Wednesday, January 7, 2009

eBooks and Screen Technologies

So a lot of power is wasted in displaying the images on our current cell phone screen. That makes building batteries that are compact enough and light enough but still powerful enough difficult. Now the technical whizzes who brought those tiny phones down to a size where you can lose them in a purse are fixing that problem. The eInk display and other power sipping device types are appearing in full color glory in prototypes today.

The article in the NY Times technology section today is only one source of this news. We are reading more and more about the power saving capabilities of various new technologies. This may actually be the year when some of these ideas turn into real phones. Reflecting light from outside sources selectively is the basis of some of these technical marvels. That makes the display brighter in sunlight than it is in a shady spot nearby.

The display design by Qualcomm based on MEMS technology is particularly interesting because it uses tiny mirrors that selectively reflect red, green or blue light. The amount of power used by this screen can be as low as one mw (milliwatt) versus over 200 mw in your current scriStock_000002038586XSmalleen. This type of screen is not backlit and thus will need a frontal light source if you are addicted to using it in the dark.

A higher energy use backlit screen but one that is still substantially lower than current technology uses LED lighting and tiny shutters to display images. This version of the future uses around 50 mw to supply a bright color display but is not as useable in daylight as the lower power choices. All of this technology is aimed at solving the recharge problem that plagues any serious cell phone user.

I’m still anxiously awaiting the new technology that allows me to read on a five by seven inch display for up to fifty hours without recharging my phone once. Of course it will still have to fit in my pocket so it should fold up or roll up when I am not using it. Ideally we ought to be able to build these displays so that they can generate power for recharging the whole device from ambient light like a calculator so we never have to plug the damn thing in at all.

Posing nearly impossible problems for engineers to solve is more fun than adapting to their latest and greatest idea in the form that it finally reaches the market. eInk is still slow and not available in full color. MEMS technology is still in the future. Flexible displays are still largely fantasy but reaching the realm of the possible quickly. I expect my ideal display will appear by the end of this decade if not sooner.

Electromechanical marvels like 300,000 tiny shutters on a small display do amaze me a bit. But then I think about all of those huge old monitors that are on the scrap heap today. We are living in a totally flat panel world now, and that happened in less than ten years. The pace is constantly accelerating and new technologies are competing for our interest daily. EBook dedicated readers will not survive long in this world.

That they appeared at all is a statement about how inefficient markets can be when they move this fast. Of course the truth is the gadget happy among us are driving this rate of change faster and faster. At what point can this all slow down enough to make it possible for me to learn how to use all of the features in my new phone before it is obsolete? Maybe that is just not important after all but it would be nice wouldn’t it?

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