E Ink isn't just for e-readers any more

December 24, 2014 by Troy Wolverton, San Jose Mercury News
Kindle DX

E-readers may be passe, but you could soon see the black-and-white, easy-to-read screens that helped make them a big hit in a lot more places and products.

Electronic paper, the low-power made popular by Amazon's Kindle and other e-readers, could soon be in and restaurants, maybe even on your wrist and in your pocket. While consumers read more on full-color devices, the displays, largely made by Taiwan-based E Ink, are finding new homes because of two unique qualities: they're easy to read in broad daylight and they sip power.

Electronic paper only uses electricity to change what's on the screen and doesn't require power in between. Unlike other display technologies, the screens were designed to be read with reflected ambient light, which means they are easy to read outdoors.

Those advantages helped make the standard screen technology in e-readers: The devices could go weeks between charges and allow consumers to easily digital books at the beach or on their deck.

Promoters of electronic paper and some industry analysts think those advantages will soon make it popular in other markets as well.

"They've got a good road ahead of them," Jon Peddie, principal analyst at Jon Peddie Research, said of E Ink.

Electronic paper, which started out as a project at legendary Silicon Valley research lab PARC in the 1970s, is built around microscopic spheres that are filled with charged particles. Apply a charge to the spheres and they will flip one way - perhaps showing black particles. Apply the opposite charge, and they will flip the other way, perhaps showing white.

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