I’ve predicted that e-readers will only get one year in the limelight before they’re doomed, but that doesn’t mean companies aren’t still perfecting the technology behind electronic reading. Check out LG’s new 19-inch e-ink display for example: Perfect for e-newspapers
LG’s calling it the largest electronic paper display ever made–its 25cm by 40cm size translates into a 19-inch diagonal screen, which is over 9-inches bigger than the 9.7-inch display of the Kindle DX. The unusual aspect is that instead of a glass substrate for the display, LG’s used a thin metal foil. That gives the whole assembly a mere 0.3mm-deep profile and an ability to bend. That also gives it a structural resilience that most other e-ink displays simply can’t match–drop this display and it won’t easily crack.
There is only one similar technology on the market, and it’s from Plastic Logic. Their Que e-reader is large (though not quite 19-inches), and it’s based on transparent electronics produced on a plastic substrate, giving it both flexibility and resilience too (although it does have a hardware frame). Both companies clearly think that the electronic paper industry has a big future–these inventions will have needed significant investments–and LG even plans to start mass production of 11.5-inch e-ink screens based on this tech this year (for the Hearst-backed Skiff e-reader.)
But what will they be used for? Unless the price of e-readers drops by something like 75% they’ll remain an expensive, single-use anachronism in an era of multitouch, multimedia slate and tablet PCs and cheap netbook computers. The electrophoretic e-ink technology also has plenty of rivals, its snail-pace pixel update speed means it’s completely unsuitable for movie-viewing and even too slow for realistic Web-surfing (so much so that the option is unavailable in the Que). Clearly LG is pushing the large screen size as ideal for digital newspapers…and that might be the only strategy that works, for a short while: Large LCD or OLED screens would be unwieldy, fragile and expensive for the same role. And e-newspapers would seem an ideal match for the tech–though if multitouch is included, then they may find more specialized uses, like as digital drawing pads for architect’s blueprints for example.