Ah, E Ink. You're so glamorous, seductive and successful on the shiny new Kindle 2, so spiffy adorning the Sony Reader. You're so full of promise, oh star of press releases and prototypes. But your failures are so spectacular, and so public. We often hear of this or that new E Ink device, but as soon as each has finished making the rounds through the blogosphere's echo chamber, we never hear about it again.
That's frustrating, because we love E Ink. Imagine a screen that never uses any power unless you're changing its image or turning its page. The rest of the time, it faithfully and powerlessly displays itself, showing you a sharp, black-and-white image (for the time being, color is years away) on a screen that can be bent and formed into almost any shape. And industrial designers have seen the promise of the technology, putting together gorgeous prototypes that look straight out of a science-fiction movie. A good science-fiction movie.
With the release of the new Kindle, it's time to revisit these failed or delayed masterpieces. Crawl with us under the cloud cover of vapor into a prototypical world, and hope what follows after the Continue jump isn't the fate of all gadgets that come with E Ink tech…
5. Polymer Vision Readius
Polymer Vision is a Philips spinoff that's determined to release Readius, the cell phone with a 5-inch retractable screen that doubles as a Windows CE-running e-reader. There were hopes that the fledgling roll-up screen phone might someday rival the iPhone. At least, that was the sales pitch in 2007. Since then, that flexible E Ink display has been changed from rollable to foldable, which the company blames on "user discomfort with rollout reliability." Meanwhile, its ship date keeps slipping, and we're wondering if the Readius will ever see the light of day.
4. Seiko Spectrum Bracelet
What a marvel of modern technology! It was billed as the first watch to use E Ink, and was the hit of the 2005 watch show circuit. Good Lord, this is a fantastic work of photographic art. Too bad the watch couldn't make it to market, no matter how captivated Seiko designers were with the E Ink concept. This watch was first shown in March 2005, destined for sale in Japan sometime that year. If it was ever sold, it was to a collector of prototypes.
3. Delphi keyfob
This illustration was trotted out to show how Delphi, maker of keyfobs (and many other car parts) for GM products, would use E Ink for unusually shaped two-way remote controls for keyless entry. It's a perfect implementation of E Ink tech. But given the state of the U.S. auto industry, Delphi might be happier to just stay afloat at all. To give you an idea of the company's plight, cash-strapped GM vows to somehow regain control of Delphi, a sure sign of a struggle. Given GM's dire straits, we're not thinking fancy keyfobs will be in the cards quite yet.
2. Hitachi W61H cell phone
Just before Hitachi went nuts and started calling its phones by the absurd name "WOO," it attracted the attention of nearly every tech website with this E Ink phone. And no, the E Ink wasn't used on the screen — it was used to decorate the outside of the phone, all dolled up in 95 graphical patterns. This seemed like such a wonderful idea in early 2008, but for some reason it fell off the edge of the Earth. Where are you now, oh PrettyPhone with the black and white stripes? Lost somewhere in the E Inky ether, methinks.
1. Seiko Spectrum, attempt 2
Seiko just couldn't give up on its E Ink watch/bracelet idea, with high hopes for this next iteration. In this installment of the doomed Spectrum series, the company even started cranking out prototypes, but somehow got bogged down. Suddenly, there was going to be a limited edition of just 500 of the attractive bracelets for women, but by 2006 only five were made. Still, breathless reps gushed about an October 2007 release for the price of $3,000 apiece. After some chatter of selling the prototypes on eBay, the project was never heard from again.