Qualcomm: mirasol on track, first tablets/ereaders in Q1 2011

With E Ink's new Pearl display making its debut in the third-generation Kindle, resolutely monochrome and – according to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos – staying that way for the near future, attention turned to what's been described as the key color competition, Qualcomm's mirasol. Comments from Steve Mollenkopf, the company's executive VP of CDMA technologies, earlier this week seemed to suggest production hadn't even kicked off. We caught up with Jim Cathey, VP of business development for Qualcomm's MEMS division to find out exactly where mirasol is up to, and when we could expect to see devices using the display technology reach the market.

According to Cathey, despite what Mollenkopf's comments implied, the mirasol fabs are up and running, and samples are out with the company's OEM partners. The confusion, he suggested, was down to volumes: Mollenkopf was "thinking in billions" which, as a new technology, mirasol isn't yet reaching. However, Qualcomm are on track to make their first shipments before the end of the year, and Cathey expects commercial products to arrive in Q1 2011.

As for what those products might be, Cathey refused to be drawn, only confirming that a range of functionality – ereaders, tablets and combinations of the two segments – was coming from the handful of OEMs working with the first mirasol batch. Qualcomm can't confirm manufacturer names, only that there are a "reasonable number" for a new display technology. Qualcomm has been collaborating closely with each partner when it comes to integrating the display and making the most of its capabilities. "OEMs know what they're doing" Cathey said, but Qualcomm's role is to show "how can the display be used to maximise – and surpass – the user experience." Key to that is battery management, working out the right sized power pack to balance runtimes with portability.

With the first mirasol products approaching, we asked Cathey what Qualcomm's next step would be for MEMS technology. As you might expect – and in keeping with Mollenkopf's recent comments – increasing capacity and volume are the primary goals, though the team is also looking to broaden the product offering. That means an increase in mirasol display sizes and a boost in resolution, beyond the 5.7-inch 1024 x 768 panel currently in production. We're expecting to hear more at Qualcomm's iQ 2010 event early next month.

Qualcomm mirasol demo:

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