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Displays Hardware

Electronic Paper's Past and Future 154 154

Iddo Genuth sends us to TFOT for his extended series of interviews around the question of how electronic paper will change our lives in the next few years. The article leads off with the "father of e-paper," Nick Sheridon, who came up with the idea almost 35 years ago at Xerox PARC, and goes on to explore how e-paper may evolve past its current incarnations in the likes of the Sony Reader.
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Electronic Paper's Past and Future

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  • Re:E-Readers (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kris_J (10111) * on Tuesday October 16, 2007 @11:39PM (#21005729) Homepage Journal
    My main thought is that since it's by Sony it'll be drenched in poisonous DRM.

    I owned a Newton Messagepad back in the day. I've read fiction, non-fiction, short stories, novels, news articles and heaps of other stuff on everything from a PDA to one a laptop connected to Second Life. The only place ebooks have a decent chance of success is to replace the two tons of textbooks most schools require their students to carry. Otherwise it's hard to beat the convenience of Dead Tree Format.
  • by vlk (775733) on Tuesday October 16, 2007 @11:39PM (#21005733)
    When the display can be folded and put into a pocket, when I am able to read all of it on a single charge, when I can effortlessly pull down background info from varied sources - let me know, I'll be buy 10 of them.
  • by billy901 (1158761) on Wednesday October 17, 2007 @12:04AM (#21005915) Homepage

    I don't think epaper will make a huge difference in our life in the years to come. The biggest reason is that it's overpriced. A laptop is a good example. Laptops go from $400 to thousands. On the upside, they will save you money after you have used at least 400000 (four hundred thousand) sheets of paper roughly. It is also more environmentally friendly and efficient. Not to mention more organized and smaller! However you've also got battery life... It works just as well without the price and no batteries required. If you could make some sort of pocket book that had an easy input method such as a widely sold stylus and a battery life lasting at least 200 hours on full power. I think for now I will stick with good old fashioned paper.

  • Re:E-Readers (Score:3, Insightful)

    by p0tat03 (985078) on Wednesday October 17, 2007 @01:42AM (#21006471)
    Actually IMHO college textbooks are the LEAST likely place for ebooks to take off. College students like myself, being poor as we are, like to sell their books after their courses are done. There have been eBook initiative tried in some schools, but the lack of resale ability really killed it. I can get about 70% retail value for my books after I've used them, why would I pay something like 50% of the dead-tree price for something I can't sell later on?
  • by Gadzinka (256729) <> on Wednesday October 17, 2007 @01:47AM (#21006511) Journal
    You missed the point. E-paper as the name implies isn't a replacement for computer screens. It's a replacement for a printed paper as in newspapers and books. Most of the people still get their knowledge from dead trees and e-paper for them is more or less just like paper, only better, since you can "print" on it many times.

    I am an avid ebook reader using Palms for the purpose for years, but as soon as I can get an e-paper reader without stupid limitations at a reasonable price (which for me is anything south of 250eur), I'll go that route. I mean, that would be the best of both world: paper book with the ability to (non-destructivelly) bookmark, annotate, search, copy text at will.

  • Re:I don't know... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mark-t (151149) <markt AT lynx DOT bc DOT ca> on Wednesday October 17, 2007 @02:30AM (#21006711) Journal

    There are two significant advantages to epaper that LCDs and OLED's simply cannot match.

    One, epaper is a reflective technology, rather than emmissive, so the brighter the area in which one views it the better (just like a book).

    Two, epaper draws no power whatsoever to maintain a static display, none, zero, zilch. It only requires power to update the display. Once changed to what is desired, the power source could be disconnected entirely and the last image stored on the display would remain. No powered display technology can top that.

    Refresh rate is not a huge issue for epaper, as long as it is geared towards displaying content that is relatively static.

    So the biggest problems with the technology are just poor resolution and the price for color displays. Even more unfortunately, these areas do not seem to be improving at a promising rate.

  • Who cares? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by bm_luethke (253362) <> on Wednesday October 17, 2007 @02:36AM (#21006727)
    Other than a specific crowd that will purchase anything neat (and I am very much in that group) who cares about any of those issue?

    To largely replace paper books we need a minimum of large size, lots of contrast, rugged construction, light weight, and generally usable anywhere for long periods of time. We are no where *near* that. Add in cost and being able to make marks on it being a requirement for many applications and we have some real issues.

    Size, rugged, and battery life do not go together. I need something I can carry in my car, backpack, or just mostly leave lying around and not have it break or get scratched to the point of unusable. I need to be able to expect to take it to most places I go and have it work *and* be readable at the same time - having to have it plugged up every 10 hours is, in many cases, unacceptable.

    That is only concerning replacing books, let alone paper. Can I fold it and stick it in my pocket? Will I care if I happen to destroy it? If I can't stick it in my pocket what good does it do me? If I can't carry it in any place other than carefully controlled environments due to its cost - again what good does it do me? Heck, if I can not make a note and give it to someone else that doesn't have one what good does it do me? Everyone on the planet isn't going to carry around their e-paper (which can not be folded, carried in their pocket, exposed to water, exposed to much shock, exposed to high/low temperatures, and all the other things any current or foreseeable future technology has to offer).

    E-paper has not come close to its window - it hasn't even come close to the point that most people would seriously look at it. Heck, even the totally made up stuff we saw in Star Trek didn't really replace paper books, let alone paper. That's not to say it will not happen (I think it will), but anything I have remotely seen companies working on do not come close to meeting the requirements to replace paper. They are trying to force books/paper into existing technology and technological paradigms instead of trying to make electronics work like books/paper.
  • by 3seas (184403) on Wednesday October 17, 2007 @03:35AM (#21007081) Homepage Journal
    ... we are going to cut down even more trees...

    I'm not a tree hugger as trees are just crops that take monger to harvest, but the point is clear.
  • Re:I don't know... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by martin-boundary (547041) on Wednesday October 17, 2007 @05:56AM (#21007831)
    That doesn't seem right. My experience is that if the screen is twice as big, one only needs to press the scroll button half as often. There's nothing more annoying than trying to read a novel while pressing a button each time one has read 5 or 10 lines of text. It's an optimization between portability factor and annoyance. There's a reason books come in standardized sizes.
  • Re:E-Readers (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Fred_A (10934) <{gro.emohsderf} {ta} {derf}> on Wednesday October 17, 2007 @07:16AM (#21008191) Homepage

    The obvious is simply missed. Newspapers and other formats for distributing the current events is old by the time it's printed. Get a newspaper if you want yesterday's news.
    Much of the stuff in papers (or at least the few proper newspapers that are still available here and there) is way beyond the one liners that passes for instant news nowadays.
    I regularly read newspapers that are days old and never minded their lack of "freshness".

    Apart from a few very specific things (maybe stock markets or the weather), freshness has no impact on the interest or validity of news.
  • Re:E-Readers (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Dragonslicer (991472) on Wednesday October 17, 2007 @07:47AM (#21008369)

    I can get about 70% retail value for my books after I've used them
    Can I come visit your planet?
  • by WillAdams (45638) on Wednesday October 17, 2007 @09:01AM (#21009055) Homepage
    (I wrote this up for the bookpeople mailing list....)

    The local Borders store set up a display w/ one of these yesterday and I spent a while playing with it. Initial impressions:

      - nice size, _very_ thin
      - crisp, sharp greyscale display --- very readable
      - uses GPL software (there's a list of utilities in the user manual as well as notes on where to d/l the source for the software)
      - decent interface w/ sensible buttons and okay layout
      - supports pdf, txt, rtf, bmp, jpeg, gif and png files as well as the proprietar? BBeB books (.lrf and .lrx)
      - plays mp3s
      - switches from portrait to landscape and back quite easily
      - nice magnification mode

    On the downside:

      - ~2--3 seconds to switch from one page to another sometimes one gets a distracting flashing
      - sometimes one gets ``ghosting'' if the new page has a lot of white space where text or image was before
      - the text H&J when displaying text files and .rtfs is _awful_, allowing widows and orphans and pages to end on a hyphen
      - the font used for displaying rtfs uses oblique, not italic for emphasis
      - sidebars of some of the text font characters, ``i'' most egregiously is not good resulting in poorly spaced text
      - urls in .pdfs which break at a line end become two distinct hyperlinks (this may be a problem in how the user guide .pdf was created)
      - while one can play an mp3 while reading, controlling the mp3 functions require going all the way back to the main menu --- would've been better to've over-ridden the number buttons for use as audio controls while an mp3 is playing.

    One can't help but wonder if the status bar at the bottom can be turned off --- it displays a persistent page number --- perhaps people will format .pdfs especially for this and leave page numbers off?

    More information on the reader at: []

    Apparently this is an updated model and the text updating used to be even slower.

    Borders didn't seem to have a mechanism for selling BBeB books in their stores though which is strange since they can be stored on memory cards (Sony proprietary sticks and SD memory cards).

    (who found it inspiring enough to want to put some more effort into getting his Fujitsu Stylistic to boot off of a compact flash card in a CF-IDE adapter, since he uses that to read a _lot_ of ebooks and the hard drive noise is distracting (and to make them, see [] which includes my version of _The Book of Tea_ which is in the TeX Showcase))

Take care of the luxuries and the necessities will take care of themselves. -- Lazarus Long