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Monday, December 19, 2005

E-paper becoming feasible?

Category: Technology
Current music: Digitally Imported (DI.fm) EuroDance

According to this article in Wired, Siemens has demonstrated a flexible, ultra-thin, ultra-cheap display technology. Wired’s lead-off is a tad alarmist, though: “The cereal aisle at your local supermarket may soon resemble the Las Vegas strip,” they warn us.

Um, no.

First off, the article quotes several skeptics who question whether Siemens can manufacture the e-paper in quantity. Assuming they leap that hurdle, they’re talking about 30 cents for a piece of e-paper measuring a couple of square inches (or a handful of cm2). The realities of mass retail suggest — no, scream — that when a box of cereal costs about $3 and a can of soup goes for 59 cents or less, adding 30 cents to the per-unit packaging costs will fly about as well as a pig. There might be a handful of special promotional cases, but overall I wouldn’t be concerned about blinking cereal boxes any time soon (where “soon” is 2008 and beyond).

But if the Siemens e-paper idea works out, it could be the final piece of the puzzle that leads to widespread acceptance of E-books. I thought I’d written about this before, but it must have been off-blog. I believe that electronic books will only become popular when the readers are cheap enough to be disposable — selling for $10 in the checkout line racks, for example — and are no larger than a paperback book. The major hurdle here has been the display; they're relatively bulky and too expensive to make E-book readers more than a “bleeding edge” idea at the moment. Take a page or two of Siemens flexible e-paper, put a card slot and some rudimentary controls on it, and you have a reader.

Now watch book publishers try to kill the technology the way the RIAA and MPAA are trying to kill DVD/CD writers....

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