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Q: What's black and white and read all over? A: E-reader displays

Evolving e-books and the holy grail of colour e-paper

Paper chase

Perhaps one of the big problems facing all types of e-paper is volume. The first e-readers came out around a decade ago. If you wanted something practical for reading, there wasn't really an alternative: the first iPad was still five years in the future and the technology of the time would have left almost anything relying on an LCD horribly underpowered and at the mercy of a mains cable, not to mention a fair bit more expensive.

Now, though? A full working day from a tablet with a colour screen is easily achievable – and at a pretty decent price. E-paper certainly has advantages, but it also has drawbacks. You're almost certainly not going to want to watch a whole film, even on a display which can refresh fast enough.

Yotaphone 2 dual-display Android smartphone

Is e-paper destined to remain a niche, for devices like e-readers and the Yotaphone?

So does that mean that e-paper is destined to remain a niche technology, finding its way onto security cards, the back of a Yotaphone, supermarket shelf labels and dedicated e-readers? A colour Kindle or Kobo reader for not much more than the black and white ones would certainly be popular. But without economies of scale, can any of the new technologies really be that cheap? And if they're not, how many people will buy an e-paper device when existing display technology is visually more vibrant and battery life is increasing all the time? For now, both the main players are focusing on tablets for colour, a situation that Kobo's president doesn't see changing anytime soon.

E-paper certainly isn't dead. Nothing beats it for reading books, in my view. Devices like the Kobo Glo HD and Kindle Paperwhite are less distracting to read on than tablets, easier on the eyes and less likely to disturb your sleep. Could that be as good as it gets, for fans of e-paper? A general-purpose tablet is good enough for most people, after all. Colour e-paper may be the holy grail for researchers, but for shoppers? I have a feeling it may be Betamax. ®

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