E-Books Utilize High-Tech 'Ink And Paper' Technology

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A Kindle DX, displaying a page from 'The New York Times' i

A Kindle DX displays a page from The New York Times during a demonstration in May. The Kindle DX and other mobile devices utilize E Ink technology. Mark Lennihan/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Mark Lennihan/AP
A Kindle DX, displaying a page from 'The New York Times'

A Kindle DX displays a page from The New York Times during a demonstration in May. The Kindle DX and other mobile devices utilize E Ink technology.

Mark Lennihan/AP

Part of what's making digital readers like the Amazon Kindle and the Sony Reader popular is that they're easy to read. The technology that makes that possible, basically a digital version of ink and paper, is now being added to other electronic accessories.

For many of these devices, a Massachusetts company called E Ink is behind that technology. It aims to marry the readability and attractiveness of traditional print materials with the changeability of electronics. E Ink is also making displays for cell phone keypads that can morph from numbers to letters, wristwatch faces that can change content, and a credit card anti-fraud device that could constantly change the security code on the back of the card.

Making Digital Paper

Making the text on the Kindle's "page look more like a real book" was the goal for E Ink.

"The kind of displays that you use in laptops and monitors and so forth, the contents are not fun to read at all," said Sri Peruvemba, a vice president at E Ink. "It strains your eyes, and what we tried to do was create an electronic display that makes it look kind of like paper. Yet, the contents are changeable."

Here's how they did it: Each display "page" of the e-book is covered in millions of tiny microcapsules that can turn black, white or some shade of gray. An electrical charge prods the capsules to turn one color or another. They can be programmed to form words, images and more.

"In some ways it's like the Christmas lights," Peruvemba said. "You can turn them on and off in a sequence, so you get the feeling that the lights are actually moving, when they're actually stationary. That's the beauty of this technology."

More Competition Coming Soon

Right now, E Ink has a corner on this market, but next year will bring competitors with a less expensive product, and ones that give you a color display. It's not just gadgets like the Kindle that are using this reader-friendly technology. When you turn one cell phone made by Samsung on its side, the phone's numbers can morph into letters.

"You have the opportunity to do some texting and the keyboard changes on you and you're in texting mode — 'cause it's not ordinary keys," Peruvemba said. "These are E Ink displays that form these keys and the keys are reprogrammable."

Advancements like that will continue to make mobile devices more user-friendly and aesthetically pleasing. And with 30 million people already staring at the little screen on their iPhones, cell phone manufacturers have incentive to make their products a little easier on the eye.

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