Saturday, September 4, 2010

ReKindling a flame

When I first heard about e-ink, I thought it was an amazing piece of tech.  The idea of electronic paper is a remarkable concept, let alone seeing it as a finished commercial product in Amazon's Kindle.

This is NOT an LCD screen.  Technically, it's not a screen of any kind.  It's ink.  Electronic ink that changes color from black to white (or light gray) depending on the electrical charge applied to it.

How this differs from regular screen tech, is that e-ink only uses power to change the display.  Once the image or text is displayed, the display no longer needs power to hold the image.  Unlike traditional LCD tech, where power is required all the time, e-ink is a thousand times more power efficient.  This is also why the new Kindle can offer 1 month of battery life on a single charge, as opposed to the iPad's 10 hour charge.

How different do the screens really look?  Well Keith Peters, who runs the blog bit-101 placed both under a microscope (literally) and came up with some interesting results.  The original blog entry of Keith Peters and source of the magnified screen photos is here.

This is the iPad's screen magnified

(The red, green and blue lights you see are how a traditional LCD screen displays the color white)

This is the Kindle's screen magnified

This is how newspaper print looks magified

This is standard book printing magnified

Of course, no tech is perfect.  E-Ink can only display black and white images and text, and isn't made for quick refresh time so video (even B&W video) is out of the question.  But what E-Ink can do is display text and images without power.  Once an image has been "printed" it remains on the display indefinitely... until a new charge is applied to change the image displayed.  E-Ink displays are also more durable and readable in bright sunlight.
This tech is not just limited to e-book readers.  Any B&W LCD display can now be replaced with a more durable, lower power, thinner, eco-friendlier display.

Lexar is a company that did just that by incorporating e-ink into their memory key as a capacity gauge.  The gauge doesn't require power when unplugged, and only refreshes when the key is plugged into a USB port.

Thanks again to Keith Peters for granting permission  to use his images and reference his blog!

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