In three days time entrepreneurial firm Plastic Logic will launch the QUE ProReader at CES, the consumer electronics show in Las Vegas that’s arguably the world’s largest venue for geeky hardware gadgets. The ProReader has been ten years in development and features a flexible A4-size display with a gesture-based interface for navigating between pages and annotating content. The reader’s frontpane is a display using E Ink Vizplex technology, the same tech used in Amazon’s Kindle Reader and Sony’s Reader Pocket Edition. E Ink is known for its low power consumption which means long battery life between charges. The TFT-driven backpane provides single-pixel control embedded in a flexible substrate. Click on the related article below about Barnes and Noble’s partnership with Plastic Logic which contains a video discussing the mooted (northern) Spring release of a colour version of the reader. Skiff, a publishing startup backed by Hearst Publishing, will release a large-format (A4) black and white Skiff Reader this year, targetting customers who want to access newspaper and magazine content from a e-reading service.
Speaking of colour, we can probably learn a lot by adopting a biomimetic approach to design. Here’s an article on Qualcomm’s Mirasol technology that promises highly readable colour displays with minimal power consumption – based on the physics behind an iridescent butterfly wing. And here are Qualcomm’s promo videos on Mirasol, described by one developer as a “bistable, reflective technology that is an interferrometric modulator”. Which is really a fancy way of saying a non-pigment-based colour generating technology. (See the related article from mashable.com, below)
Polymer Vision, based in Eindhoven, The Netherlands, is another developer about to break into the e-Reader field with Readius – billed as the “world’s first pocket eReader”. Readius is a rollable display that uses proprietary electrophoretic display technology on its frontpane. In its most compact form, the Readius fits easily into the palm of your hand.
These display technologies are all attempting to solve the problem of screen-readability. That is, most monitors and screens sold today (both CRTs and LCDs) have a visual resolution quality far lower than a printed page that uses ink on paper. In effect, the time that most people can spend comfortably reading text from a page is determined by the type of lighting used (i.e. reflected from a printed page versus transmitted from a back-lit display), the resolution of the text, and the contrast between text and background. Until recently, the optimal combination of the above criteria was provided by printed black ink text on white paper. E Ink technology had begun to challenge this by using bi-chrome (black and white) micro-beads as physical elements of a text display, rather than bombarding phosphors with electrons or matting out reflected light with liquid crystals.
According to a Forrester Research Report from October, 2009, US consumers will likely purchase six million eReaders in 2010, around twice the number sold in 2009. If you’re wondering what the future holds for this emerging technology, the Forrester Blog for Consumer Product Strategy Professionals makes 10 predictions for eReaders and eBooks in 2010.
I’m yet to be convinced that printed pages have been superseded, however, as (conventional) books have their own look and feel, can be scribbled on, and smell different, particularly when they get older. It’s hard to imagine curling up in bed on a wet and cold evening with a “favourite” novel if it’s all contained within a single page reader, flexible or otherwise.
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- Barnes and Noble ‘confirms’ color Plastic Logic e-book reader for Spring 2010 (video) (engadget.com)
- Tablets and netbooks to be electronics show stars (AFP via Yahoo! News) (domainmacher.com)
- LG to develop e-paper screens (ubergizmo.com)
- Color eBook Readers Powered By Butterfly Technology Coming in 2010 (mashable.com)