When thinking about ways to reduce the usage of traditional paper beyond simply changing usage patterns, some of the technologies that can contribute to that goal include electronic paper, erasable paper, erasable ink, and alternative resource (besides tree) paper. There have been exciting developments in each of these technologies, but want to focus on two technologies: electronic paper and erasable paper.
Electronic paper (e-paper) is a display technology that is designed to have an appearance of ordinary ink on paper. Electronic paper reflects light like ordinary paper and is capable of holding text and images indefinitely without drawing electricity, while allowing the image to be changed later. The most noteworthy technology using electronic paper is Amazon’s Kindle. While Amazon hasn’t released any specific sales data, it is estimated that there are 400,000 Kindles out there from one source, while another source has much more rosy projections. Sandeep Aggarwal, an analyst at Collins Stewart, predicts The Kindle will earn Amazon upwards of $300 million in revenue this year and $70 million in profit, growing to $1.6 billion in revenue and at least $400 million in profit by 2012. Aggarwal argues that sales of the Kindle grow almost 80 percent a year from ‘09 to ‘12.
Regardless, of the contrary views—the Kindle has made a consumer splash and received lots of publicity. Relatedly, the suppliers of the technology used in Kindles and electronic paper are clearly being recognized and valued. On June 1, 2009, Prime View International, a leading small and medium display provider and the world’s highest volume supplier of ePaper display modules, announced that it will acquire E Ink Corporation, a leader in electronic paper display materials for approximately $215 million.
However, I still enjoy the reading experience of books and don’t believe the electronic paper experience will be suitable for majority of people. Thus, improvements in the tradtional paper and ink technologies also need to be present.
Xerox has touted their innovative product, erasable paper since 2006. However, it has yet to hit the market, but according to Stephen Hooever, Head of innovation at Xerox, internal discussions continue to happen at Xerox and market research and consumer focus group studies to support a launch are ongoing. According to that same Businessweek, article, erasable paper looks and feels like regular paper but darkens when exposed to light, similar to eyeglass lenses that adjust with sunlight and shadows. Text and images temporarily appear on the paper, via a projected light source in the shapes of letters and forms. Then they fade over time (Xerox has said between 16-24 hours), and the paper can be re-used again.
This type of technology could be revolutionary in office environments around the world. Pricing and manufacturing scale will clearly be an issue, but lets hope this product gets to market soon.
Ultimately, the erasable paper is the more exciting technology to me. E-paper readers to me will always be a niche product to me, so ways to extend the life of traditional paper will be the more impactful of the two.