Electronic book makers go for flexible toughness

Flexible screens are going to be more important for robustness than for their ability to roll up, according to two companies looking to use them in upcoming e-reader products.

Earlier this week, Plastic Logic demonstrated how its display stands up to being attacked with the heel of a shoe – it survived far better than a glass LCD. The Cambridge-based company aims to launch next year with an e-reader product aimed at business users, a similar strategy to that taken by Dutch incumbent iRex Technologies, which currently sells a design based on a rigid e-paper display.

Willem Endhoven, vice president of marketing for iRex, which has started work on a second generation design that uses a flexible screen, agreed robustness is more important than the ability to roll the display away. “It is quite a long time since we left the papyrus roll behind us,” he said.

However, Polymer Vision is preparing a device, called Readius, aimed at consumers that wraps a 6in screen around a mobile-phone case, making it possible to carry the unit in a pocket.

Both iRex and Plastic Logic agreed that business users want larger displays on e-readers than those supported by the mass-market products such as those sold by Amazon and Sony.

Plastic Logic CEO Richard Archuleta claimed: “Research confirms professionals read much more business content than recreational content. They require access to all formats of digital content at their fingertips, and want a large readable screen. Business documents tend to be 8.5 x 11in so you need a big easy-to-read screen.”

The ability to make notes and import a wider range of formats is also important, Endhoven said.

“Consumers are rapidly moving to products where vendors provide the whole system, even if it is a closed system,” said Endhoven. “Users at the top end of the market say they want to get material for different sources: they don’t want a closed system.”

Plastic Logic aims to launch its e-reader in the first half of 2009, whereas iRex has had its first generation product on the market for several years. “They have a way to go; we have gained our experience in the market already. But there is enough room in the market for both of us,” said Endhoven.

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