Everyone's talking today about the new Amazon Kindle 2 e-book reader. The second-generation device features a sleeker profile, a speedier operation, and a host of new features and updated options. Behind all of that, though, is the real brilliance of the mobile reading device: the high-tech "virtual ink" that makes the whole thing possible.
The Ink Inside the Amazon Kindle
Amazon's Kindle 2 is powered by technology developed by E Ink Corp., an electronic paper display company born out of the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, Mass. It's the same company that created the system behind the Sony Reader.
E Ink's "ink" is some complex stuff, too. As its engineers explain it, "electronic ink is a straightforward fusion of chemistry, physics and electronics to create this new material." Err...what?
Translated into its simplest terms, electronic ink is all about a bunch of tiny slimy bubbles. The bubbles live in plastic sheets of film within the displays, and inside each one is a mix of black and white particles floating around in fluid. The Kindle sends an electrical charge into the bubbles, and that makes the particles move upward or downward -- thus creating the ink-like appearance of images and words on your screen.
Electronic Ink Applications
So what could electronic ink do for us in the future? Just look to some of the recent trials for an answer. E Ink created that cool moving image on the cover of Esquire last fall. The company has also helped build a whole host of other cutting-edge products marketed worldwide (mainly, of course, outside of America).
Check out, for example, the Citizen E Ink flexible clock from Japan. This bad boy lets you bend time at your will. We could sure use that ability in this office.
Then there's the Seiko electronic ink watch, offering a bracelet-style adjustable timepiece for ladies who need a little fashionable technology in their lives.
When it comes to E Ink-powered e-readers, the growth is staggering. Nearly 550,000 units shipped in 2008, a jump of 235 percent from the previous year, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. With the launch of the new Kindle 2 and word that other e-reader contenders may soon hit the market as well, the business of electronic ink seems poised to write its own destiny -- virtually speaking, of course.
Not bad for a bunch of tiny slimy bubbles.