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Prototype mobile phone covers foreshadow new wave of E Ink displays

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September 16, 2013

The CoverReader from Pocketbook was one of the prototype E Ink smartphone cases on show at...

The CoverReader from Pocketbook was one of the prototype E Ink smartphone cases on show at IFA (Photo: Gizmag)

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With companies that blazed the E Ink eReader trail such as Amazon and Kobo branching out into tablets with LCD displays, you might be forgiven for thinking that E Ink technology is on the way out. But E Ink (the company) was at IFA, determined to demonstrate that this is far from the case by showcasing new E Ink technology and applications, including tri-color displays, retail price tags, and, perhaps most interestingly, secondary displays for mobile devices.

Similar to the the Yota that integrates an E Ink display into the rear of a mobile phone, PocketBook and Alcatel were displaying prototype cases that added the same feature to a regular smartphone. PocketBook's CoverReader and Alcatel's E-Ink Cover are designed for the Samsung Galaxy S4 and Alcatel OneTouch Hero respectively, and both are intended to turn these smartphones into low-power eReaders, conserving battery life when the user simply wants to dip into their current ebook, or perhaps read other long passages of text.

The cases work with apps that send the text to the E Ink display and switch the normal display off. When in use, the phones' volume controls are co-opted as readily accessible page-forward and page-back buttons, similar to those on numerous dedicated eReader devices.

The Alcatel E Ink cover (Photo: Gizmag)

The Alcatel cover puts the E Ink screen on the exterior of the case when closed, meaning it can also be used to display notifications, weather details and the time at a glance. This saves users the hassle of opening up their case and powering up the screen just to check the time, but might also mean the cover could require a protective cover of its own to protect the E Ink screen. Alcatel also had a few other cases, including one that has LEDs built into the case on the backside of the E Ink display to show the time and even music volume.

The PocketBook CoverReader also displays notifications but requires the cover to be flipped open to view the E-Ink display, which obviously flips both the benefits and disadvantages of Alcatel's approach.

Rather than the new Carta E Ink display that features in the second-generation Kindle Paperwhite, both Pocketbook's and Alcatel's prototype covers rely on E Ink's first-generation Pearl display technology. However, E Ink has also been developing other E Ink technologies, including a tri-color display.

E Ink will make the tri-color displays in 2-, 4- and 6-inch screen sizes (Photo: Gizmag)

The company was showing a black, white and red display at IFA, but says any color can be used for the third color in the display. These were shown in 2-, 4- and 6-inch screen sizes, which the company hopes will extend the potential applications of its technology. The smallest displays are being touted as a replacement for paper price tags in shops. These can also integrate Wi-Fi, ZigBee or NFC to allow them to be updated electronically, from a central database for example.

E Ink says the low-power nature of its display technology would allow button batteries to power some tags for periods of around five years, while some NFC-equipped tags that relied on power from a transmitter could function indefinitely without the need for any onboard power source.

Device manufacturers are indeed spoiled for choice when it comes to choosing a display technology. E Ink's benefits of ultra-low power consumption and high visibility in direct sunlight are likely to ensure it maintains a place alongside LCD and OLED for the foreseeable future.

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5 Comments

The speed needs to be improved to the point that smooth scrolling is possible to be viable for this kind of application.

DonGateley
16th September, 2013 @ 11:18 am PDT

Yup still no real color options besides red and Amazon is pushing its LCD tablets a lot harder with its audio-less kindles so yes in many ways eink is on the way out. They just seem so lazy about giving us color even if it's equal to newspaper print comic strip quality, it's better than nothing.

Facebook User
16th September, 2013 @ 01:47 pm PDT

This reminds me of the, unfortunately, defunct Dual-Book series:

http://www.gizmag.com/entourage-closes-dual-screen-ereader-content-store/18718/

Ted Eng
16th September, 2013 @ 05:32 pm PDT

I agree Spike. I have been wanting a larger format (comic paged sized) color e-reader for comic books since this all began. Everybody acts like the color needs to get better, but I don't agree that's the case when you have multi generations of people who are nostalgic for the colors of the older comics. Niche yes, but I think it would have been worth doing and when it gets better, it only gets better.

Tom Downwards
16th September, 2013 @ 06:42 pm PDT

Amazon is pushing the Fire series "harder" because it doesn't dominate that segment the same way it does e ink.

You may not be impressed with it, but there are plenty who are buying Kindles and content. The light weight and battery life really make a difference for reading text. There many non-technofiles (i.e.: people unlikely to read gizmag) that e paper works fine for.

The problem with these reader is the same as for many good consumer products that don't catch on: marketing. B&N was able to get something happening with the Nook via the presence and popularity of their retail presence. Amazon was able to do the same due to its pretty preeminence in online retail.

Arguably better e readers have been made by other companies. Sony and Kobo come to mind as such - and neither of them have done well at marketing those better (and more expensive) products. Song appears to have given up. It remains to be seen if Kobo come up with a strategy that gives them more presence (though they don't really have to compete with Amazon outside of the US).

If there is a link showing the drastic decline in sales of e readers, phase post.

As to the notion that the companies are somehow being lazy for not having yet produced full color e paper (which some companies already have), perhaps it is not as simple an engineering job as one night think. The preponderance of LCDs have to do with scale, there is just a lot of capacity and demand. There is a lot of R&D capacity devoted to it. E paper seems to have one company IN THE WORLD seriously dedicated to it, one more considering it and one more that periodically makes claims about it as it tries to build a future out of its past world dominance (SONY).

And "smooth scrolling".... Why does one need smoother scrolling to display static notifications or text? The point of the article is the use of e paper displays for secondary use. The LCD would be used for displaying motion, color, Flappy Bird, etc.

C. Walker Jr.
4th March, 2014 @ 11:36 am PST
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