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Ideas 2003: Thin is in

Ideas 2003: Thin is in

Displays for computers and handheld devices keep getting lighter and thinner, and now two new technologies -- OLEDs and E Ink -- promise to take this trend to the next level in 2003.

Displays for computers and handheld devices keep getting lighter and thinner, and now two new technologies -- OLEDs and E Ink -- promise to take this trend to the next level in 2003.

OLEDs: OLED (organic light-emitting diode) displays using organic films -- instead of the crystal-based LCDs now commonly used in laptops and other portable machines -- are advantageous in several ways. They are thinner, brighter, lighter, almost unbreakable, provide a wider viewing angle, have a faster response time and require much less power. Rochester, N.Y.-based Eastman Kodak Co. has begun manufacturing tiny 2.2-inch screens. Later in 2003, OLED displays are likely to turn up in cell phones and digital cameras but also have potential uses in computers and even industrial lighting.

Nigel Deighton, vice-president and research director for Gartner Inc., says "OLED definitely has the potential to replace LCD. Just the fact that you can see an OLED screen in sunlight, unlike the LCD screen, will make a huge difference." He predicts that the technology will launch in 2003 as black-and-white screens but will likely turn to colour sometime in the next couple of years.

Thin OLED (organic light-emitting diode) screens will be available in 2003, but not yet in color.

E Ink: E Ink Corp. of Cambridge, Mass., is working with display manufacturers such as Royal Philips Electronics to laminate its proprietary E Ink onto computer displays, handhelds and just about any other material. E Ink consists of microcapsules containing black and white pigments that can be manipulated with electrical charges. Millions of microcapsules (each about the diameter of a human hair) are suspended in a liquid medium which can then be fixed onto almost any surface: glass, plastic, fabric, even paper. The microcapsules create a pixel-like effect to make a superior display in terms of legibility, durability and power consumption. A prototype computer display released last year was made of E Ink on unbreakable steel foil bound to a plastic sheet. It was 0.3 mm thick, or half the thickness of a credit card. Russell Wilcox, cofounder, vice-president and general manager of E Ink, says the joint venture with Philips will result in commercially available displays for PDAs and cell phones by the end of 2003.

"The potential for these technologies is amazing," says Deighton. "OLED and E Ink technology have the potential to break the usability barrier of small devices. You can envision being able to wear [E Ink] in clothes, have it in a pen. You could roll up a monitor [with E Ink] and attach a cell phone to it rather than carry a laptop."

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