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Newsplastic: Electronic ink + flexible screens + wireless

April 14, 2009 | 12:25 pm

Thanks to Amazon.com's Kindle, the e-book reader has gone from a niche curiosity to a mainstream, oft-cited technology in a little more than a year. But now buzz is snapping and crackling about a second wave of electronic readers coming down the pike to give Amazon a run for its undisclosed monies

A post by Ars Technica pointed to the array of media interests rumored or reported to be entering the e-reader field -- from telecom heavies such as Verizon, AT&T and Sprint, to Barnes & Noble, to news companies such Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, Hearst, and the owners of the Detroit Free Press, the last two of which have faced crippling challenges to their print products. Upshot: More than a few big shots are betting that even if electronic readers can't print money, they can still make some.

Remember, too, that e-ink is a relatively new technology, so the future's portable news readers are bound to look a lot spiffier than the Stone Age Kindle and Sony units. Amazon is reportedly developing a larger-screen version of the Kindle, and Plastic Logic is already showing off its next-generation touch-sensitive reader.

But the possibilities really start to hit home when you watch these YouTube videos of laboratory-stage e-reader technology. Note that the following video of Plastic Logic's flexible screen is almost 3 years old. 

This video of a Sony plastic color TV screen is 2 years old:

Also from 2007 is the following demo of a cellular device that contains an actual folding screen:

A few weeks ago, Fujitsu released the first color e-reader too. 

Put the pieces together and you have enough technology to build portable, flexible, touch-screen color reading devices -- just the sort of gadget that the publishing world needs.  Both the Kindle and the iPod have suggested that it takes a new hardware platform to get people to pay for electronic content. You're not just buying the song or the book, it turns out, but the ability to consume it anywhere -- a value proposition that much bulkier computers still can't satisfy.

You've got interest from the distribution companies, and you've got a technology that's starting to become viable.  A digital newspaper is now visible at the end of the tunnel. The problem is, there's also a train coming.

-- David Sarno [follow]

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