ThinkBoxly is the personal developer blog of Lucas Chasteen, author, programmer, artist, and always learning. Read more

Sunday, January 13, 2013

My Favorite Thing at CES 2013

In case you were not aware, this past week marked the 46th annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Tech companies from all over the world came to show off the latest and greatest of their ongoing developments (and occasionally, commercially available products), ranging in category from smartphones to refrigerators. If it runs on an electrical charge, you’ll find it at CES. So among all the bells and whistles, what was it that stood out to me as the best gadget (or gadget booth) at the show? The answer may actually surprise you!


Yup. You Read the header correctly. E-Ink was by far my favorite display at CES this year. If you aren’t familiar with the name, E-Ink is a display technology that electronically replicates the look of paper for a natural and comfortable viewing experience.

And why does this win my vote for Best of CES 2013?

Put simply, it’s because practically everything else demoed will be outdated by next year’s CES. Handheld gaming devices, smarter, higher-res TV sets, wider desktop monitors, smartphones, and the like are all a dime a dozen. Such ‘innovations’ come and go constantly. In five years’ time, who’s going to remember the tech showed off during the past week? How will it have changed the way people daily interact with technology? Most of it will certainly be forgotten, entirely replaced by something newer and better–a blip on the evolutionary timetable so many electronics fall prey to.

E-Ink, on the other hand, is the 21st century’s response to an industry standard that is hundreds of years old: paper. In five years, E-Ink may still be a rather under-appreciated technology, but it could very well end up being all around us just the same.

So, What’s New With E-Ink?

Of course, E-Ink is itself seeing some major improvements. Many are familiar with the technology and have been for years thanks to Amazon’s Kindle e-reader line of products, but so far all we’ve seen on such devices is grayscale, and only recently have we seen the advent of touch on E-Ink. In a way, it’s been like watching the paper of tomorrow in a beta state, and in the meantime our eyes can just get some relief while reading text–not much more.

Starting this year, however, E-Ink is approaching what could really be considered version 1.0, and that is what makes it so exciting. At long last we’re seeing color screens (with 4096 colors, for now), flexible screens, and a myriad new applications of E-Ink.

Imagine for a moment picking up a newspaper, unfolding it to the sports page, and watching a video replay right on the newspaper, or seeing realtime weather info without pulling out your smartphone. It may still sound a little bit like science fiction, but with flexible E-Ink panels, the technology for it is basically already here today.

But who wants to read a newspaper anymore? Perhaps you’d prefer to just have such information with you all the time–like you do with your smartphone–only in a more convenient way? Well, we now have E-Ink watches that can last for 30 days on a single, 10-minute charge. At the moment they may literally just tell time, but the evolution of the E-Ink watch into a smartphone companion device or independent smartwatch itself is quite predictable, and quite possible with developing technology.

We’re talking wearable tech, people. Don’t tell me that doesn’t spark your imagination just a little bit. With such low power requirements, one day we might literally be able to indefinitely power such E-Ink devices with the light we are exposed to on a normal basis. With flexibility comes durability, as well as a plethora of new places to put screens that they simply couldn’t go before in purely rigid states. It’s all getting smaller, it’s all getting more powerful, it’s all getting more practical. E-Ink both enables and promotes such direction. It is not an end product to itself, no, but it is a core technology to drive other technologies. That is what makes it so exciting to me.

E-Ink technology isn’t going to get left behind when the next big thing comes along; it’s going to be right there, enabling the next big thing to be big in the first place.

Now, don’t misunderstand. I’m not predicting or advocating that E-Ink will take over all other types of displays. IPS, AMOLED, and the like are still very much necessary. However, even in our tech-saturated world today, we remain surrounded by paper and other simple objects that E-Ink can most certainly fill in for or augment. I expect E-Ink will one day be practically invisible, just like paper is today. We don’t marvel at it, or wonder about its availability, or treat it with great respect. It’s just paper. There’s always more of it. But with E-Ink in its place wherever possible, although it may be invisible, it will affect our everyday lives in extremely significant ways. How much is Tegra 4 or Oculus Rift going to affect the general population? As awesome as they are…not much.

So go ahead, take a look at the video below and see briefly what’s in store from E-Ink. I think you can tell I share LockerGnome's Chris Pirillo's enthusiasm.