I remember this conversation I had with a technie geek colleague of mine, circa 1995. Yes, all that time ago! Anyway, he was a visionary, I now realise. He talked endlessly about the Internet and how it would change things in years to come. I remember thinking that most of what he said seemed fine in theory but…
But he was right. It worked a treat. Now, I cannot imagine a world without the Internet.
There was one particularly memorable conversation that we had. We were discussing ebooks and how impractical it seemed that people would ever prefer to look at computer screens compared to paper and ink books. He agreed. He proposed a revolution in book manufacturing. The key was to make ultra-thin, flexible, strong, paper-like material that could change its properties in order to simulate a page from a book.
A series of them, perhaps 100 or so, could be bound together into whatever shape or size the user preferred. Using mobile technology, the book’s contents could be downloaded at the touch of a switch. The new pages would respond to the new content by changing patterns deeply embedded in them, so they’d instantly look like the new book. In theory, the ebook could also have an embedded payment system, a bit like downloading songs from iTunes.
Is there such material?
Incredibly, just today, I came across this recent article in New Scientist that describes precisely what is required: http://www.newscientisttech.com/article/dn12198-new-display-turns-up-the-heat-on-lcds.html . And, also appropriately, they explain that it could be used in ebooks! It is “a new kind of display that exploits thermochromism – the ability of a material to change colour as its temperature changes”.
But that got me thinking about ebooks and what technology they currently use. There’s also (isn’t there always) an article on Wiki about electronic paper, which is essentially the same idea: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electronic_paper
Anyway, one of the links off that article led me to the Sony Reader. It is an ebook reader that works off an electronic paper display and “The reader uses an iTunes Store-like interface to purchase books from Sony’s Connect eBook store”!!
So, incredibly, it is here, already. And I never knew until today. Of course, the real test will be when you can eat your chips off it, or pack glasses safely in it, or swat flies with it, or make paper airplanes with it…