Dedicated e-readers are pretty likely to be eclipsed by full-featured tablet PCs, but the tech that makes them tick—electronic paper—is likely to remain, thanks to its usefulness. And Sony's just given e-paper a boost with a new system that is more flexible than its peers.
E-paper, often described as E-ink (incorrectly, as this is a brand of the firm the makes displays for Amazon's Kindle line), is typically reliant on electrophoretic tech to work. The pixels are hollows inside a material, each hollow filled with black-colored particles that are moved around by an electric charge so the pixel either appears black or white (or rather, whitish-gray). The material is usually manufactured on a glass substrate, such as the displays in the Kindle use, which give the display some good optical qualities. But sadly, since the glass is often not toughened like the Gorilla glass Apple's making famous with its iPad and iPhone, strength and survivability aren't among these good qualities.
So Sony's been experimenting with alternative constructions for e-paper in its R&D labs, and like Plastic Logic it has settled on a plastic substrate, and has formed cleverly flexible and transparent electronics to support the screen's high level of bendiness. Unlike Plastic Logic, which has canceled its own plastic-based Que e-reader, Sony has successful hardware on the market, so it's very possible the new tech will make its way into a future generation of Sony Reader—which will either benefit from the new resilience to being dropped (a Kindle-beating property) or actually be flexible itself, bringing back some of the feeling of an old paper book to the digital reading experience.
It's also worth noting that Sony is prepared to make public displays of its efforts to improve e-paper technology, whereas secretive Amazon restrains itself to occasional comments from Jeff Bezos about how the tech is improving, but that new developments aren't ready to show let alone sell yet. Will the advances in Sony's work help it claw a bigger share out of the e-book game?
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