With companies that blazed the E Ink eReader trail such as Amazon and Kobo branching out into tablets with LCD displays, you might be forgiven for thinking that E Ink technology is on the way out. But E Ink (the company) was at IFA, determined to demonstrate that this is far from the case by showcasing new E Ink technology and applications, including tri-color displays, retail price tags, and, perhaps most interestingly, secondary displays for mobile devices.
Similar to the the Yota that integrates an E Ink display into the rear of a mobile phone, PocketBook and Alcatel were displaying prototype cases that added the same feature to a regular smartphone. PocketBook's CoverReader and Alcatel's E-Ink Cover are designed for the Samsung Galaxy S4 and Alcatel OneTouch Hero respectively, and both are intended to turn these smartphones into low-power eReaders, conserving battery life when the user simply wants to dip into their current ebook, or perhaps read other long passages of text.
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The cases work with apps that send the text to the E Ink display and switch the normal display off. When in use, the phones' volume controls are co-opted as readily accessible page-forward and page-back buttons, similar to those on numerous dedicated eReader devices.
The Alcatel cover puts the E Ink screen on the exterior of the case when closed, meaning it can also be used to display notifications, weather details and the time at a glance. This saves users the hassle of opening up their case and powering up the screen just to check the time, but might also mean the cover could require a protective cover of its own to protect the E Ink screen. Alcatel also had a few other cases, including one that has LEDs built into the case on the backside of the E Ink display to show the time and even music volume.
The PocketBook CoverReader also displays notifications but requires the cover to be flipped open to view the E-Ink display, which obviously flips both the benefits and disadvantages of Alcatel's approach.
Rather than the new Carta E Ink display that features in the second-generation Kindle Paperwhite, both Pocketbook's and Alcatel's prototype covers rely on E Ink's first-generation Pearl display technology. However, E Ink has also been developing other E Ink technologies, including a tri-color display.
The company was showing a black, white and red display at IFA, but says any color can be used for the third color in the display. These were shown in 2-, 4- and 6-inch screen sizes, which the company hopes will extend the potential applications of its technology. The smallest displays are being touted as a replacement for paper price tags in shops. These can also integrate Wi-Fi, ZigBee or NFC to allow them to be updated electronically, from a central database for example.
E Ink says the low-power nature of its display technology would allow button batteries to power some tags for periods of around five years, while some NFC-equipped tags that relied on power from a transmitter could function indefinitely without the need for any onboard power source.
Device manufacturers are indeed spoiled for choice when it comes to choosing a display technology. E Ink's benefits of ultra-low power consumption and high visibility in direct sunlight are likely to ensure it maintains a place alongside LCD and OLED for the foreseeable future.View gallery - 26 images