E-Paper My Ass

ink_close_up_thm2.jpgWay back in 1999 WIRED magazine wrote about e-paper. The basic gist was that digital displays which are light reflecting (like paper, and not light emitting, like a monitor) and flexible enough to roll will be a part of our everyday lives, well… the day after tomorrow!

Electronic Paper will soon be in production at 3M, and by mid-2000 will be as much a fact of life, its developers say, as the dead-tree stuff.

Yes, the timing is utter bullshit, but think for a moment about how cool this could be.

One Book to Rule Them All

Other than some bored Japanese ladies, who wants to read anything longer than a short e-mail on a PDA, let alone mobile phone? Imagine instead that you’ve got a hardbound book, small enough to fit in a big pocket and thick enough that it feels good in your hand. Open it and all the pages are empty. Set it down next to your computer, select some text, click sync, and suddenly your book’s full of the text you selected.

Or a folded piece of paper with the dimensions of a newspaper, but only four pages — front, two inside the fold, and the back. Your newspaper can also download the news, not only in the train in the morning, but the newest news in the train home as well, and when you get there you can download your favourite magazine into it.

Dream On

This sounds like something that would just have to sell like hot donuts, doesn’t it? So why didn’t Xerox PARC & 3M’s Gyricon get off the ground? Sure the name’s crap, but is that why, since 2005, they’ve only been “focusing on licensing the technology”? E-Ink and Lucent’s collaboration looks mostly like a way to make ugly, expensive signage. And Philips has perhaps the best looking web site of them all with PolymerVision, but as far as I can tell, the product itself is just as far as all the others from the rollable, foldable, page turning dream. I can only assume that the necessary engineering still escapes even firms of this size, and that the cost of an e-paper book would therefore be well beyond people like myself.

The Sony Reader is just a PDA that’s a little easier to read, and Philips’ Readius (where the hell do they get all these disastrous names?) is perhaps smaller, but hardly better. And both are far less than something to get excited about. Sorry WIRED, even after 40 articles in the last 7 years, we’re still waiting to sit in the park reading Lord of the Ri… erm, Paul Auster’s new boo… erm, Rolling Sto… erm, some blog.