Apple’s iPad, Amazon has reportedly snatched up a touch screen company, signaling that a touch-sensitive Kindle e-reader could be on the way.

Amazon will merge Touchco, a New York-based startup, into its Kindle division, according to the New York Times’ unnamed source. Neither company commented on the rumor.

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Touchco’s technology can detect an unlimited number of touch points, and uses pressure-sensitive resistors that can distinguish between pen and finger input. It’s also considerably cheaper than the capacitive touch screens found on the iPhone, at roughly $10 per square foot. Amazon might be most interested in the technology’s transparency. As All Things D notes, Amazon previously avoided touch screens because existing technology increases glare and reduces readability of E-Ink displays.

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The catch? Touchco has yet to turn its technology into a commercial product, so Amazon will have some work to do before it can slap a touch screen onto a new e-reader. Still, the end result appears to be the same: Amazon is looking to do more with the Kindle, possibly to compete with Apple’s upcoming iPad.

In its current state, I’m not sure the Kindle needs a touch screen. There might be some “wow” factor in swiping between pages, but the e-reader’s bezel buttons work just as well. However, Amazon recently announced that the Kindle will get an app store later this year. That’ll allow the device to hold interactive content, such as crossword puzzles, weather pages and interactive cookbooks. As the uses of the Kindle expand, so too will the need for more versatile input methods.

The bigger question is whether Amazon should be expanding the Kindle in the first place. As an e-reader, the Kindle will always have limitations compared to more versatile tablets, but its E-ink display offers the most pleasurable reading experience at a lower price than upcoming multi-purpose machines.

Still, I can’t fault the company for planning ahead. There may be a time when E-Ink or similar technology could be offered in a multimedia tablet (we’ve already heard about one such product), and if prices ever get competitive with the Kindle, it would spell trouble for Amazon’s e-book venture, unless the company prepared a competing product.

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