The Deliverator – Wannabee

So open minded, my thoughts fell out…

The 21st Century Begins Now

Posted by Deliverator on September 29th, 2008

It has been a good month for E-Ink. Earlier this month, I purchased a copy of Esquire’s 75th anniversary issue. This special anniversary issue of Esquire has a E-Ink display on the front and inside cover and marks the first time E-Ink has been used in a magazine. The front cover display blinks through the words “The 21st Century Begins Now” and also blinks from black to white in back of some color, overlayed graphics, which makes them appear to light up. It is definitely quite eye-catching and practically pulled me across the room to buy it when I caught sight of it. The interior cover display, which is behind an advertisement for a Ford Flex, is used to much less effect and somewhat ineffectually tries to give the sense that the vehicle is moving.

As you might have guessed, Ford sponsored/subsidized the E-Ink cover. Supposedly, only 100,000 of the E-ink covers were made, with the rest of Esquire’s copy’s for the month being decidedly conventional. I am very curious as to the present cost of such a cover. While probably prohibitively expensive at present, it is positively eye catching and I can imagine a lot of products incorporating small E-Ink displays in an attempt to get your attention on store shelves. How long can it really be before pervasive, attention robbing advertising like in Minority Report?

In other E-Ink news, Irex announced their next generation of E-Ink reader devices. Their previous generation device, the Iliad, already lead the industry in display size with a 8″ display and their new devices up the ante still further with a 10.2″ display. While the Kindle and Sony Readers are fine for reading novels, their smaller displays make them poor candidates for reading PDFs or other technical documents. Irex is targeting their readers at document heavy professions like Engineering, IT, Legal, etc., which is a smart decisions, as they can’t compete with the Kindle in terms of content availability or Sony in terms of consumer electronics name recognition. The new Irex readers come to market at several different price points ranging from $600 to $800 US. The higher end Irex models have active, Wacom style digitizers, enabling sketching and markup of documents and also feature Wifi and Bluetooth for wireless data transfer.

There is some skepticism about iRex’s new readers, based largely on problems in iRex’s previous generation of products.

– The iLiad had an exceedingly long boot time and didn’t feature a real suspend mode, meaning you couldn’t just pick it up and start using it.
– The new readers appear to support a pretty limited set of document formats. iRex’s own promotional material claims “Additional formats supported in the future.” Well, that same claim was made about the iLiad and those users are still waiting for their additional document formats to appear.
– I’ve seen several comments from people who have held the new readers that the construction is significantly cheaper and more “plasticy” than the iLiad. Additionally, without a cover, it is anyone’s guess as to how the brittle, easily damaged screen is going to hold up in a user’s day bag.

Plastic Logic, a spin off from Cambridge’s Cavendish Labs, recently demoed a new reader device, provisionally called “The Plastic Logic Reader” at the DEMO 08 Conference. Their new reader features an even larger display than the new iRex readers and is similarly targeted at document heavy professions. Their display makes use of a novel technology which allows for transistors to be printed onto a plastic substrate. Amongst other things, this makes their display physically flexible and quite difficult to damage. They have liked to demonstrate their displays in the past by hitting them with a shoe. Plastic displays may also prove dramatically cheaper to manufacture than current technologies and finally allow for truly ubiquitous use of displays.

The reader they demonstrated featured a gesture oriented interface that looked quite intuitive. I couldn’t help thinking of the Jesus Phone when watching their demonstration. Their reader will support a much larger set of document types than the iRex reader and will similarly support markup functions. This one is already being called the Kindle killer and it has generated considerable excitement. If the Plastic Logic Reader makes it to market at a reasonable price in the near future, their obvious technology lead just may beat Kindle’s early content lead. Here are a few videos to whet your appetite: