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The Plastic

The four years of users’ working with e-book readers that have E Ink displays have shown how fragile large displays on thin glass wafers can be. The developers of electrophoretic displays are trying to make e-book readers lighter and slimmer by using thin wafers but they prove to be too sensitive to bending or accidental shocks. And the bigger the screen, the higher the chance of the glass being broken. An e-reader can be dropped or crushed in public transport. Users at forums do not report too many of such accidents, yet the problem has to be dealt with somehow.

Back in 2000 E Ink bought a license from Lucent Technologies to produce plastic wafers with transistors made from semiconductor plastics (it was Bell Labs’ innovation). Then, the development process was split up. Philips’ daughter company Polymer Vision began to develop flexible plastic displays (it was sold to the Taiwan-based Wistron in the fall of 2009, so we expect to hear some hot news from them soon) whereas E Ink’s English partner Plastic Logic was assigned the responsibility of developing and producing ordinary plastic displays. Plastic Logic received over $100 million of investments, built its own factory near Dresden in 2008, but still does not produce plastic displays commercially. PVI seems to be ready to begin producing displays on plastic wafers simultaneously with Plastic Logic. AU Optronics is also working with plastic for SiPix films. All of this is needed to make the displays of e-book readers protected against physical damage. Plastic is far more tolerant to shocks and bending.

E-book readers with plastic displays are one of the most highly anticipated innovations of this year. All of them are going to use E Link films. Here is an example: the 901 model from PocketBook.

The PocketBook 901 is coming to the market in March. Its price is not yet disclosed. Perhaps the pricing will be based on the level set by the opponent Hanlin A9. The PocketBook 901 has a larger, 9.7-inch screen (as opposed to the Hanlin A9’s 9.1 inches) and its plastic display can only be counterweighed by the Hanlin A9’s touch sensitivity. The PocketBook 901 will be lighter than most competing large-format e-book readers due to the lack of glass in the display wafer. It weighs 350 grams, which is 150 grams lighter than the 9.7-inch Amazon Kindle DX and 40 grams lighter than the above-mentioned Hanlin A9. It should be noted that first batches of PocketBook 901 may come with older glass displays. Like Plastic Logic, PVI has problems producing plastic E Ink displays in commercial quantities.

A PocketBook 901 measures almost exactly like a Hanlin A9. It is only somewhat shorter (at 24 rather than 26 centimeters) due to the smaller diagonal of the screen (its full dimensions are 240.2 x 180.7 x 11 millimeters). The preinstalled software offers such features as dictionaries, side notes, search, sorting of books, etc. There is no Wi-Fi because this feature, together with a touch-sensitive display, will be available later in the business model PocketBook 902. The functional simplification (and the price reduction) of the PocketBook 901 model may reflect the manufacturer’s desire to extend its model range as well as its plans to promote this model as an electronic textbook. One problem I’d like to be solved in PocketBook products is the support of protected formats (Mobipocket or Adobe ADEPT DRM) which are necessary for buying books in Internet shops.

By the way, PocketBook has grandiose plans on new models of e-book readers. I am quite sure this maker is going to show its full potential in this year because in January PocketBook and the Taiwanese company Netronix, which is a major OEM of e-book readers, announced a joint venture called PocketBook Global.

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