Saturday, June 19, 2010

E-paper, e-ink, and the future

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." - Arthur C. Clarke

Ohhhh, I love e-paper and e-ink. If you haven't seen a Kindle in real life, you owe it to yourself to seek one out. It looks just like printed paper, but when you refresh its nearly magical how the paper changes -- the page blinks black, an poof, there's the new text; but it doesn't look like a computer screen, it looks like it was printed there.

This simple technology - tiny tiny dots filled with black liquid and white particles, with a charge applied to make the white particles float to the top or bottom - makes me insanely excited. Especially in light of new approaches to color versions of the same thing. This is a technology that uses almost no power - particles just have to be charged once and then they stay that way until another charge is applied. And then there are the possible uses.

The picture that I mocked up at the top (yeah, its some quick and dirty photoshop work, live with it) shows one of the simpler uses of a color version of this technology. The first three wallpapers would almost be feasable today, if you could afford a piece of e-paper that large. The fourth, turning your wallpaper into a giant tv (no backlighting tho, you'll have to light it from the front like any other piece of paper), will be feasible when refresh times improve in the future. And when you're done with the tv - just turn your wallpaper back on. Its a giant computer screen that is indistingishable from wallpaper. Decide to redecorate? Just download a new pattern. Poof, new wallpaper (you'll still have to clean off the crayon when the kiddos get at it tho).

Now imagine other uses. E-ink used for clothes - if you're a web designer, imagine drafting css for a piece of clothing. Sleaves one color, position a graphic just there, put a pattern on the back... the possibilities for a single piece of clothing are unlimited (except for the cut of the dress).

We will be living in a Harry Potter world. Pictures could move at any time. Newspapers will have video embedded (it'll look like a newspaper, but it'll be a web browser, book reader....). "Paintings" could come to life. And none of this will be on glowing rectangles. Eventually, you won't be able to tell e-ink merchandise from any other surface treatment.

Right now you can get a Kindle, e-ink watches, even soon a mobile phone. These are just initial, clumsy uses of the technology. Where will it go next?

So what will you want made with e-ink?

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