The University of Cincinnati (UC) and industry researchers reviewed the technologies that will bring devices including: rollable iPads, e-readers and virtually indestructible e-sheets. UC provides the top ten list of electronic paper devices that consumers can expect both near term and in the next 10 to 20 years.
* Color e-readers will be out in the consumer market by mid year in 2011. However, UC researcher Jason Heikenfeld cautions that the color will be muted as compared to what consumers are accustomed to, say, on an iPad. Researchers will continue to work toward next-generation (brighter) color in e-readers as well as high-speed functionality that will eventually allow for point-and-click web browsing and video on devices like the Kindle.
* Electronic shelf labels in grocery stores. Wider adoption of such devices is imminent though they are in use now. The breakthrough for use of such electronic labels came when they could be implemented as low-power devices. Heikenfeld says, “The electronic labels basically only consume significant power when they are changed. When it’s a set, static message and price, the e-shelf label is consuming such minimal power - thanks to reflective display technology - that it’s highly economical and effective.” The current e-shelf labels are monochrome, and researchers will keep busy to create high-color labels with low-power needs.
* The new “no knobs” etch-a-sketch allows children to draw with electronic ink and erase the whole screen with the push of a button. It was created based on technology developed in Ohio (Kent State University).
* More-sophisticated technology will soon come to signage. Consumers can expect to see more sophisticated signage, including indoor and outdoor sign displays that when turned off, seem to be clear windows.
* An e-device that will consume little power while also providing high function, color (video playing and web browsing) and good visibility in sunlight will be on the market within two years. Researchers will continue to work to produce the Holy Grail of an e-device. Cautions Heikenfeld, “The color on this first-generation low-power, high-function e-device won’t be as bright as what you get today from LCD (liquid crystal display) devices (like the iPad) that consume a lot of power. The color on the new low-power, high-function e-device will be about one third as bright as the color you commonly see on printed materials.
* Color adaptable e-device casings will be available within five years. You’ll be able to change the color of the phone itself to a professional black-and-white for work or to a bright and vivid color pattern for a social outing. “This is highly achievable,” says Heikenfeld, adding, “It will be able to change color either automatically by reading the color of your outfit that day or by means of a downloaded app. It’s possible because of low-power, reflective technology” .
* Bright-color but low-power digital billboards visible both night and day. Heikenfeld says, “We have the technology that would allow these digital billboards to operate by simply reflecting ambient light, just like conventional printed billboards do. That means low power usage and good visibility for the displays even in bright sunlight. However, the color doesn’t really sizzle yet, and many advertisers using billboards will not tolerate a washed-out color.”
* Foldable or roll-it-up e-devices will be on the market within five years. Expect that the first-generation foldable e-devices will be monochrome, coming from Polymer Vision in the Netherlands. Color is expected later, using licensed UC-developed technology. The challenge, according to Heikenfeld, in creating foldable e-devices has been the device screen, which is currently made of rigid glass. But what if the screen were a paper-thin plastic that rolled like a window shade? You’d have a device like an iPad that could be folded or rolled up tens of thousands of times. Just roll it up and stick it in your pocket.
* In ten to 20 years, e-devices with magazine-like quality color will be viewable in bright sunlight but requiring low power to operate. “Think of this as the green iPad or e-Reader, combining high function and high color with low power requirements.” says Heikenfeld.
* The e-Sheet, a virtually indestructible e-device that will be as thin and as rollable as a rubber place mat. It will be full color and interactive, while requiring low power to operate since it will charge via sunlight and ambient room light. However, it will be so “tough” and only use wireless connection ports, such that you can leave it out over night in the rain. You’ll be able to wash it or drop it without damaging the thin, highly flexible casing, says Heikenfeld.