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Kindling interest in e-books to replace paper

ASK C.T. Liu about future growth engines for his company, LCD maker AU Optronics, and he whips out his Kindle e-book in lieu of an answer.

Strong reception for the Kindle, the brainchild of Web retailer Amazon, is attracting a growing number of developers looking to tap interest in devices that let consumers read newspapers, magazines and books in a digital form that updates wirelessly and saves paper.

Sony Corp has joined the paperless wave with its own e-readers, partnering with Google to offer public domain books that are no longer protected by copyright.

Other believers in the dawn of a paperless age include Taiwan's Netronix, which is making similar models with touchscreens, and Dutch Polymer Vision, set to soon introduce a pocket e-reader with rollable displays.

"We see it as a new industry," says Liu, a senior vice president at AU, the world's No. 3 LCD maker whose panels are part of Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Apple PCs, as well as Sony LCD TVs.

"It replaces paper, printing, publishing, textbooks, and so on," says Liu, in charge of AU's consumer display business.

The growing number of models could help to bring down prices and boost sales, making these portable readers the next breed of must-have gadgets.

Weighing less than a typical paperback, e-books use a new generation of light, flexible and interactive display, or e-paper. Once the power is off, its images remain unchanged on the screen as it needs no added light source to read.

Because they require no backlighting like traditional LCDs, e-books consume far less power and are also much lighter. A typical Kindle can be read for days without recharging.

The bright future of e-books is particularly attractive to major LCD makers in Asia, including AU and hometown rival Chi Mei Optoelectronics Corp, at a time when they are struggling with sluggish sales of PCs and flat-screen TVs.

AU, which booked a record loss in the October-December quarter, is branching out to the new display sector by buying a 21 percent stake in e-paper specialist SiPix Imaging Inc.


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