The Future of Flexible E-Book Screens

We reported last week that Polymer Vision, the company creating the innovative Readius e-book was in difficult financial straits and that the device was on hold. The news was a blow to development of e-readers with flexible screens. Unlike the Kindle or Sony e-reader, Readius is a foldable device. You open it up and spread out a 5 inch screen. When you're done, you close it up to the size of a pack of cigarettes.

Karl McGoldrick, chief executive of Polymer Vision, contacted me to confirm that the company is effectively insolvent. But, he added in an email, he's "working on a deal which will breathe new life into the whole concept of what we have pioneered - mobile devices with displays larger than the devices themselves." You can see our earlier report here, along with a video of the Readius.

But Readius's troubles don't mean the end of flexible e-readers. The technology is advancing quickly and, I'll venture, the time will come in the not-too-distant future when the Kindle, Sony's e-book and all other e-reading devices stuck in a hard casing will look frighteningly primitive. Several companies are deep into development of flexible e-paper, which could lead to the production of single sheets that allow you to wirelessly update for news, read your favorite magazines and newspapers and download books. When you're finished reading, you roll the thing up and stuff it in your briefcase.

Sounds pretty space-agey - but maybe not, given the depth of the research under way. Among the companies at work on the technology, Seiko Epson is reported to be developing flexible displays that, it says, will be on the market in about five years. The displays will be thin - 0.2 millimeters thick - and mounted on flexible plastic backings. Wear and tear could be a problem, the company acknowledges, adding that an 8 by 11 inch sheet could last up to several months. Price could also be an obstacle and has not reached the point yet to make the devices commercially viable.

The Hearst Corporation also is pushing into electronic paper. The company, which has demonstrated innovation across its many units, including newspapers, magazines, broadcast and digital media, published a cover for Esquire's 75th anniversary issue in October that was made with flexible electronic paper.

The company's digital media investment unit is reported to be developing an e-reader that would be tabloid-size and flexible. Editor & Publisher reported this week that Hearst will discuss its highly secretive e-reader plans at the second European E-Reading Conference in Paris in October. Hearst was one of the early financial backers of E-Ink Corp., the company whose technology forms the basis for the electronic ink displays used by Kindle, Sony and other e-readers.

By Steven E. Levingston |  August 13, 2009; 5:30 AM ET
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I sometimes like to imagine what the creators of some of the classic science fiction media would say if they knew there would be devices like this in the future.
So when are the tricorders coming out?

Posted by: Reesha | August 13, 2009 6:27 PM

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