New Technologies For “Green” Displays

A NYT article today, Bright New Phone Displays That Don’t Guzzle Power, reviews several emerging technologies contending to transform the mobile phone display landscape. Covered are E Ink’s color electronic paper, LEDs, and the intriguing Qualcomm MEMS solution (micro-mirrors that selectively reflect colors). I find it hard to handicap this technology horse race, and it’s certainly too soon to count out the incumbent LCD, which has the advantage of huge economies of scale. The OLPC XO laptop, with it’s gray-scale “eBook mode”, demonstrated that display controller tricks could make a conventional LCD display reflective and far more energy-efficient. And this technology is now being commercialized by the for-profit OLPC spin-off Pixel Qi.
The main takeaway for me is that, one way or another, we are within a few years of ultra low power displays being mainstream. And while the driving mass-market use cases will be internet browsing, video watching, and gaming, devices using these displays will also be great for immersive reading. Already the iPhone is preferred by some for eBook reading, over purpose-made E Ink based device like Sony Reader and Kindle. The tradeoff of small size, less resolution, poor battery lifte, and the harder-on-eyes light-emitting display is, for these folks, outweighed by no additional cost and the convenience of not having an additional device to carry around. And a substantial amount of eBook reading is still taking place on notebook PCs, as evidenced by the rapid adoption of borrowing of PDF eBooks from public libraries . How will this equation adjust when next-gen mobile phones and future netbooks-cum-tablets have high-readability displays and batteries that last for many days?