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This is your mind on media.

Musings on the effects of media on cognition.

Digital Paper on the Rise

E Ink has made a recent announcement regarding the availability of their flexible digital paper. While I don’t believe I discussed this here at banapana, digital paper has often been the subject of lengthy late night conversations with friends in the design community. It heralds nothing short of a new age for media.

Digital paper is nothing short of amazing. E Ink explains some of specs as follows:

“Less than 300 microns thick, the paper-white display is as thin and flexible as construction paper. With a 10.1″ diagonal, the prototype achieves SVGA (600×800) resolution at 100 pixels per inch and has a 10:1 contrast ratio with 4 levels of grayscale.”

Also of note is the fact that digital paper displays use 100 times less energy than even an LCD. What this means is that digital paper opens the door to the ubiquitous display of real-time information. While ubiquitous computing is already mostly a reality (RFID tags and chips in everything) the next logical step is to provide a ubiquitous display. Digital paper doesn’t just mean cheap displays for cell phones. It means real-time displays for advertising, billboards, wall paper, magazines and much more.

Some folks question the economics of this but I think they haven’t done the math. Zymurgyboy over at slashdot summed the point up well:

… It could turn out to be less expensive [than paper] in the end. Paper is only cheap up front. Storing paper is what makes it expensive (my emphasis added). The cost of disk space is plummeting, while the cost of real estate is rising. Not to mention, the paper making process creates some of the most toxic chemicals known to man.

I’d think of the TCO (Total Cost of Operation) for this the same way I do with shoes. Don’t be afraid to spend the money on better quality. They’ll last longer, you’ll comsume less, and you won’t have to replace them, nearly as frequently. A few pairs of carefully chosen, high quality shoes will save you more money than a closet full of cheap ones in the long run without sacrificing too much flexibility.

The economic advantage couldn’t be put better. Above all else, digital paper is the ultimate in recyclable paper and its advent will have an effect parallel to that of the general acceptance of the laser printer. The big todo about the computer was the possibility of the paperless office, but what really happened was an explosion of printing. While the internet was creating the instantaneous transmission of documents, displays simply hadn’t caught up with the usability of paper, hence everyone printing out their emails. The proliferation of jokes and retro PDA articles say a lot about the usability of current displays and digital paper answers several of those challenges by working in bright and regular light, creating energy savings and even retaining a static image when the power is off.

Full color isn’t there yet and I don’t believe the refresh rate of these screens (read: animation capability) is very high but these are just engineering problems that will no doubt be solved in a few years. But make no mistake, digital paper is a major shift toward ridding ourselves of the computing paradigm that is the box in the office.

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