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Kindle Touch's secret weapon: Lasers

Mark Milian, CNN
Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos unveils the Kindle Touch, which uses infrared for its touch screen.
Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos unveils the Kindle Touch, which uses infrared for its touch screen.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Amazon's Kindle Touch uses infrared sensors to avoid screen glare
  • Jeff Bezos had previously said no to touch screen Kindles due to limitations
  • Other e-readers from Sony and Barnes & Noble already use infrared

(CNN) -- Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos borrowed from Dr. Evil's master plan for the technology behind his newly announced Kindle Touch e-reader: It uses frickin' laser beams.

Introduced on Wednesday, the Kindle Touch will be the first Amazon e-reader with a touch screen. It costs $189 for a version with 3G cellular connectivity or $139 with Wi-Fi only. For a version with ads, those prices drop to $149 and $99, respectively.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has defended the lack of a touch screen on previous Kindle models, saying conventional touch displays produce reflections. A major selling point for the Kindle is that it can be read in direct sunlight like a printed book, an argument Amazon has used in Kindle ads poking fun at tablets.

"The current technology for touch screens -- it's called capacitive touch -- is a layer that goes on top of that display. It adds glare," Bezos said in an interview last year on the "Charlie Rose" TV talk show. "We want a device that's uncompromised for reading."

Capacitive touch is what's used in most smartphones and tablets, including virtually all Android devices, the iPhone, iPad and newer BlackBerrys. It's also the technology embedded in Amazon's new $199 Kindle Fire, a multimedia tablet.

Applying a capacitive-touch layer to e-ink, the black-and-white display that looks like paper, darkens the screen, said Sriram Peruvemba, an executive for E Ink, the company that makes the popular screens in e-readers, in an interview on Wednesday.

For that reason, the Kindle Touch relies on infrared sensors, which are stationed along the edges around the screen to detect when the user's finger touches a particular spot on the device's face, an Amazon spokeswoman said.

Tapping on most parts of the screen turns pages, rather than clicking a button like on the other Kindles. Amazon says the sensors allow for multitouch usage, meaning people can move multiple fingers at once to manipulate the screen, much like other touchscreen gadgets.

Despite its success with the market-leading Kindle, Amazon isn't the first to apply these invisible lasers, commonly used in TV remotes, to reading devices.

Barnes & Noble implemented the same technology to bring touch screen capability to its Nook. Sony's recent e-readers, including a new model that will hit stores next month, also have infrared on their bezels. In an interview last month, Phil Lubell, a Sony vice-president, boasted about the company's innovation in that area and said Barnes & Noble had copied it.

Amazon's competitors appear committed to this touch screen technology, going so far as to shelve button-operated e-readers.

Amazon will continue to sell two versions of the Kindle without touch screens. The base model, called simply Kindle, ranges from $79 to $109 and has only a few buttons. Another, Kindle Keyboard, costs $99 to $139 and looks just like its predecessor, the Kindle 3.

Touch features sap a device's battery life, Peruvemba said. Amazon may have accounted for that by including a bigger battery on the Touch because that model lasts for two months, which is double the battery life of the smaller Kindle, according to Amazon's specification page.

Bezos is confident a market exists for both his touch screen and keyboard models.

"We have many customers who tell us they don't want touch," Bezos reportedly said at the news conference in New York on Wednesday. "We're going to sell many millions of these."

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