It’s rare to find an ebook reader now that doesn’t use a touchscreen to make navigating its user interface—or just flipping the pages of a digital book—much easier. So, given the demand for that functionality, today E Ink announced a new electronic-ink screen featuring a touch sensor built right in that should improve image quality and help make these devices more affordable.
Even the cheapest, entry-level version of the Amazon Kindle includes a touchscreen, but adding that functionality requires a touch-sensitive panel to be laminated on top of the ePaper display supplied by E Ink. That extra step not only adds more cost to the manufacturing process, the added touch sensor also adds another layer for light to pass through, which can reduce the contrast of the E Ink screen—one of the display technology’s biggest selling points.
Moving forward, companies integrating E Ink’s screens into their devices can opt for the company’s new On-Cell Touch ePaper module which includes a touch-sensitive layer pre-integrated between the electronic ink film and the glowing illuminated panel on top. The all-in-one solution should help reduce the cost of components in a touchscreen e-reader or e-note and simplify manufacturing. E Ink also promises that its integrated touchscreen sensor will improve the contrast ratio of its Carta black and white ePaper screens by up to 30%, while boosting the contrast ratio of its color Kaleido Plus ePaper screens by up to 40%, arguably a much-needed boost for that technology.
The new On-Cell Touch ePaper module could be especially useful for e-note devices like the reMarkable 2 tablet, whose biggest drawback is the lack of an illuminated screen making it hard to use as an e-reader too. Its creators have opted to skip the illumination panel to make the E Ink screen as thin as possible so that the on-screen stylus experience remains as close to the pen-on-paper experience as possible. With all of these layers, including touch and a front light, integrated into the E Ink screen from the get-go, there’s the possibility that future versions of the reMarkable tablet could offer the same excellent digital note-taking experience plus a glowing screen for when that middle of the night inspiration hits.
Update, 12:29 p.m. EST/EDT: We reached out to E Ink for clarifications on the exact functionality of its new On-Cell Touch ePaper module and the company has clarified that at launch it will primarily support finger touches, for devices such as ebook readers. Support for stylus-driven interactions, including note-taking, is possible, but it would require the addition of a pen input layer to the module.