In the tech world, many of the most interesting and innovative firms are the ones working behind the scenes, such as Qualcomm and Corning. We caught up with another example, E Ink, at CES 2014, and got to see up close some of the gadgets making good use of its electronic paper technology. You’ll probably be familiar with E Ink screens in products like the Amazon Kindle, but here are a few ways the tech could come into our hands soon.
On our luggage
Earlier this year, reports spread that British Airways was testing a luggage tag with a customizable E Ink display, and a version from Vanguard ID was in action at E Ink’s booth. Named the ViewTag, it uses a flexible E Ink screen to display information on your flight, including the barcodes scanned by the airline when you check your bag. It also puts you in control of your bag’s destiny.
When you check in online using your smartphone, travel data is transferred using NFC to the tag, ready to hand it over at the airport. At key points during the bag’s journey, the tag will let you know where it is by text message. The idea is to almost completely remove the chance of a bag getting lost, and to minimize paper waste, as the tag is reusable.
The ViewTag could remove the chance of a bag getting lost, and minimize paper waste as it’s completely reusable.
According to an E Ink spokesperson, the tag is being tested by various airlines, and could end up being a freebie for premium passengers, but it should be made available to purchase separately too. The ViewTag is only possible due to the E Ink screen’s tiny power needs and durability.
In our hands
After showing off the luggage tag, we moved on to something bigger. Much bigger. It’s called the Sony DPT-S1, and it’s a super-thin slate, the size of a sheet of paper, which uses E Ink’s super flexible, high-res Mobius screen technology. It measures 13.3 inches across, is unbreakable, has 1,600 x 1,200 pixel resolution, and looks amazing. The chassis is around 6mm thick, and it’s incredibly lightweight. Sony’s tablet is like a strange cross between the Kindle DX and a high-tech notepad. At the moment, it’s aimed at business or education use, and priced at a frightening $1,000.
So why’s it cool? It looks and feels like a piece of paper, and as it has a stylus, you can write or draw on it like one too. Your finished work could be saved on the microSD card and transferred to your computer. If you’ve got the right software, your handwriting could even be converted over to text. As a creative plaything, it’s wonderfully tactile, and it’s a shame the device isn’t currently planned for retail sale yet, but we’re hoping Sony will come around on that.
On the shelf at the store
E Ink’s remit also includes point-of-sale tags we see in shops, and the latest have moved on from the black-and-white screens we’re used to, and now include a third color: red. For a relatively simple change, the tags have considerably more visual impact, with no change in power consumption. We could be seeing these new three-color displays, which came in both 2-inch and 6-inch versions, on brand new gadgets – smartwatches, perhaps – we can buy in the future.
Display technology, especially black and white tech, may not sound all that interesting at first; but the versatility of E Ink’s product helps manufacturers create new hardware that couldn’t exist without it. Shows like CES give us the chance to check them out in person, and hope they come our way soon.