E Ink is the display that brings with it long battery life and excellent contrast, especially good for visibility in bright conditions.
When you mention E Ink, you probably think about the Kindle or similar ebook readers. But there's so much more to E Ink than just reading the latest bestseller on the beach.
We sat down with Giovanni Mancini, senior director of global marketing at E Ink, to talk about where E Ink is coming from and where it's going.
The Kindle story
Starting with the most obvious, there is still a story to tell around the ebook readers like the Kindle. There are new models of Kindle Paperwhite, there's the Kobo Glo HD and there's the Nook Glowlight Plus, all of which are sticking to E Ink displays and rightly so.
But it's no longer the aggressive market it once was. That's not so much because tablets are taking over - they aren't - but the changes in one generation of ebook device to the next is rather small. Yes, put a new Kindle alongside the old and you'll find things like more even illumination (in Paperwhite models), but it's not enough of a difference to drive a need to upgrade.
Mancini tells us that it's a stable arm of what E Ink is doing and although it's no longer seeing the big growth of previous years, there's still plenty of devices being bought and sold.
The colour E Ink story
Many see the lack of colour as a barrier to E Ink. Taken as a technology to replace paper, as it is in a reader, then E Ink is excellent, but for those who'd want to add colour to pages, LCD is still favoured.
The colour ebook reader is seen as the holy grail by many, although Mancini pointed out that adding colour to something like the Kindle probably doesn't add that much to the experience. There isn't a lot of colour on the pages of a James Patterson novel, after all.
E Ink displays work by changing the charge in the back of the panel and using that to switch and set the coloured pigments in the visible part. Usually that's black and white, but it can work for a range of colours. While these might not find their way into consumer reading devices, there's a range of applications they can be used for, including signage and art.
One example is eFlow, described as a dynamic sculpture that can change its colour. This would normally be done with LED or projection, but in the case of E Ink, you have it in a flexible material. In the eFlow installation, it was hooked up to a Kinect to make it react to the people looking at.
This sort of larger scale implementation is also of interest to those in architectural design. Imagine an airport where you can change the colour of the walls to guide people into the right channel, all without needing lots of energy.
One of the areas that E Ink has been researching in for a while is shelf tags. One of the aims is to produce a display that doesn't need its own battery, which E Ink can do. It can change its display based only on energy harvested from wireless signals, like 3G or RFID.
That has a distinct advantage, because you don't need to maintain the battery, or change it, as E Ink will hold its image for a very long time with very little decay. Mancini showed us a work ID badge, showing his picture. Set via a smartphone using NFC, the image was over a year old and perfectly visible.
But one area that's being enthusiastically pursued is luggage. We're back to the airport again, where companies like British Airways have been trialling E Ink luggage tags, and luggage company Rimowa has partnered with Lufthansa, integrating an E Ink display into a suitcase.
The idea here it to speed up check-in processes and reduce airport administration. All you'd have to do is check-in via the app, send the etag information to the suitcase via Bluetooth and then drop that off at the airport, rather than having to queue and have it printed. The information is the same as the paper tag, but can't be ripped off, and it doesn't matter if it gets wet.
So now when you check-in using the app, you'll be able to do more of the process. It will become available in 2016.
Smart bank cards
One of the advantages of E Ink displays is how thin they can be. So thin that you can put a display into a bank card. Sure, this type of technology is in competition with abandoning cards completely in favour of smartphone systems, but Mancini showed us a couple of solutions.
The first is Coin. This is a smart card that can do everything your bank cards can do, offering NFC payments and a magnetic strip. The idea is that Coin replaces your bank cards, by transferring all the details you need to one card. You can then press a button to cycle through your payment options and present the card for payment as if it was the original.
Coin is already available to order, letting you empty your wallet and carry the one card instead.
But how about a bank card that will display your balance? In this instance, there's no battery needed, just a display that can update with your balance each time you spend on that card. What better way to keep an eye on your funds?
One final innovative area where E Ink is looking to put its displays to work is smart packaging. The example here is in pharmaceuticals, where a display can be integrated into the packing materials for medicines. This will let you do clever things, like press a button when you take your meds so there's both a reminder of when you last took it, as well as a log for your healthcare provider to ensure you're following the regimen.
Mancini showed two working samples of its PhutureMed system, which can be used on all sorts of packaging, including blister packs. For those sruggling to remember, being able to tell when you took that pill could be a real benefit.
Coming to a future near you
Although most people will associate E Ink with the Kindle, there are plenty of innovative areas that we could see this technology appearing.
We've always liked the benefits of E Ink. The low power consumption and great daylight visibility makes it great for that obvious task of letting you read the latest book, but there's plenty more in store for the future.
E Ink really isn't just for the Kindle.