In addition to low power consumption and excellent legibility in bright sunlight, E Ink’s electronic paper displays are just as flexible as OLED screens. So while folding phones and tablets are grabbing headlines, folding eBook readers could soon be a thing too, as this prototype from E Ink reveals.
Goodereader, a site dedicated to eReader news, shared a video of a new eReader prototype developed by E Ink’s Tokyo research and development lab. Over the years the company has privately given demos of its prototype folding devices at trade shows like CES, but this is one of the first times the public is getting a peek at an E Ink prototype that looks close to being a consumer-ready product.
Roughly the size of a hardcover book when closed, the ereader opens to reveal a generous 10.3-inch flexible electronic paper display capable of displaying both sides of an open paperback novel. A geared hinge mechanism ensures that when the folding ereader is closed the screen isn’t pinched to a degree that it can be damaged (an issue that still plagues most folding screen devices) and a generous bezel includes dedicated navigation buttons. However, the screen itself also accepts touch gestures and taps, and the prototype features Wacom’s technology built-in (similar to E Ink devices like the reMarkable tablet) so that a stylus can be used for taking notes or making drawings.
The prototype also demonstrates some of the unique challenges of E Ink’s screen technology. While OLED displays can self illuminate without the need for a backlight layer (it’s necessary for LCD and LED screens—which is why you don’t see flexible ones... yet) ereaders often use discreet LED sidelights so they’re legible in the dark. On this prototype, LEDs have been integrated into a folding bar at the top and do a decent job at illuminating the screen, but there are still some dark spots in the middle, and the bars have to be folded down flat again before the ereader can be closed.
There are no details as to when we’ll see folding devices featuring E Ink displays available to consumers. The company doesn’t manufacture the devices itself but instead licenses its unique screen technology to companies like Amazon and Kobo who produce ereaders like the Kindle and the Nia. This prototype is more of a proof of concept that the company can use to demonstrate other uses for its electronic paper technology. But if it manages to shrink that monstrous bezel and find a better way to implement the LED lighting, we’ll be the first in line to upgrade our ereaders.