E Ink targets colour ebooks, signs and power tools

E Ink is hoping more countries push colour ebook readers in their schools, as the company looks to extend its reach beyond consumer ereaders.

The company’s monochrome display is used in many leading ebook readers, notably the Kindle, but chief marketing officer Sriram Peruvemba, speaking to PC Pro at CES this week, said textbook readers with colour E Ink displays are already being rolled out in Russia.

Colour e-textbook

The colour on the jetBook reader looks faded compared to print books, and Peruvemba admitted it wasn’t as “vivid” as it could be, showing a concept device that was much brighter, but limited in the number of colours it could offer.

“For textbooks, it’s fine, but National Geographic will not be happy with it,” Peruvemba said. Showing the second, brighter device, he said: “With this colour, we’re getting closer.”

E Ink prototype colour ereader

However, he said “a lot of customers are happy with monochrome.”

Colour isn’t necessary for novels, while digital textbooks haven’t taken off as much in the US, UK, and rest of Europe as in emerging markets, he said.

“In the US and Europe, the primary reason holding this back is publishers make a lot of money,” he said, noting the average price for a US textbook is $83.

“I have been predicting – hopefully it will happen in my lifetime – that every single student will use electronic devices [for reading] in schools,” he added.

On the other hand, newspaper publishers are “very interested in this tech,” as that market struggles to survive. “With these devices we could start recapturing value,” he said, noting it could give local papers a new business model – as well as national publications, with the New York Times this week announcing a deal where a one year subscription comes paired with the Nook ereader.

Other uses

He also predicted a dozen new, non-ebook reader uses for the technology would arrive this year, showing off previous successes including watches with an E Ink face and a Samsung mobile phone that used the system in its keyboard, allowing the characters on keys to be changed in the same way they are with on-screen keyboards.

E Ink smartphone keyboard

E Ink displays will also start to move into digital signs, he predicted. The technology is highly durable and flexible, and only requires power when the image is being changed, so batteries last incredibly long.

Another spot E Ink is starting to show up is as battery indicators on gadgets, with the company developing a prototype power drill with E Ink display showing how much power is remaining without itself being much of a drain on the battery.

E Ink prototype power drill

The displays are also being used to show one-time PINs on credit cards. The small screen in the card is powered by a battery embedded in the card, and lasts two years. Millions are already in use in Asia, and Peruvemba said a 20,000 strong European trial was currently running.

Ricoh, meanwhile, has released a notepad style device called eQuill, to help workers track inventory, featuring an E Ink screen that can be written on with a stylus.

E Ink notepad

Similar devices are in the works for hospital staff, letting doctors do their rounds with a light-weight, long-battery life tablet, which they can take notes on with a stylus. Peruvemba had hoped such a device would be ready for release at CES, but was delayed. It should be announced soon in the next few weeks, he said.

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