E Ink, also known as electrophoretic or electronic ink, is a proprietary type of electronic paper. Made by E Ink Corp., which was founded in 1997 as a spin-out of MIT Media Lab, E Ink is the current market leader with its technology being used by companies such as Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Kobo, Sony, and Samsung.
What makes E Ink mimic real paper? A two-pigment system. Displays are made of tiny capsules that contain positive and negative particles. Using electricity, particles rise to the top of the screen, changing the color of the pixel and displaying the proper content. This also means that, so long as the screen is static, no power is being consumed (more on that next).
When pitted against LCD (liquid crystal display) screens, E Ink has a couple advantages.
- Because E Ink displays reflect ambient light rather than emit light, content can be read easily in sunny conditions. If you’re concerned about your ability to read in low-light, some ereaders, like the Kindle Paperwhite, come with a built-in light that shines on the screen, similar to using a booklight.
- E Ink uses bistable technology, which means that the device only consumes power when the screen changes (e.g. you turn a page in an ebook, open a new app, etc.) and will even remain when the power source is removed. This significantly increases the battery life. In contrast, a standard LCD screen refreshes approximately 30 times per second.
Of course, one of the reasons that people choose E Ink readers over LCD tablets is the eyestrain controversy. Basically, many people experience eye fatigue when looking at an LCD device for extended periods of time. But a 2012 study at the Institute for Research in Open-, Distance- and eLearning in Switzerland concluded that there is no significant difference in visual fatigue between E Ink and LCD tablets. However, there may be a connection between eye fatigue and devices with poor resolution. Because most devices nowadays have a high-res screen, people should feel comfortable reading on any device. That being said, there is still a case to be made for not using LCD devices before bed – a team from Harvard Medical School found that “it took longer to nod off with a backlit ereader, which led to poorer quality sleep and being more tired the next morning. Original Kindle readers do not emit light, so they should be fine.”
While most people think of ereaders such as the Kindle or Nook when it comes to E Ink, it’s important to note that E Ink has many applications to daily life outside of reading. Current uses of the technology include indicators such as those found on some flash drives, electronic shipping labels and luggage tags, and WiFi-connected retail displays. Eyecatcher, a Kickstarter campaign currently running (it ends on November 19), promises a smart bracelet with E Ink display that could last up to a year on a single charge. The campaign has well-surpassed its funding goal.
Even more so are the future implications of E Ink technology. Conceptual product designs on E Ink’s website detail cutting boards that show recipes, baseball mitts that record pitch speed, toll passes that display balance and charges, music stands that automatically turn pages, and more.
Despite statistics that reveal ereader purchases are down, it’s clear that E Ink technology will have a lasting place in society. The advantages it presents over LCD screens make it the right option for many display uses, and an excellent option for those who just want an ereader.
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