Since first reading about electronic paper displays developed by
E-Ink, I've eagerly awaited
their arrival. Electronic paper displays are readable from any angle,
high resolution, incredibly thin, use extremely little power, and can even
be flexible. Currently the displays are grayscale, and text appears in
black on a white background. Also once something is displayed on the
screen it stays there without using any power; energy is only needed to
change the image.
All those attributes make the displays perfect for a new breed of devices: electronic document readers, like Sony's E-Book reader. The hope is that e-book readers can replace everything from printed books to newspapers. Imagine going on a vacation with a dozen novels and travel guides all in one in compact device. Less paper bulk isn't just convenient for you, it's also great for the environment. The potential for signage is also huge, imagine a posted train schedule that looks just like paper but can be changed instantaneously, inexpensively, all with minimal energy use.
However, there's a significant downside to these displays: the refresh rate is between 1000ms and 500ms (or 1 second and .5 seconds). That's at best about about 100 times slower than an LCD display. That may be acceptable for an electronic book or signage, but until the refresh rate is dramatically decreased we may not see electronic paper displays in many PDAs, smart phones, and other gadgets that need really snappy interfaces.
I had originally thought that electronic paper displays were a perfect fit for the MedTab, a PDA for medical professionals, but with such a slow refresh rate it now seems like the device has the potential to annoy a lot of busy and impatient doctors.
The Illiad by iRex, another device using electronic paper displays, has pen and tablet capabilities. Which is a great feature, especially for those of us who like to make notes in the margins of our books. But I cannot imagine writing on a surface that takes (at best) half a second to display what I just wrote; it would be maddening.