This E Ink Is for E-Readin'
by DAN BLOOM
E Ink displays are putting Taiwan at the forefront of a publishing revolution.
Although right now you might be reading the words of this article on glossy paper in a printed magazine, many print publications worldwide are also beginning to release editions meant for viewing on sleek electronic book readers, or e-readers.
As digital advances continue to transform the media world day by day, a Taiwanese company has taken on an important role in the process with E Ink, a proprietary technology used to render text on low-powered display screens.
The original goal of creating e-books was to make the experience of reading on electronic devices as similar as possible to that of printed books, an ideal reflected in the marketing campaigns of e-reader industry giants Amazon.com, Inc. and Sony Corp. While liquid crystal displays (LCD) used as computer monitors require backlighting, E Ink screens do not, rendering crisp black text against a natural white background. Products such as Amazon’s Kindle already use E Ink to give book and periodical readers an alternative to traditional print publications, and media experts have forecasted that the nascent literary shift from paper to screen appears likely to accelerate in the near future.
If, as the pundits predict, the future belongs to digital publications, then an electronic display company in the Hsinchu Science Park in northern Taiwan stands to profit enormously from the shift. For Scott Liu, the 61-year-old CEO and chairman of E Ink Holdings, which is now the owner of the E Ink technology, the timing is perfect.
Although the name E Ink is a shorthand phrase for electronic ink, the underlying process does not use ink at all. Engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) pioneered the technology when they discovered that electricity could move the position of positively and negatively charged particles—very tiny black and white balls—that were suspended in a fluid. E Ink’s engineers pushed the development of the technology by creating software that enables devices to manipulate the particles with an electric current. After the particles form letters, they hold their shape without requiring the electric charge until the screen changes, such as when the user desires to see the next page. The result is that e-readers can go days or even weeks without recharging.
It is that simple, and that complex, too.