in at least 57 flavour-packed varieties.
The products on show can be split, approximately, into two barely separate categories – those that are already on sale and those that are jockeying for contracts from firms big enough to make or break them.
Full range of sizes
In the first category come dozens of devices, some of which are surprisingly long-in-the-tooth now. These include Sony’s Libirie e-book, the Amazon Kindle and an impressive range of e-paper displays from a Taiwanese firm intended for everything from price tags to e-book readers.
Taiwan-based PVI entered the e-paper business in 2005 when it acquired Philips’ e-paper division and has made massive strides in building upon that technology.
The company’s current range of thin, low-power monochrome displays runs from a tiny 1.9-inch e-paper screen intended for gadgets like MP3 players to an impressive 9.7-inch screen with a resolution of 1,200 x 825 pixels made specifically for e-books like the Librie.
Card with a view
Moving to less obvious applications, another Taiwanese firm, SmartDisplayer, has had the ingenious idea of sticking a tiny e-paper screen in an RFID-toting smartcard.
The card has already begun internal trials in trading companies and banks interested in the added layer of security that can be introduced through the simple expedient of having a screen that can display single-use disposable PINs for each transaction.
Other possibilities include pill bottles that show countdowns of what to take and when to take it, low-power screens on even the smallest gadgets and even headphones with built-in displays.
Where’s the FLEPia?
Moving on to intriguing ideas that have yet to reach the giddy heights of commercial application, one name keeps coming up when e-paper is mentioned – Fujitsu’s FLEPia e-book; one of the few with a colour screen.
The device itself has been around in prototype form for at least a year and the e-paper in it for two years before that, so we spoke to the company to find out why.
According to Utsumi Kiyoshi, retail director at Fujitsu Frontech, there has been one major hurdle all along. He told us: “Cost is still a problem – we can deliver samples of the 8-inch FLEPia, but that still costs ¥200,000 for two (£1,000). We aim to get that down to ¥40,000 (£200) each by the time we actually sell it.”
We hope that happens sometime soon, as our hands-on today revealed a very light and easy-to-use gadget that sports a decent colour e-paper display. Admittedly the screen refresh rate is a little lacking, but that’s part of the appeal of a prototype, after all – we need something to look forward to, right?