The evolution of E Ink and it's flexible full colour future
14 October 2013

The evolution of E Ink and it's flexible full colour future

The eReader market was tripling in volume between 2007 and 2011, but plateaued after 2012. Product launches have slowed and the colour tablet and smartphone has taken over.

E Ink has turned into a company that's synonymous with the revitalization of the print sector in a few years-- the eReader. E Ink (electronic ink) refers to both a technology and a company. E Ink's technology is currently used in 93 per cent of all eReaders and a recent buyout of its nearest rival SiPix means E Ink now owns the market. How will E Ink continue to evolve to complete with full-colour LCD multi-purpose tablets?

Stalled Growth and Revitalization

While dedicated e-readers struggle in the face of competition from multipurpose tablets, the company E Ink and its E Ink display technology continues to evolve.

The eReader market was tripling in volume between 2007 and 2011, but plateaued after 2012. Product launches have slowed and the colour tablet and smartphone has taken over.

The problem with saturation is there's an end point and this is where some creative thinking has to take place to revitalize the E Ink (electrophoretic)  market.

On the positive side, E Ink will find itself in a lot of new gadgets over the next few years, including watches, USB Keys, drills, shelf labels, and credit cards. Smarter versions of E Ink will also bring this technology into our homes in the near future.

E Ink for Appliances

E Ink will be coming to home appliances and other surfaces in your home will come alive with digital ink. Dumb surfaces can be transformed into smart information-rich surfaces with E Ink. The display is flexible so it bends and doesnt crack and can be morphed into many shapes.

There are also prototypes of bicycle locks that tell you if the bike was locked properly with visual feedback from the low-powered E Ink display.

eink-drill2

This move away from eReaders doesn't mean that E Ink is not innovating in this market that it dominates. Check out this E Ink cabinate lock display that gives visual feedback on the glass. Perfect for hospital cabinets that have to be locked for patient's safety.

eInk-cabinet

White, Back-Lit E Ink Displays

The newest Kindles have Paperwhite technology and shows that E Ink can compete with tablets when it comes to brightness, display quality, and contrast. E Ink calls the bright white display Pearl technology and it also has an LED light that means you can use your gadget in the dark with a screen that's easier on the eyes.

kindle-backlit

Flexible Displays

Released in June 2012 the Wexler Flex One is the world's first flexible eReader and despite its minimal impact in a market dominated by Amazon, Peruvemba believes these durable eReaders could be perfect for schools, especially in developing countries where textbooks are scarce.

eInk-flex-display

E Ink On Your Mobile Phone

One final place where we could see an E Ink screen is on the back of a mobile phone. Because it is cheap and lower powered, E Ink would be ideal for low-cost mobile phones for emerging markets.

Most of these mobile phones have nothing going on on the back and adding a low cost display on this surface is perfect for clocks, widgets, headlines, and stock information.

Faster, Higher Resolution Displays With Less Flash Effect

Both E Ink Triton and E Ink Pearl are 20% faster than previous generations of E Ink. Turning a page, selecting a menu, taking notes, or viewing an animation is much more responsive.

The next wave of e-readers should complete the shift towards high-resolution, 768 by 1024 pixel, 6-inch displays. The current standard is 600 by 800 pixel resolution; only two e-readers have hit the higher-resolution—the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite, and the now-discontinued iRiver Story HD. At 212 dpi, the higher-res display can help smooth how text appears.

The fourth-generation Kindle can turn 5 to 6 pages without the flashing effect on the page. Soon displays will be able to change a total 25 pages without any flash. Display manufacturers have even managed to minimize the flash so much that most people won't even notice it.

E Ink In Colour

eInk-colour-2E Ink continues to revolutionize the ePaper market with E Ink Triton Imaging Film. Colour E Ink displays deliver high-contrast, sunlight readable, low-power performance that further closes the digital divide between paper and electronic displays. These displays will be perfect for ePublishing markets such as eBooks, eNewspapers, eMagazines, and eTextbooks. This is an ideal display for content that requires colour for visual impact.

Current colour E Ink displays offer 16 levels of grayscale and are capable of displaying 4096 colours. Colour displays made with Triton Imaging Film enable ultra low power and high mobility devices with a paper-like experience, ideal for image-rich information applications such as charts, graphs, maps, photos, comics and advertising.

Don't go looking for a colour E Ink display anytime soon. E Ink displays have been built for electronic display signs with spot colour and motion support. The colour displays have received some traction in the lucrative textbook market.

Part of the problem with bringing colour E Ink to the mass market is that it just doesn't stand up to bright and colourful tablet LCDs display.

The display has to look good in colour or it just won't compete with backlit LCD displays. E Ink colour displays are nowhere near National Geographic quality.

Colour E Ink is coming. The quality of the colour has improved and prices will come down eventually. The technology has evolved to bring the colour filter closer to the micro capsules, which means more light reflects from the display.

Summary

The E Ink technology is evolving in the following ways:

  1. Faster (reducing the flash effect of refeshing the display and to improve perceptual responsiveness)
  2. More vibrant and colourful (to compete with bright back-lit tablet displays)
  3. Cheaper
  4. Flexible (literally, it can bend)
  5. From Grayscale to Full Colour
  6. Ubiquitous (used in many products we use every day)
  7. Backlit (but with less eye-strain than the backlit LCD display because light is bounced of the back surface of the display rather than being projected directly at the viewer)

What is E Ink

E Ink is the creator of electrophoretic, or, electronic ink — the optical component of a film used in Electronic Paper Displays (EPD). Although futuristic-sounding, electronic ink is actually a straightforward fusion of chemistry, physics and electronics. It's so much like paper, it actually utilizes the same pigments used in the printing industry today.

how-eink-works

The Ink

Electronic ink is made up of millions of tiny microcapsules, about the diameter of a human hair. Each microcapsule contains positively charged white particles and negatively charged black particles suspended in a clear fluid. When a positive or negative electric field is applied, corresponding particles move to the top of the microcapsule where they become visible to the user. This makes the surface appear white or black at that spot.

What is a Bistable Display?

E Ink's technology is commonly referred to as "bistable". What does this mean? Bistable means that the image on an E Ink screen will be retained even when all power sources are removed. In practice, this means that the display is consuming power only when something is changing. For example, when reading on an eReader, power is only needed when turning to a new page but no power is consumed by the display while reading the page. This is most noticeable when an eReader goes into sleep mode yet there is still an image being displayed. By contrast, with a traditional LCD, the display is needs to be refreshed around 30X per second, regardless of the whether anything new is being displayed. Bistability significantly reduces the power consumption of displays using E Ink and is a key reason eReaders have such long battery life.

Reflective Displays

E Ink displays are also referred to as "reflective displays." In an LCD, or "emissive display", light from a backlight is projected through the display towards your eyes. In an E Ink display, no backlight is used; rather, ambient light from the environment is reflected from the surface of the display back to your eyes. As with any reflective surface, the more ambient light, the brighter the display looks. This attribute mimics traditional ink and paper, and users of E Ink displays have said that they do not have the same eye fatigue as with LCDs when reading for long periods of time. The backlight can also consume up to 40% of the power used in electronic product. Therefore, eliminating the need for a backlight significantly increases the battery life versus using a traditional LCD.

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