E-Ink is Dead. Long Live E-Ink!

by Yaw Otchere
January 21, 2010

E-Ink, the hot new technology that’s in all of today’s latest e-readers is actually more than 10 years old. The E-Ink Corporation started manufacturing the stuff in 1997 based on work from MIT’s media lab. In the time since, we’ve seen it go into a number of e-reader devices from Sony, Amazon, and lately a slew of other manufacturers.

Just as e-ink is making its way into the mainstream consciousness, a new technology threatens to smash it into oblivion before it ever really catches on. For all its advantages, e-ink screen are far from perfect, and anything e-ink can do, this new technology can do better; and then some.

Before we get into what’s coming, let’s take a look at e-ink in detail.

E-Ink’s Strengths

E-Ink’s two greatest strengths are its low-power consumption, and the fact that e-ink screens are easy on the eyes. In a world where devices with vivid screens last a day if you’re lucky, and strain your eyes if you look at them too long, e-ink can be a godsend in the right application. This is why e-readers are such a popular application of e-ink technology. People read books for weeks, not days, and if they had to charge their e-reader as often as their phone, they would never get off the shelf. A reading session can last for hours, and looking at LCD screens for that long has always been considered bad for the eyes. Because of this, e-ink scores two big wins.

E-Ink’s Weaknesses

E-Ink is nice, but not for everything. Looking at anything but a static page on e-ink is a good way to get a headache. E-Ink manages to achieve its low power using a technology that takes a half-second or so to refresh. This causes a problem when displaying video and web pages since they are out the gates in fractions of a second. And what about colour? Most e-ink screens are grayscale only, meaning that anything other than pages of text look worse on e-ink than on any other screen. This is the big reason why e-ink, despite it advantages, has only really been used in e-readers. Any other kind of media just wouldn’t work on this technology.

The New King on the Block

So what’s a print media enthusiast to do? On the one hand, e-ink allows easy reading and low-power consumption, but on the other anything but text looks awful. If only there was a technology that combined low power, lower eye-strain, and still allowed you to view full colour, full motion media. If only…

It turns out there is such a technology: Pixel Qi. Pixel Qi is a new dual mode screen technology from Mary Lou Jespen, the genius designer behind the screen on the OLPC laptop. Pixel Qi combines a regular full power LCD with a low-power, full colour “transflective” mode that has the strengths of E-Ink, but in glorious full-colour with full motion.

What does this mean? It means tablet computers created with Pixel Qi can go into low power e-reader mode and still allow a wider range of media viewing, and also go into regular LCD mode when you just wanna watch a video the way we do nowadays.

Pixel-Qi is the future of multimedia tablets, combining e-ink’s strengths, with new media powers. E-Ink is the current king of print media tablets. The King is Dead. Long Live the King!

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  1. Michael Da Silva says:

    E-ink? What an uninspired (read: lame-ass) product name.

    Lets be real here and pay homage to what it really is… welcome the new-new king on the block- the Etch-A-Sketch 3000.

    With a product name guaranteed to pluck at the heart strings of those pre-gen-Xers still fiddling with paper prints, the Etch-A-Sketch 3000 is ALL WIN.

    And for all ya’ll trademark lawyer types, the product will bear “EAS3K” as its official wordmark. (see what I did there? sexy, no?)

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