E-Book Readers and E-Ink – Their Past, Present and Future

E-Book Readers and E-Ink – Their Past, Present and Future

E-Ink is not an ink as such, but a form of encapsulation used in eBook Readers. Ink has been used for thousands of years, and the rule of ink upon paper to convey thoughts, ideas and messages is a sound one. Paper is easy to carry around, and does not require a strength source, but it also has limitations. It is finite, and has to be replaced when used, and what is written cannot be updated. It can be scored out or additional to, but not updated.

In the electronic age, then, it would make sense to develop an electronic equivalent of ordinary ink that would conquer these defects, and this is what was done. As early as 2000, people were discussing the future. As Kevin Kelly put it in Time.com on 19th June, 2000: “The People of the Screen (working at places like E Ink and Xerox) are creating thin films of paper and plastic that keep up digital ink. A piece of paper then becomes a paper screen: one minute it has a poem on it, the next it has the weather.”

E-Ink Corporation was established in 1997 in response to developments carried at the Media Lab of Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Joe Jacobson of MIT applied for a patent in 1996, which was awarded in 2000. There had been past work carried out on tiny magnets which were black one side and white the other, flipping over according the polarity of the charge applied to them.

E-Ink, as it was called, is a material that is produced in the form of a film that can be integrated into electronic displays. It consists of a microencapsulated suspension in a clear medium containing particles which are white one half and black the other, the white being positively charged, and the black with a negative charge.

When the top and bottom of each microcapsule have opposite electric fields applied, the white half of the particles flip up towards the top when that is charged with a negative electrical field, and the black to the bottom which is charged positive. That microcapsule then appears white, and the opposite is true when the fields are reversed. In that way, text can be shown in black and white.

Development continued so that the characterize remained already after the strength source was switched off, and E Ink Corporation formed an association with Phillips, who announced that the first E-ink screen should be obtainable by early 2003. Later, on 1st June, 2009, E Ink Corporation agreed to be bought over by chief View International for $215 million.

The technology led to the development of the eReader, designed to read eBooks produced using the E-ink technology such as the iLiad, the Sony Reader, the Reader from Plastic Logic and the Amazon Kindle. The technology was also incorporated into cell phone displays, the first being the Motorola F3.

However, it was when Oprah got involved, and stated Amazon’s Kindle to be her favorite eBook reader, that eReaders really hit off. Amazon’s shelves rapidly emptied and others came onto the scene, such as Sony with their 6″ screen PRS-505, also using the e-Ink characterize. The first color eBook reader in the world was Fujitsu’s Flepia, obtainable from April, 2009.

This machine offers an 8″ touchscreen with the capability of 260,000 colors, together with wireless Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, and also offers a mini USB port. It also provides an on-screen keyboard, missing from the Kindle, and an SD card reader than can be used to store books purchased from Papylus, an online book store.

Another new development in 2009 was Amazon’s Kindle 2, offering a 16-tone grayscale E-Ink screen. Dutch company Endless Ideas joined the club with the BeBook, and although a bit down-market in turn up compared to some eReaders, it nevertheless offers multiple fonts and three zooms, while weighing in at a featherweight 220 grams (7.8 ounces).

So what does the future keep up for eBook readers? Much of that will depend upon the future of reading itself, and according to Steve jobs, Apple CEO, “It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore. Forty percent of the people in the US read one book or less last year.”

It is doubtful that people will stop reading altogether, of course, and of those that do read, many will nevertheless prefer the regular book with its looks and feel. However, the use of eBook readers might well expand in business and education as information is disseminated electronically, and these functional portable devices can be used anywhere, particularly with wireless internet connections.

Color will definitely expand, and the $1,000 price tag of the Fujitsu Flepia and its successors will drop as competitions heats up. However, perhaps the future does not lie in eReaders per se, but in the technology of E-Ink and E-Paper in general. People prefer portable devices, and they do not want to use multiple devices for multiple uses. The development of the netbook from the laptop might provide a clue as to the future of eBook readers.

The netbook is basically a small laptop, and a device such as this has been expected to be the main internet connection device within 10 years. There is no reason why the netbook cannot carry out the combined roles of the laptop, Blackberry and eReader, using E-Ink technology. A netbook with a color touchscreen, E-Ink and paper technology, hidden pull-out or fold-out keyboard (or perhaps already speech recognition) and with video, audio and cell phone capability could well be the device of the future that will take the place of all other hand-held portable devices.

Who knows, but one thing is certain. Nothing stands nevertheless, and the Kindles and Flepias of this world will be totally different beasts next year, let alone in ten years time. E-Ink has come of age, and where it goes from here is anybody’s guess, although the future of eReaders likely lies in an amalgamation of several currently individual technologies and electronic devices.

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