Cruise Minority ReportCentre for Journalism undergrads may remember that snippet from the Tom Cruise film Minority Report that I showed them in week one's first lecture. Cruise is a cop on the run from his own police force in the year 2054 and jumps on a tube train. The guy sitting opposite is reading a copy of USA Today, whose splash suddenly updates in front of his eyes to reveal the Cop On the Run story, complete with pictures of the fugitive...

Spielberg's vision was that the updatable enewspaper would have replaced traditional pulp-based ink-on-paper. So far, despite hopes being raised on a number of occasions that scientists would come up with a commercially-viable version of epaper, no such product has appeared. The Guardian now reports on the latest company, Liquavista, to suggest they might be on to something - with a range of products to be unveiled in Hong Kong this month.

Last month Plastic Logic unveiled its own 'business reader', which mimics the look - but not the feel - of the black and white newspaper page. There's a video of it in action on the site.

But with mobile phones already providing plenty of the functionality, and already in most people's pocket's, isn't it an idea whose time has essentially passed?  


Or an idea that addresses the wrong problem. Sure, we will all be happy to read our news from screens not pages. Why not? It's convenient and the technology is cheap and ubiquitous. But who will pay for the journalism to fill it... and how? Answer that and the future is sweeter than nectar. Unfortunately journalism's a nectar-famine will last until we find an answer.  

A few years back, Siemens showcased their version of e-paper, promising that it could be bought by the square metre for an extremely low price within the decade. So far, this has not happened, and dreams of animated cereal boxes have not come to fruition. Since their breakthrough, many other companies have overtaken them by actually producing working models of their product, that displayed more than just their own company logo. However, with all shapes and form of this flexible screen idea, the problems of power, memory, connectivity and cost have hindered the application to a mass market. Standalone e-paper seems to be a dead concept, however as Plastic Logic suggests, e-paper used as a versatile screen for a tablet reader is in.

 E-paper alone seems to need programming by the manufacturer, due to a lack of user connectivity, for the product that it will be used in (a paper or a cereal box). This means that e-paper can only be used to display pre-programmed content. However I do not believe that a newspaper reader will need this digital content, as if they did they would probably have a laptop or a mobile phone that is far superior at doing so as a result of direct interactivity. Newspapers are already affiliated with the digital world, with the use of web addresses and even the barcodes that can be read by Symbian phones.

 Plastic Logic's product can't be compared to any other pocket device, as in my opinion the ethos is totally different. The product is supposed to act as a real document, which is why the screen is designed to have the appearance of paper and the standard A4-ish size. Pocket devices are limited by small screens, compatibility issues and network restrictions. E-readers combat this problem, and even exhibit PDF functionality. Although the iPhone is exempt from alot of this, it is a testament to the current expenses required. Plastic Logic are limiting themselves by marketing their product solely at the business sector. We have already seen the Sony reader and other products that allow the wireless download of newspapers aswell as books, but these products are fraught with price issues. Developers are on the right track with this ideas, and are on the road to success. If the price of online e-books and the actual hardware costs were to fall, there is big business to be had with lower production costs (no paper used) and the environmental implications (paper saved).

Another new dawn for epaper