E-Ink: I saw it in the e-paper
A couple of weeks ago, The Boston Globe ran an article by Carolyn Johnson, E-paper Comes of Age, that profiled Cambridge-based E Ink. E Ink, Johnson tells us, is a harbinger that the "electronic paper, long hyped as the technology that would make newspapers and books obsolete, is finally making its way into consumer products."
While with my WiFi'd condo and iPod, I am not exactly a Luddite, I am someone who does on occasion allow herself a fret about technology.
Books obsolete? Shudder and gulp. Given the great pleasure I've gotten out of books my entire life, do I now have to worry that the printed word won't last my lifetime? That I'll spend my last days reading forty-year old copies of Alice Munro short stories and the collected works of Heinrich Böll? Will my last breath on the face of earth be full of old book mold? Will I die defending the last book on earth from the snatches of some 20 year old recycling militant?Shudder and gulp, alright.
Not to worry just quite yet, but E Ink has apparently been doing wondrous things with screen technology for advanced electronics like the Sony Reader tablet. (Reader tablet? Oh, no! Shudder. Gulp.)
What E Ink has developed is something called "electrophoretic" ink that is making the "digital screen that looks, bends, and folds like paper" possible. And, while they're at it, e-ink is apparently green-ink, too, with minimal power consumption when compared to traditional screen requirements. Energizer Bunny, beware: you won't need to be so darned energizing for much longer. These batteries will last.
So far, the market for this sort of technology is small. Jennifer Colegrove , the iSuppli analyst quoted in Johnson's article, estimates the overall market is just $78 million. But, of course, it's growing at a healthy clip.
Some of the applications that Johnson talks about in her article:
Emano Tec Inc. in Newton has adopted the technology to create washable medical tablets for doctors. A Lexar jump drive uses E Ink's technology to create a disk space gauge. Polymer Vision uses the technology in a foldable electronic paper display called the Readius that connects to a wireless network, allowing people to access data and read news on a 5-inch paper like screen instead of a cellphone.
The 5-inch paper-like screen. How cool is that?
No surprise that E Ink's roots are in the MIT Media Lab, and as their web site lets us know:
E Ink's technology is ideal for many consumer and industrial applications spanning handheld devices, watches, clocks and public information and promotional signs. Future technology developments will enable many new applications through ultra-thin, lightweight, rugged, flexible, full color displays.
Well, I still think that I'd prefer to curl up with a good book, rather than with an E Ink-powered tablet of some sort. Literary novels and short stories. Serious biographies and history. (I'll admit. I'm a reading snob, and, while I'm not exactly sitting around with my nose in Bertrand Russell or Henry James all the time, most of my reading is not of the ultra-light variety.)
But it's certainly easy to see the advantages in plenty of applications. Including not so good books.
Why shouldn't beach reading be downloadable and do-away-with-able? Why waste the tree? Sure, I might pass on a Janet Ivanovich book to one of my sisters, but it's not exactly like I'm going to put it on the shelf next to William Trevor and save it for a re-read.
And while I might still want to mull over The Atlantic, why shouldn't People Magazine - a guilty pleasure I occasionally allow myself; after all, who doesn't need to know about Angelina's new kid or whether Zsa-Zsa's eighteenth husband is real royalty or not? - be something that gets read on a screen.
I'm sure I could already do all this downloading onto my laptop, but the form factor isn't right. If E Ink can improve on that with a real portable reader with the right look and feel, I'm all for it.
And then there's reading for information or "knowledge". (Yes, I know information can be pleasurable, but I really create a distinction in my mind between the two.) Self-help books. Business books. Almanacs.
There are a lot of books that absolutely lend themselves to one and done.
And, come to think of it, if you can cram dozens of books into an eBook published with E Ink, and it only ways as much as a paperback, and kind of feels sort of like pages you can turn....
Maybe it'll be okay all around.
So, bravo E Ink.
While I am not yet prepared to surrender my fret about the last paper book on earth. But I am prepared to give an E Book a good old-fashioned read.
Ready when you are.