There I stood, at the recent Society for Information Display (SID) 2001 International Symposium, Seminar and Exhibition, surrounded by the coolest collection of display technologies in the world — next-generation LCDs with brilliant color, plasma screens big enough to cover a wall of my apartment, other displays smaller than a thumbnail — and my favorite demonstration was the display with questionable resolution, no color, and an unusual form factor. It was labeled “electronic paper,” and it looked like its namesake — a thick piece of paper with crisp black ink on a white background that nonetheless holds a computer-generated, impermanent image.
Now the idea of something called electronic paper or electronic ink (the terms are used interchangeably) being part of display show may seem odd. “Display” brings to mind bulky CRTs and flat-panel LCDs. But this super-slim, portable viewing screen was right at home at SID, which was held earlier this month in San Jose, California. The future was literally on display at the show, or rather, many possible futures for displays, depending on the booth and the volume of its marketing pitch. SID is a place for industry insiders (anyone making his or her way into the hall automatically becomes a member of the club) to get a good look at forthcoming OEM screen components as well as prototypes that are two or three generations out. I spied hardware bigwigs from Apple and other system vendors in attendance. Some of these designs and technologies may (or may not) make their way into mass production.
But after looking intently at all those gorgeous LCD displays I was intrigued by the possibilities of electronic ink. This minimalist display could shortly become an important content distribution platform.
The E-ink Spots
I had read articles about electronic ink or paper, but seeing it in action brought me close to becoming a believer. The technology demonstrated at SID was from a company called E Ink Corp., based in Cambridge, Mass. (MIT’s Media Center and of course Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center have proposed similar schemes.) The “display” in this case is a rectangle of film that looks much like a piece of paper — thin and flexible, with black text and images on a white background (although they also showed grayscale and color versions).
Unlike traditional displays in which a constant light source brings the image to life, electronic ink allows viewing independent of a steady power supply or even a computing device. When you turn off the electronic paper, magic happens: The image remains on the screen. The upshot is that you can carry an e-ink display with you all day long, checking its image or text, without needing a constant stream of power. Only when you need to change what’s displayed do you need to access your computer and use some power.
The film that makes up E Ink’s electronic paper consists of millions of microcapsules, each containing a soup of opaque white and black particles suspended in a clear liquid. When different electric fields are applied to the film, one flavor of the particles moves to the top of the microcapsule. So, if the white moves to the top, it hides the black goop underneath. More importantly, each microcapsule retains its setting even when the power stops. It’s the opposite of the usual flat-panel displays and CRTs that we’ve grown up with, where no power means no image.
To my amazement, I found the resulting e-ink image to be sharp and glare-free (depending on the application, the e-ink media might be covered by plastic or some other coating that could cause reflections).
While the film can be bonded to a variety of surfaces, it can also be placed directly on a plastic substrate that contains the display circuitry. According to C. Howie Honeyman, E Ink chief scientist, the company’s display is flexible but can’t be folded. Yet, it’s possible to easily drill a hole in the material, for example, letting one place the sheets in a standard three-hole binder, if one was in a particularly retro mood.
The uses for electronic ink are many. At SID, Philips said it will use electronic ink for a PDA display next year. It’s also a natural for point-of-purchase signage.
The advantage of e-ink for a PDA is obvious — battery life can be extended dramatically, since the screen only needs power when it changes the data on the screen. Compare that to my usual annoying PDA experience: In its ongoing quest to save battery life, my Palm Pilot always seems to turn itself off right when I’m dialing a phone number. With e-ink, the record will stay on the screen until I want to look for another record or switch applications. It doesn’t need to keep tapping the power supply to remain visible.
In addition, e-ink could spark a new digital book or magazine market. Imagine a lightweight, inexpensive read-only device incorporating wireless technology, a limited processor and battery, and a two-page, letter-size display. Thinner than a binder, the device would provide much of the experience of today’s magazines, but with a hardcover. With its easy manufacturing, the e-magazine cost could be similar to a hard-bound book, well under $50. Figure 1 shows a recent prototype from Philips, but I’d like a larger, magazine-style spread.
Today, e-books or similar content are usually demonstrated on PDAs or notebook computers. With their pint-size screens, PDAs offer a sub-par reading experience. Laptop screens provide a great image, but their size makes for poor battery life. And laptops are cumbersome and difficult to hold.
Moreover, both PDAs and laptops are designed to be general-purpose computing platforms, supporting interactivity, Internet access, and even multimedia. The cost of these features may be essential for a computer, but they are arguably overkill for a content-reading device. The loss of a paperback or hardbound book will bring disappointment and regret, but it’s usually replaceable. With mass-production, an e-ink book might carry a similar cost. On the other hand, it’s panic time if you leave your laptop in a taxi. And it has all your personal data!
The purchase of an e-ink reading device could also be separated from content. Users could purchase a reader with built-in content, just as they do with today’s content delivery model, or instead they could subscribe to wireless content services. The company would track the items we’ve read as well as deliver on demand new material or updates.
If you leave your reader at home (or on the subway), you simply walk to a newsstand or bookstore, purchase a new empty book, feed it your account number, and then wait for the package of content to be transferred to the e-ink device. In a controlled environment such as school, students could receive the news and coursework for the week.
The current lack of a compelling hardware platform must cause grief for advocates of e-books. They are hard-pressed to answer the tough question from potential buyers: Will I be able to take my e-book to the beach or into the bathroom? The forthcoming E-ink devices, with their low cost, convenience, and familiar user experience, may offer the answer.
Back to the Future
Inevitably, there will be production and design challenges for content creators when authoring to any future e-ink platform. Some of the trouble may come from designing for monochrome screens, something that we now consider a relic of the past. We’ve repressed the memories of a time when monochrome monitors were the norm. Today, outside of print, most designers assume that high-resolution color will be available for their images and layouts.
While prototypes are notoriously fickle, I found that E Ink’s black-and-white model performed the best; its grayscale version showed ghosting when refreshing images, and the color model was demonstrated with a static test pattern. Even when the technology improves, the lowest cost product (and the likely winner in the market) may be found with just two colors, black and white.
So, content creators aiming to repurpose images will need to consider how their color designs will play in print as well as in monochrome on an e-ink page.
One SID attendee found the e-ink images “nostalgic,” reminding him fondly of Bill Atkinson’s ground-breaking HyperCard information authoring utility for the Macintosh. “The [e-ink] page was appealing because it was monochromatic and dithered,” explained Joel Ingulsrud, a former display product manager at SGI.
Whether or not content creators appreciate e-ink’s eventual performance, its potential is huge. Of course, that’s all it is right now, even after my imagining of an entire new market. The Talmud informs us: “Many pens are broken and seas of ink consumed, to describe things that never happened.” Still, I think electronic ink is a technology to watch, one with a real chance to make it.
Categories: Features, Print, Print Design & Layout, Web/MobileTags
Dream Meaning of Ink
To see ink in your dream may represent a person who has the gift of the gab and persuasive ability or you will close to the person who can apply for cheating.
To see a pen in your dream indicates that you won't return from your steps which you have taken in the past. It also refers to final judgment and the announcement of anything.
To see ink blot in your dream symbolizes that you will focus the attention, see the thing which can't be noticed or have foresight.
To see ink fish in your dream signifies high gain, chance and fortune.
To see of buying ink in your dream denotes a permanent job, long term trade life or the beginning of employe status.
To see of selling ink in your dream suggests that you will struggle and be victorious at the end, gain a victory and celebrate it.
To pour ink in your dream signifies that you will break heart, upset someone unwillingly.
To dream that ink robs off onto your hands means that you will study, be educated and finish your school.
To see that ink is poured on you in your dream may imply that you will be slandered, fake rumor about you will occur, bad statements related to you will spread among bad people.
To put ink into your mouth in your dream suggests that you will buy the book which you want to have, meet with science man or author whom you admire.
To see of drinking or swallowing ink in your dream may represent that you will lose your faith to yourself, be lazy and exclude yourself from the social life.
The flow of ink in your dream refers to a person who works at home like nurse maid, servant maid or gardener. Also, it means that you will find this person who does these works or hire an assistant for your home.
To see black ink in your dream forewarns you that you will spend money wrongly, your account will go wrong or consume unconsciously.
To see blue ink in your dream signifies that you will be in need of your relative whom you don't often meet. You will call him/her and want his/her help.
To see red ink in your dream represents that you will take letter, calling paper, compass or telegram, then you will act, start working and the production will be restarted.
To see inkwell in your dream symbolizes scrooge mcduck, savingness and parsimony.
To see ink bottle in your dream may represent that you will sweep the fault under the carpet, overlook it, support it or be proponent.
To vomit ink in your dream means that you will be confined in the sea, you won't communicate to somebody or you will lose memory.
To see inkpad in your dream indicates that you will form basis for your education, take scholarship, try to study by using credit.