E-paper isn't just for e-readers like the Kindle, or at least it won't be if a new tech from a firm called Nemoptic comes to fruition.
The kind of e-paper display used in the Kindle, from market-leader E-Ink (electrophoretic e-paper), has several reported benefits over competing LCD tech, including better daylight readability, and lower power consumption. And some users find it easier on the eye than LCD when reading lots of text. But the system isn't ideal, and it suffers from some big drawbacks that limit what uses you can put an e-ink display to. Chief among the drawbacks is its terribly slow update speed, which is a built-in characteristic of the way the display tech actually works. This isn't an issue when you're talking about an e-reader screen, since the momentary pause between pages (and even the odd black-to-white-to-black screen reset effect) isn't going to affect your reading experience. But try to view a Web page on an e-ink screen, or, heaven help you, see some video or play a computer, and you run right up against the screen's limitations.
Which is where Nemoptic enters the scene with an e-paper system that's based on active matrix bistable nematics (similar to that used in LCDs, actually), as revealed over at Technology Review. This brings a number of benefits relating to how the pixels are refreshed at speed, and in lighting the display. The upshot: You can just about use a Nemoptic e-paper screen to view video, it'll work behind a touchscreen for fast and reliable handwriting-style note-taking, and you can refresh only the portions of a display that need updating if you like—meaning it's more useful when used in a cell phone-screen situation than plain old e-ink would be. And you can backlight it, for easy viewing at night (one of the Amazon Kindle's failings).
Assuming Nemoptic can get the price of this technology low enough, and that it has the same type of contrast and "easy on the eye" quality as e-ink, the company may just have revealed e-paper's future: It'll be used in niche e-readers, as a digital store shelf price ticket system, and for mobile devices that need a power-sipping display that's still powerful enough to show high-quality graphics.
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