Freescale Processor Gives E-Readers a Boost

E-readers like the Amazon Kindle or Barnes & Noble Nook will be getting a processing power upgrade with Freescale's i.MX508 applications processor.

The burgeoning e-reader market, led by the success of Amazon's Kindle device and products from companies like Sony and Barnes & Noble, is getting a processing boost from Freescale Semiconductor, which announced its i.MX508 applications processor, a system-on-chip (SoC) that integrates advanced ARM Cortex-A8 technology together with the newest hardware-based display controller from E Ink. With the ARM core running at 800 MHz, the company said the i.MX508 provides twice the rendering performance of their previous eReader processors, allowing for quicker page turns and improved performance overall.

The increased processing capability also gives manufacturers the additional performance to add features like advanced touch solutions and the ability to run other value-added applications. The i.MX508 is also notable for its support of next-generation eReader panels, which are expected to feature larger dimensions, faster page turns and significantly better resolution. The processor supports panel resolutions up to 2048 x1536 pixels at 106 hertz by leveraging the ARM Cortex-A8 engine.

By integrating the E Ink display controller, Freescale said the i.MX508 reduces part counts and lowers costs associated with electronic paper display control functionality by as much as 50 percent compared to systems without an integrated controller. Freescale's i.MX508 processor also helps OEMs lower costs by integrating dual USB/PHY and cost-effective raw NAND memory. The i.MX508 is the latest addition to Freescale's product roadmap for the smart mobile devices category, which includes smartbooks, eReaders, smartphones and other mobile consumer products.

"Freescale ended 2009 with a strong market share lead in applications processors for eReaders, and now we are cementing our leadership in the eReader space with the introduction of the i.MX508 device," said Bernd Lienhard, vice president and general manager of the company's Multimedia Applications Division. "Working closely with E Ink and our customers, we are able to offer an integrated silicon solution to facilitate lower eReader retail prices and enable the next phase of growth in the eBook market."

The i.MX508 applications processor is expected to be priced at less than $10 (USD) in quantities greater than 250,000 units. Freescale said it plans to begin providing samples to select customers early in the third quarter of 2010. The SABRE platform for eReaders based on the i.MX51 is available for purchase now from Freescale. The suggested resale price is $1,995.

While Amazon's Kindle devices, as well as competing e-readers, are gaining traction in the marketplace, Apple's eagerly anticipated touch screen iPad poses a potential threat. In February, Amazon acquired Touchco, a small startup focusing on multitouch technology, in a deal that if confirmed would allow the online retailer to leverage new technology for its line of Kindle e-readers.

Jennifer Colegrove, director of display technologies at DisplaySearch, an industry analyst firm, said the company forecasts that the worldwide eBook/eReader device shipment will triple that of 2009, increasing to over 14 million units in 2010. "Key to this growth will be improving the quality of the digital reading experience while simultaneously making it affordable," she said. "The results coming from the Freescale and E Ink collaboration are very encouraging."