The moment electronic paper died

Perhaps you did not noticed it but last week the electronic paper followed the Maglev and became part of the museum of failed technical innovations. As the Maglev, it started with a brilliant theoretical idea that nobody cared about once it was there.

The Maglev promised faster train travel with a better efficiency. The problem of the Maglev is that is does not fit well into the current infrastructure. New separate tracks have to be build. In the meantime wheeled electric trains are capable to travel at high speeds using and interfacing better with the current infrastructure.

Electronic paper has the advantage that it does not consume electricity while displaying a single page and works without backlight. In theory an electronic paper-based device can be used much longer with recharging. Readability for text is supposed to be better than a LCD as well. But it cannot display charts, tables and photos well. Everything users are used to know on the computer and smart phones. Additionally, they switch slowly from one page to another and the display even flickers annoyingly while changing the page content.

Until the advent of the iPad I thought of buying such a device and fantasized about caring around all my IT-books, classical literature from Project Gutenberg and blogs on this device around while commuting. It was just a matter of the right price. But now I do not see a point anymore. The iPad has proven that it is possible to build a general purpose computing device that includes book reading software. The electronic paper may be better for novels but I don't care. The ability to use all kinds of software and browse the web on such a device is definitely buying me more.

That said the iPad is just the prove that it can be done. It is not platform I would like to develop on.

What's the point off having a general purpose computing device that is controlled by one company? The platform for such a device has to be reasonably open. And I think that will not only be in the interest of application developers but of the provider of such a platform as well. The development and deployment model imposed on developers will stifle innovation. As innovative as the iPad may be a single company won't outperform a whole industry in the long run.


  1. Per Helge SeglstenFebruary 09, 2010

    I bet horse owners said the same about the automobile, when they got the new, light weight carriages that enabled horse taxies to run all day without having to change horses more than once.

  2. Given the vast changes to infrastructure necessary, the environmental, social and economic repercussion in the long-run horses (and other modes of transport) may be a more sustainable way to transport than cars, though.