Thursday, March 17, 2005

Rollup computer screens soon to be reality (maybe)

From the New York Times: Researchers at Philips Polymer Vision have developed a rollable computer screen, and claim that it could theoretically be commercially available as soon as a year from now. (Check out the article for a photo of the screen in action.) The technology is based on the "virtual paper" concept from science-fiction, that a number of competing companies are working on right now; that is, instead of electrical impulses fired at a piece of glass, virtual-paper screens employ billions of actual tiny little physical pieces of black-and-white paint chips, sandwiched between two layers of plastic, with an interface that lets a computer flip them back and forth at will. (Think of old digital alarm clocks from the 1970s, but taken to an insanely more complicated scale.) The idea, then, is to build such a rollable screen right into the side of a cellphone or mobile device; whenever a person needs to see more information than what can comfortably fit on their usual screen, they can simply unfurl the rollup screen and read it that way. Their latest prototype measures five inches diagonally when unrolled (or over twice the size of a Palm Treo screen) and is the thickness of a sheet of paper; even more interesting, they claim that the screen absorbs about 40 percent of ambient sunlight, making it profoundly easier to read outdoors than the typical glass screen.

I've been saying for years that this is the only technology left to invent before we see the literary equivalent of iPods; that is, devices that make electronic text as easy to access and read as paper text, without your eyes going all bats**t after twenty minutes of staring at it. And now we may actually see this technology on the commercial market, less than a year from now. Hmm, hmm, hmm...