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A few days ago, Sony announced they they were launching a large format reader aimed at the educational market. E Ink is making the screen, which has been touted as flexible and durable. Here’s the relevant section of the press release:

E Ink Mobius will be the first flexible display technology that will go into mass production for a large format digital paper product based on flexible Thin Film Transistor (TFT) technology developed by Sony.

Mobius uses a TFT technology that will enable the development of much lighter and rugged products. Mobius displays can weigh less than 50% of the weight of an equivalent glass based TFT. This is particularly important for mobile products requiring larger display areas. A 13.3” display weighs approximately 60 grams.

The ruggedness and lightweight characteristics of Mobius are due to the TFT being constructed on a plastic substrate rather than traditional glass.

I had the opportunity to ask some questions of Giovanni Mancini, director of product marketing at E Ink. I was particularly interested in the flexibility and durability of Mobius. Mancini said:

Yes, the display is flexible. Flexible can mean different things to different people. In our experience in working with E Ink’s direct customers and in talking to end consumers, the feedback we received was that they wanted a product which was lightweight, rugged and conformable to a not flat surface.

He added an image (below) to give some idea of how flexible we’re talking about.

That’s pretty flexible. Since the Sony product will be aimed at students, I asked if it would survive being tossed into a backpack without protection, and he said it would. Good news, especially if Sony releases a U.S. version. If you have college-age children, you know what that backpack looks like, and how it’s treated.

Naturally, I had to ask Mancini about the oft-reported imminent demise of e-paper devices. Not surprisingly, he refuted it.

As Mark Twain is quoted as saying, “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” The eReader business for E Ink is still very healthy and we have customers announcing new products. E Ink has also been diversifying its product offerings into different markets. Examples of this are the announcements of the YotaPhone by Yota Devices and the CST-01 watch by Central Standard Timing.

This goes right along with what I said earlier this year, so I’m happy to have my impressions confirmed.

While I doubt that Mobius devices will suddenly appear as commercial e-readers, I do think Sony is going after an interesting market with their device. I still think it’s odd that it only displays PDFs when their own store sells EPUBs. I get that the device is aimed at students and textbooks, but, especially if Sony releases a device in the States, I can see a need to read EPUBs as well. Literature is a part of most students’ college experience, and it would be nice if they could use the same device for all their reading.

We’ll see what happens once Sony finishes their pilot program.

 
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