Tuesday, October 13, 2009

E-paper - Not Soft Enough?

Much as I have always thought that one day I'd be reading my news and books and stuff on a handheld device, I agree with Brian in his article - e-book readers are a waste of good research time.  I do remember thinking at the time (back in about '96 - '97) that the new PDA class computers were the way to go.  I was pretty sure they'd sort out the daylight reading issues, and the power issues, and I was only mildly enthusiastic when e-ink and e-paper first raised into public awareness.

It's definitely not the way to go.  For everyone that says that LCD screens aren't readable under direct sunlight, I can only say that I also don't - ever - manage to read a book, paper, or magazine under direct sunlight either.  My eyes are the limiting factor here, not the medium.  I hate with a passion, the bedazzled feeling I get after looking at a paper page at a foot distance, in our harsh sunlight here in Western Australia.  E-ink isn't going to improve that situation.

For anyone who quotes me advertising posters, I say go ahead, that's about the perfect use for e-ink and e-paper.  At a distance of several yards or more, the reflected sunlight is fine for direct viewing.  And advertising posters don't need to change quickly.  Go develop e-paper for the advertising world, Lord knows they need a lesson in resource frugality.

At this stage I'm waiting for the fusion of the PMP and the tablet PC to roll out.  Given LED backlighting, better transflective displays, and power saving features combined with battery technology that is now up to the stage of running a laptop for eight hours, I can't see it being too long before I see a folding touch-screen device a bit smaller than the size and heft of a paperback that I can read outdoors in the shade, indoors in artificial lighting, and which will do the full gamut of multimedia for me.  

Stop wasting time putting hi-fi speakers in the things - I have rarely ever been so antisocial as to sing or read aloud a book I'm reading in public, nor do I like the idea of playing my music for everyone within earshot.  Give me a bluetooth-tethered headset instead.  

Don't bother with face and eye recognition or motion sensing, because again, when I'm out and about I have rarely (well, actually, never) waved my reading material around and done DDR moves with it.  

Do give it a camera and mobile phone so I can use mobile broadband as well as WiFi, do give it enough storage to hold a couple of DVDs and my favourite library of a few hundred books and web pages.  The secret isn't to let me copy everything to the device, nor to store everything in the cloud - it's to work out what I prefer to read at different times and locations, and do it for me.

And for God's sake use something else than a nuclear battery, even if it's technically feasible to make those.  I have visions of a fresh-faced urban terrorist collecting "Nuke-Readers" and collecting the batteries into a critical mass...  

One last thing:  E-paper is not going to replace the multimedia experience we're used to.  It's not going to replace dead-trees paper in the form of paperbacks.  And it's not going to be any good in the other function that squares of paper can be commonly used for, either ...

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