Can OLED Save Print Publications (Or Provide Something Close to It)?

Carl Weinschenk
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Tablets by the Numbers

CNET has an interesting and melancholy story about the transition of Lloyd’s List to an all-digital format. It’s unfortunate because Lloyd’s List, which follows the international shipping trade, is the oldest newspaper in the world.

It was launched in 1734 by postings on the wall of a London coffee shop. One can almost see old salts perusing the notices amid the noise of the establishment, trying to find out when the next ship was leaving for the colonies or for the east. It’s sad to see it leaving print.

That was an apt beginning, because the publication’s current publishers saw the writing on the wall about its future:

The newspaper's management cited declining interest in the print edition as the impetus behind the move. A recent survey of Lloyd's List readers found that less than 2 percent relied solely on the print edition for access to the newspaper's content.

The transition raises the issue of whether a way exists to preserve iconic publications such as Lloyd’s List and, more broadly, if it is possible to mime the actual act of reading a newspaper or magazine that many people find appealing. There seem to be two ways to move forward: tablets and electronic paper, which can offer something that more closely matches the traditional experience.

While the electronic paper market has failed to take off, it is not dead. An announcement was made this week about flexible screens, which could benefit both today’s mobile devices and e-paper approaches in the future. ZDNet and many other sites reported this week that Samsung will introduce a curved display next month in South Korea. The product will feature Youm technology, which uses Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) technology. ZDNet notes that Samsung is not the only big company interested in the concept:

Nokia has also been experimenting with curved display technology, including creating the concept device called Morph, while Samsung's arch-rival in display technology, LG, also plans to mass produce tough new flexible displays by the end of the year.

It is impossible to predict whether the dream of a mobile device that looks and feels like a magazine or newspaper will take root, or if bendable but more generic multipurpose tablets are the real end game. It is even difficult to say whether markets for both exist, or if the head start enjoyed by tablets will preclude a meaningful niche for gear that more closely mimics paper approaches.

The jury still may still be out, but perhaps just barely. Engadget’s Sean Buckley offers a long and interesting look at the color e-paper sector, which appeared a few years ago to be the next big thing but soon gave way to tablets, which implemented existing liquid crystal display (LCD) technology:

Color e-paper may have faded from the public consciousness after media tablets usurped its role in the consumer electronics space, but the technology itself lives on, albeit dimly.

The Youm announcement is one sign of hope for the OLED market, and IHS, Inc. projects an even better market soon. PCB Design quotes the researcher’s finding that OLED sales will reach $94.8 million in 2014, more than a four-fold increase from this year.

Even a person who is firmly committed to the digital future no doubt feels a pang of regret when an age-old publication announces that it will give up the ghost and cease using print. The emergence of bendable displays and OLED technology suggests that a future that reasonably mimes that past may be possible.

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