Back in 2007, FOLIO: ran a Q&A titled "E: Paper: Closer Than You Think" with Ken Bronfin, president of Hearst Interactive Media and chairman of electronic paper developer E Ink. While some of Bronfin’s predictions may have been a bit premature at the time, over the last month, two significant developments may indicate that promise could finally be fulfilled.
First, E Ink announced in early November the release of its next generation display technogy, E Ink Triton, which enables color ePaper solutions.
Next, researchers at the University of Cincinnati may have laid the groundwork for the development of disposable e-readers. The researchers found that electrowetting-the process for applying an electric field to colored droplets with a display to reveal type and photos-is just as effective on paper as it is on glass. That could eventually lead to a device that is rollable and even feels like paper but offers digital content.
"One of the main goals of e-paper is to replicate the look and feel of actual ink on paper," the researchers said. "We have, therefore, investigated the use of paper as the perfect substrate for EW devices to accomplish e-paper on paper."
In a recent panel discussion about nominations for TIME’s Person of the Year, devices like the iPod, the smartphone and increasingly the iPad were named for inciting a massive cultural shift. However, despite a recent Gartner Group projection that tablet sales will reach 19.5 million in 2010 and 54.8 million in 2011, the iPad’s $499 starting price point means it can’t compare as a "democratizing device" with the smartphone (which enables more texts to be sent each day in countries like Uganda than in New York City).
The emergence of a viable e-paper device could help fulfill that promise, drive down tablet prices, and be an easy conversion for publishers who have already jumped through the hoop of creating tablet and mobile apps. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take another three years to capitalize on the progress.