So what happened to all the other uses of eInk?

The Kindle and Nook use eInk, and it’s marvellous.

Which makes you wonder – Why isn’t it used in other devices and for other uses?

There are a few small watch companies making eInk powered watches.

Update: Thanks to Common Sense and Maxine and Russ for some more uses of eInk.

We have a technology that has helped transform Publishing, one that does some pretty amazing things such as not use any power to display an image and power a device to 1 month of battery life. It really should be used for a lot more uses.

What else could eInk be used for?

Let’s make some wild guesses –

  1. Displays on other devices.
  2. Price Tags in stores.
  3. Notebooks.
  4. Outdoor displays. Tack on a solar cell to an eInk display and you have a great low-cost display.
  5. Posters and even wallpapers.
  6. Medical Charts.
  7. T-Shirts. D A N C E.
  8. Labels to use around the house. Peel a label off one jar, change the caption, and put it on another jar.
  9. Reflectors – Switch eInk to all-white when you want more light, and switch to all-black when you want less light.
  10. Board Games – Scrabble where you don’t have to place letters on boards.
  11. Name Tags.

The one thing that keeps coming up is the lack of color. In fact, once color eInk is cheap and plentiful we might see some drastic changes.

Color eInk Uses

Well, here are a few possibilities –

  1. Color eInk instead of Advertisement Posters and Hoardings.
  2. Color eInk Sheets handed out instead of flyers.
  3. Menus that use color eInk instead of paper.
  4. Clothes. Sooner or later someone is going to figure out that clothes that can change color and patterns to match the rest of your outfit are a killer idea.
  5. Heating and Cooling. eInk Panels outside houses – In summer they are all white and reflect out heat. In winter they are all black and transfer heat indoors.
  6. Replace screens of all sorts.
  7. Traffic Lights. Instead of having lights that consume a lot of energy we could use eInk to run lights (at least during the day) using very little energy.
  8. Public Signs.
  9. Road markings and dividers. eInk reflects so it’s a good candidate. This might be a bit of a stretch.
  10. Shipping Labels. Re-use the same label 10,000 times.
  11. Accessories. Bracelets that can change color to match your clothes.
  12. Color eInk panels and labels built into devices and bags and books – Set your name and address and then you never have to worry about tags and address labels.

I’m still stuck in the box of thinking of eInk as mostly a paper replacement. There have to be more ways of using color eInk. The Arizona State research team is building wearable solar-powered eInk panels for soldiers. There are just so many possibilities.

Why aren’t people implementing newer, other uses of eInk?

In a way all of us readers are helping take eInk to a stage where it is cheap enough to power lots of other uses. Currently, 6″ black and white eInk panels are probably $40 to $60, and 6″ color eInk panels are probably $50 to $100.

We may, in 2 to 3 years, hit a point where the same sized panels are $2 for black and white eInk and $5 for color eInk. At that point a lot of other uses (posters, labels, clothes) become viable.

eReaders are the first market eInk is taking over/creating. Over the course of the next 5 to 10 years we might see eInk show up in a lot of surprising places.

The imaginary race between Liquavista and Pixel Qi

When one company that hasn’t released its much promised revolutionary technology threatens to one-up another company guilty of the exact same crime it’s with a mixture of amusement and sadness that we contemplate the scene.

Liquavista has dual-mode ePaper like Pixel Qi

Here’s Liquavista’s CEO Guy Demuynck with some fighting words

With LiquavistaVivid consumers can now experience an intelligent, adaptive display that offers the highest levels of optical performance, whether in paperlike eReading applications, or hi-fidelity multimedia.

… the freedom to use the same device indoors and outdoors with no compromise on image quality, readability or power consumption …

No other technology can offer these levels of performance, intelligence and versatility!

Looking at the Press Release for LiquaVista Vivid,

LiquavistaVivid displays can intelligently switch from a sharp, paperlike monochrome mode, to a vivid color-rich multimedia mode, with TV like color …

Liquavista are developing three technology platforms, LiquavistaBright™, LiquavistaColor™ and LiquavistaVivid™ planned for product implementation throughout 2010/2011.

You can’t help but think that this is exactly what Pixel Qi did.

  1. Promised a magical and revolutionary technology. 
  2. Announced it way before it was ready (in the case of Pixel Qi it was announced in February 2009).
  3. Took their sweet time getting it to market.
  4. Kept giving demos.
  5. Didn’t have any products using their magical screens a year and a half after the first big announcement. 

Perhaps this is being harsh. Perhaps it’s just disappointment.

Nothing would make me happier than if Pixel Qi (or LiquaVista or both) were to revolutionize ePaper and eReaders. However, all they do is promise and tease and never deliver.

Neither Pixel Qi nor Liquavista actually have dual-mode ePaper

Liquavista have been hyping up their products forever. Consider this snippet from October 2008 –

… electrowetting uses less energy than LCDs and can support video. There is also a press release at the Liquavista site.

They’ve been working on this for 10 years. The company was spun out of the Labs in 2006.

It’s mid 2010 and there is still no eReader using Liquavista technology.

Pixel Qi are similar as this snippet from Feb 2009 proves –

Mary Lou Jepsen has already said in an interview

“We are working with a number of notebook and e-book makers on a number of different form factors,”

All that’s materialized so far is the Notion Ink Adam and even that isn’t here yet. It’s going to be arriving in summer and is probably going to be delayed beyond that because Notion Ink are wasting months and months on Flash support (Yes, it seems Flash really does have issues).

Over Promise and Under Deliver – the new motto for revolutionary ePaper companies.

Review of every eReader at CES

A quick review of every eReader shown off at CES (so far) with additional thoughts.

Mirasol Color Display – Star of the Show

(Not technically an eReader) This is the most exciting eReader product shown at CES – check out the beautiful Mirasol video.

There are rumors that this might make it to Kindle 3 or Kindle 4 and if it does Kindle sales will have no problem exceeding every analyst’s predictions.

10 stars out of 10.

BeBook with Liquavista Color Display – The Runner-Up

The image is too hazy to figure out the screen quality and still BeBook’s color eReader prototype is the second most exciting eReader technology to show up at CES 2010.

Here’s an actual video of Liquavista in action.

9.5 stars out of 10.

PixelQi Multiple Mode Screens – The Ex-Champion

Pixel Qi have been promising magic for so long it takes away some of the charm.

Gizmodo write the typical ‘just spent 15 minutes reading up on eInk and now I’m an expert’ article and proclaim eInk is dead. Totally – it’s not like Mirasol and Liquavista have better looking color ePaper screens. Gizmodo do have a good Pixel Qi video.

It’s very promising and it’s very in the future. The only device that’s slated to use Pixel Qi screens so far is Notion Ink’s Adam tablet and it doesn’t arrive until summer 2010.

Unless Kindle 3 (or the new Sony Reader) has a February launch and is powered by Pixel Qi don’t really see Pixel Qi having the impact they’ve been promising.

8.5 stars out of 10.

Alex Reader – The Dual Screen Dark Horse

Alex has had my vote for the dark horse eReader of the year and Spring Design (the company behind Alex) is beginning to make some good moves –

  1. It struck a deal with Google to get 1 million free books. 
  2. It struck a deal with Borders to have a Borders ebook store on the Alex.  
  3. It announced a February 22nd release date.

The real magic behind Alex is that they get the ‘dual screen, Android powered eReader’ approach right.

  1. You can use the lower LCD screen for browsing the Internet. No artificial restrictions like the Nook has.
  2. You can switch any article from the LCD screen to the eInk screen to read on eInk. A very well thought out feature.
  3. Everything is fast and responsive.

All that potential is under threat though – Alex’s $399 price threatens to kill its chances even before release.

Hopefully Alex can figure out how to get to $250 soon. Check out a video of the Alex at this Kindle, Alex comparison post.

7 out of 10 stars. 8.5 stars if they can get the price down to $250.

Entourage Edge – The Dual Screen Textbook Reader

Entourage struck up a deal with McGraw Hill centering around textbooks and also joined the ‘Blackboard Alliance Program’ – Entourage Edge seems headed for the Textbook Reader market.

It’s a good decision because the Entourage Edge might end up making a great textbook eReader –

  1. The $490 price is not prohibitive given the features. 
  2. A 9.7″ eInk screen combined with a 10.1″ LCD screen is marvellous.  
  3. Has the same killer feature as the Alex of surfing on the LCD and then reading on the eInk.
  4. Very good note taking features.  
  5. There are some innovative design features.

YouTube has a good video of the Entourage Edge. Pocket Lint have some great Entourage Edge photos.

9 out of 10 stars.

Copia Reader and Platform – The Social eReader

In a world pushing color and flexibility Copia come in with the aim of making reading social again. Here’s a complete write-up on the Copia Reader and Platform.

  1. They’re keeping prices low.
  2. They have touch screens on most models.
  3. They have a very strong platform message revolving around openness and making reading social.

8 stars out of 10. More if they execute well on their vision.

Plastic Logic Que ProReader – Business eReader

Plastic Logic showed off the very impressive Que Reader – well, except for the price.

  1. The $649 price puts it firmly in the business eReader category. 
  2. It’s got a very impressive screen – 8.5″ by 11″, flexible, unbreakable. 
  3. It’s thin and light.
  4. Lots of great business features – Support for Word and Excel, Email Capabilities, Blackberry integration.

More on the Que Business eReader.

7 stars out of 10. This would be 9 stars if they knocked the price down by $150 on each model.

MSI Dual Screen eReader – The Pretend eReader

MSI decided the best way to enter the eReader market was with a dual screen netbook –

  1. Two 10″ LCD screens.
  2. There’s haptic feedback with the on-screen keyboard.  
  3. The two screens work really well together – It’s like a book with two LCD screens instead of paper.
  4. It’s scheduled to arrive this year.  
  5. They have Windows 7 on it. 
  6. Multi-touch.

Engadget have a good write-up including a nifty MSI Dual Screen eReader video.

8 stars out of 10. Would be 9 if they could fit in an eInk screen and get it to work with Windows 7.

Various eReaders

Don’t know what to write for most of these eReaders –

  1. Blio from Ray Kurzweil. Steve Ballmer saw something in the Blio to include it in his keynote. Actually, given the complete absence of revolutionary products in that keynote the Blio fits right in.
  2. Bookeen introduced a new eReader, the Orizon, that was wholly unremarkable.  
  3. The Intel Reader for the Blind. It’s still $1,500.
  4. Aiptek introduced a color eReader for children called – The Story Book.
  5. Fujitsu showed off its color FLEPia reader – they still have no plans to bring it to the US.
  6. Cool-er managed to introduce 3 new models with little fanfare – they’ll arrive over the course of the next few months and include touch-screens, WiFi and 3G.

Samsung Reader – the Write and Draw eReader

Samsung E6 and E101 get stuck in between the cool, color screen eReaders and the cheap, good value for money eReaders.

They don’t even manage to create their own special niche to justify their relatively high price.

  1. The $399 price is a deal breaker.
  2. The big feature is writing and drawing. It’s certainly a good feature – just not worth an extra $140. 
  3. An added bonus is that the touch layer doesn’t mess up readability.

Samsung just doesn’t do enough to stand out in a crowded eReader field.

CrunchGear has some good video on the Samsung E6.

7 stars out of 10. Pretty harsh and given that we’ve had color eReaders and unbreakable screens somewhat justified.

Skiff Reader – The Publisher Strikes Back eReader

Hearst revealed some details and we find out –

  1. The Skiff will be one of the biggest eReaders with a 11.5″ diagonal screen.
  2. It’ll use a metal foil backplane and be crack-proof and shatter-proof.
  3. Skiff will have a touch screen you can use with a stylus or with your finger.
  4. It supports 3G and WiFi.

It’s an impressive eReader with a well thought-out set of features.

Check out my review of Skiff Reader features.

8 stars out of 10. The price will be critical.

Notable by their Absence – Kindle, Sony Reader, Nook, Apple iSlate

The biggest eReader heavyweights were missing. Here’s what they might have in store –

  1. Kindle 3 might be scheduled for February with a 5% chance it uses the Pixel Qi magic screen.
  2. Kindle 4 might feature a Mirasol color screen (Fall 2010).
  3. The next generation of Sony Readers will almost certainly arrive in February or March.
  4. We’re still a long ways away from Nook 2.
  5. Apple’s announcement scheduled for January 26th/27th means we might finally see the Apple iSlate.  

The Top 5 of CES 2010 – So Far

The eReaders that impressed the most –

  • Joint 1st – Mirasol and Liquavista color ePaper screens. The future has arrived.
  • 3rd – The Entourage Edge. Just a straight up great textbook eReader.
  • 4th – Pixel Qi magic screens. Hopefully they will release soon enough to actually revolutionize screen technology (Pixel Qi keep promising it). If Pixel Qi powered eReaders don’t release soon Mirasol will take the task of revolutionizing screen technology off of Pixel Qi’s hands.
  • 5th – The Skiff. It’s an initiative from Publishers and perhaps the price kills it. However, it shows genuine initiative and the flexible, unbreakable screen has everyone excited.

Plastic Logic and Alex miss out because of their ridiculous price points.

CES 2010 looked like it would be a total disappointment and then suddenly it brightened up – thanks to the unveiling of Mirasol and Liquavista displays. 2010 is going to be a great year.