Regular readers will know I've long been following the development of e-paper. Until recently it's been in very much in beta – an interesting but slightly clunky interface that has slowly been developing in usability and application. But I think it's just turned a big corner.
Early next year, Plastic Logic, a company that was born out of Cambridge, are launching a wireless e-reader that uses tiny polymer transistors embedded in a flexible plastic substrate meaning it's easier to read than conventional flat screen displays especially in strong light. The technology means that screens can be as slim as thick paper, very robust (the screen and all the components are made of plastic) and even flexible. They've built a big factory in Germany to produce the technology and the e-reader. Here's a 5 minute demo of the e-reader from their CEO:
There's something truly inimitable about the physical experience of reading a magazine, but this is an interesting way of enriching previously static content. And I can certainly imagine this replacing a newspaper whose physical form I feel far less attached to (after all, news is everywhere, right?).
So now the real questions start – like is this paper or screen? And will it converge with the kind of ultra-thin flexible screens being developed based on technologies such as OLED? My hunch would be that we're not too far away from the point at which the smarter publishers will view this as a way to capitalise on all the good characteristics of printed media – like good art direction, great pictures, layout, use of typography, the balance of long and short-form text – with the benefits of screen and touchscreen media – interactivity, usability, moving image, video. As long as they don't make the classic mistake – taking what works in their analogue product and applying it without revision or amelioration to take account of a new, and very different, medium. Interesting times.