E Ink, the company that pioneered the electrophoretic displays used in gadgets like the Amazon Kindle, won’t have a new fancy screen this year. But that doesn’t mean they’re taking it easy: They’ve got a host of projects, from color- and video-enabled displays to screens that can be printed on cloth and then crumpled.
E Ink is always working on new ways to use their electrophoretic technology; they were showing an early color e-ink prototype at CES two years ago. These videos show that there might be more use to this kind of ultra-low-power, easy-on-the-eyes screens than just ebook readers (although we do adore the Kindle’s current-gen E Ink Pearl screen). These demos show that e-ink displays can be embedded into other materials–the video below shows it sewn right into a bit of Tyvex cloth, the super-tough, paper-like cloth used in shipping envelopes.
It’s easy to see the uses for that kind of thing: Envelopes could be sturdy and reusable, with shippers simply changing the shipping address on the screen rather than tossing the envelopes. E Ink also showed off a version with a refresh rate good enough to handle full color video, though due to the limitations of the tech, it looks a bit washed-out and blurry. Still, there’s definitely an interest in a screen that’s capable but that doesn’t strain the eyes, as seen in the buzz around the partly-similar Pixel Qi screen. Engineers see the potential, working on rollable e-ink and e-skin coatings.
The obstacle to getting production going on these new products is mostly the cost: e-ink screens are pretty expensive, even rivaling LCD screens, and so far, it seems nobody has found it worth the cost to actually go forward with production. But the price will eventually come down–the Kindle originally cost $400, and now the newest version costs an absurd $114–and hopefully we’ll get to see some next-generation envelopes soon enough.