e-Paper Tigers

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To those who don't follow the sector too closely, the terms paper and convergence probably seem as compatible as Felix and Oscar (or, to younger readers, Kevin and Britney). But both young and old would be wrong. For years, there has been a small e-paper segment.


That segment is about to get a big boost. Esquire magazine is using e-paper for the covers of 100,000 copies of its October issue to be sold at Borders, Barnes & Noble and some news stands. The covers will use technology from MIT Meida Lab spinoff E Ink. The front of the magazine will feature scrolling words and images and the back will be a double-page ad from cover sponsor Ford.


Esquire is not alone. The International Herald Tribune says that France Telecom and seven French newspapers are involved in a 120-person e-paper test called Read & Go. The story says supporters call the rendering of the newspapers very realistic. The sponsors are experimenting with advertising, a sure sign that the major technical hurdles have been surmounted.


This TechRepublic commentary suggests how breakthroughs in e-paper could save the struggling e-book sector. The most interesting element of the piece is a description of how an even more basic part of the equation -- e-ink -- works. The description is from E Ink, the company working with Esquire. Basically, e-ink consists of millions of tiny capsules. Each has negatively charged white particles and positively charged black particles. The description goes into further detail, but the essential step is that clever use of negative and positive electric fields make the black and white capsules form any shape, including letters.


The two commercial providers of e-paper services are Kindle from Amazon and Reader 505 from Sony. This ComputerWorld piece adds that e-ink is efficient because power is only necessary to change -- not maintain -- the state of the display. This makes e-ink displays far more efficient than LCDs. Work is under way to make displays flexible, to introduce color and to cut costs.


E-paper is set to become a money maker. NanoMarkets predicts that the market will reach $4.8 billion by 2015. The firm says that the electronics shelf label/point of purchase display (ESL/POP) market will generate $1 billion in revenue by 2015. It is unclear from the release whether that amount is in addition to or part of the $4.8 billion figure.


In any case, IT departments should be prepared for a number of technologies of which they probably haven't heard. The NanoMarkets report discusses obscure -- for now at least -- technologies including bistable twisted nematic LCDs, cholesteric LCDs, electrochromic displays, electrophoretic displays, MEMs and electrowetting displays.