PORTLAND, Ore. Feeding the e-book craze, a new hardware controller chip from Freescale aims to lower the cost of e-readers below the magic $98 price point while extending battery life to weeks.
Developed in cooperation with E-Ink, maker of the Vizplex electrophoretic display universally used in all of today's popular e-readers, the i.MX508 system-on-chip (SoC) combines a hardware Vizplex controller with a fast ARM Cortex-A8 applications processor and special e-reader power-savings modes.
"The e-reader market is expected to more than triple in 2010, according to DisplaySearch," said Eric Braddom, director of global marketing at Freescale. Quoting market research firm Forrester Research Inc., Braddom said that when the price of e-readers dips below $98, 65 percent on online U.S. adults will buy one, even though they still consider them expensive.
E-readers will achieve 60 percent market penetration if their prices can be lowered below $99, according to Forrester Research.
To help original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) meet that magic $98 price point, Freescale has integrated an E-Ink display controller into the SoC alongside Freescale's i.MX508 applications processor for a total cost under $10 (compared to as much as $20 for a standalone display controller today). The i.MX508 also integrates flash memory, dual USB controllers, a DDR2 low-power high-speed interface to SDRAM, support for an auxiliary LCD (like that used on Barnes and Noble's Nook) and other integrated capabilities to reduce the OEMs bill-of-materials.
"We believe the i.MX508 will reduce an e-reader's part counts and lower other costs associated with electronic paper display control functionality by as much as 50 percent," said Braddom.
The i.MX508 joins Freescale's growing family of what it calls Smart Mobile Devices, which have a common need for chips to support low-cost, small form factor devices with long battery lifetimes--including smartbooks (like Apple's iPad), e-readers, smartphones and other mobile consumer devices.
The ARM Cortex A8 processor core runs at 800 MHz for faster page turns plus the ability to manage a touchscreen interface as well as to run applications specifically developed by OEMs to differentiate their eReader from the legions of e-paper-based devices slated to be developed for consumers over the next few yearsfrom electronic blueprints to maps.
To extend battery life, the i.MX508 includes special power saving modes that allows e-readers to quickly awaken for a page turn, then turn-off all unneeded peripherals and go back to sleep while the user reads that page. The i.MX508 is also designed to work with Freescale's new low-power 12-bit, 3-axis MMA8450Q accelerometer for determining portrait and landscape orientations, and with its SGTL5000 stereo codec with headphone amp for audio.
The i.MX508 will be sampled to select customers in the third quarter of 2010, but designers can get started now with a software emulation of the device running on Freescale's i.MX512 processor in a reference design in its Smart Application Blueprint for Rapid Engineering (Sabre) series. The Sabre e-reader platform includes a 6-inch Vizplex display, a software version of the E-Ink electronic paper display controller and all the peripheral support necessary to create a i.MX508 design today.