No, not those sorts of toys…

Or those sorts of toys…

One of the things I love about my job is I generally get early sight of new technology. Sometimes in the lab, often pre release prototypes. Sometimes its just demos, sometimes its to play. I love my techy toys. My phone changes on a regular basis, and I’ve had a regular rotation of PDA’s, laptops, MP3 players etc etc etc. Sometimes I hate them. I am currently trialling an Microsoft phone that I just can’t stand (new one tomorrow with any luck). Sometimes they are just OK, rarely (oh so rarely) do I love them.

I saw something today that my fingers are itching to get ahold of. I think I first saw a demo of epaper in the labs four or five years ago. It is essentially a thin plastic wafer that squishes a liquid that can be either black or white depending on the last electrical charge passed through it. Think Liquid Crystal, but instead of needing to pump continual power into it, you only power it when it changes (ie, it will continue to show what was last on the screen years after the batteries die). It is also very high contrast, as good as printed paper.

Its taken a long time to commercialise it, but today I got to play with a working prototype. You’re going to see a lot of these come out over the coming year, and for once it really could change how people behave. Think an ipod for the written word.

Its not a computer, the refresh rate is too slow, and its still only monochrome, so internet browsing is out. Yet, oh yet… The unit was less than half an inch thick, weighed very little (less than a book) and was the size of a large paperback. The internal memory of the unit I was playing with could hold 20 books (and that is an easy thing to expand). What was truly amazing was the contrast and the definition, it was a delight to read. It really was very close to being as good as a page printed on good quality newsprint or your average paperback. The viewing angle was also as good as paper, no more having to have it directly in front of you, like your average LCD or Plasma screen.

The one I saw will probably be first to market, but I know of at least two more close to release this year. The price to begin with is too high, but if this takes off as a technology, and I predict it very well might, costs will drop fast. Watch out folks, the world turns again…

Oh… and it will play your MP3s as well. This was one cool piece of kit.

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