Do you remember when paper-printing ink technologies became obsolete? The wave of computer advancement, including e-mail, paperless checking, and those little flash drives that people are always losing was supposed to do away with the need to print anything. Nope, it still hasn’t happened.
One of the advances along the way was E Ink, developed in the late nineties at MIT and widely used in e-readers like the Nook and Kindle.
Displays that use E Ink technologies have some major advantages over traditional back-lit displays found on most laptops, mobile phones and tablets. They are much more energy efficient, durable, and light compared to traditional displays. They are also less expensive, and much easier to read outdoors or in an environment with a lot of glare. Unfortunately, E Ink enabled displays have slow reaction times. The fact is that although this technology is great for reading e-books, it can be dull and unresponsive for tasks requiring rapid refresh rates like browsing the web, sharing photos, or watching video.
Perhaps E Ink’s limitations are too serious to make it a true contender in display technologies. Prime View International Co., the maker of Kindle, did not think so when they bought E Ink in 2009 for $215 million. In the few years since, the market has been flooded with tablets off all types, sizes, and prices. Very few of these use any E Ink displays. However, there are so many other uses for E Ink that it still has viable markets.
E Ink’s unique benefits make it suited for commercial displays in restaurants and small shops. Some grocery stores are using inexpensive E Ink displays to implement innovative pricing schemes, where prices on products can be changed instantly to reflect freshness or demand. E-readers are still being sold, and displays using E Ink technologies have been shown to cause less eye strain than displays used on most tablets. There are even more advances coming soon.
E Ink’s ePaper has made some tremendous strides in the last few years, and it is being implemented in products like flexible watches, and inexpensive smartphones that promise a week of battery life. There are even plans for the Android-based YotaPhone to be released in late 2013 featuring two displays, one of them E Ink. The big advantage of the secondary display will be that it can be programmed to show what the user wants, whether that be the score of a baseball game, meeting reminders, or Twitter feeds. This will save the main display from being used, and has the potential to dramatically extend battery life.
E Ink may have found its first widespread usage in e-readers, but it has a huge potential to continue expanding. With so many in the developing world still waiting for their first smartphone and so many ways to use E ink to improve existing technologies, there is the possibility of a great future for this product.