Monday, July 16, 2007

My museum of content related artefacts (2)

The iLiad

I am a publisher by profession. I worked for almost 10 years in reference departments of VNU and Kluwer, producing encyclopaedias. By 1979 the market for general encyclopaedias vanished into thin air; the Dutch market was saturated. By that time I had decided to go into new media. And ever since, digital paper has fascinated me.

In 1980 I met a major critic on displays, the Swede Dr Rune Petterson. He was very involved in information design and was a critic on displays. In meetings of the International Electronic Publishing Research Centre (IEPRC; they used to have, but this domain is for sale) he would spell out that displays should look like physical paper. And it took more than 20 years before digital paper came close to look like physical paper. Last year I wrote a mini-series, sketching the history.

Now digital paper has become a reality with the iLiad, manufactured by iRex Technologies. Based on the principles developed by e-Ink and the technology developed by Philips, there are already three commercial applications: the e-book by Sony, the e-reader iLiad by IRex Technologies and mobile PDA screen of Polymer Vision. I have bought the iLiad as the Sony e-book is not available in Europe and the Polymer Vision display is only available in Italy for the time being.

I have put the iLiad in my museum for two reasons. The iLiad cracked up, so I could not use it anymore and it fitted nicely behind the display show case windows. But then I discovered that it could be repaired, so I had it done. I use it regularly for reading scientific articles and e-books, while travelling (I bought a cover around it so that it will not crack up easily any more). But when I come home, I always put it back in the display show case.

To me the iLiad is a breakthrough in display technology. No backlit displays any longer or interlacing display, irritating and tiring your eyes. The iLiad is balm for eyes with a nice white background, sharp font letters and an array of 16 grey tones. The screen is a sensation, but the accompanying software is even after a year rudimentary stuff. But the iLiad is not only a technological breakthrough. It is also a breakthrough in usability. It is a landmark in electronic publishing and should be placed as an exhibit in any museum on paper, print and electronic publishing (if there is such a museum; and otherwise we will have to set it up).

Of course digital paper such as used in the iLiad is still under development. It only renders text and graphics now in black and white. And as such it can already fulfil tasks as e-book, e-manual and as a display. But digital paper showing colour is not too far away. The race is on between Philips, Siemens and Fujitsu. I guess that digital paper with colour should be out of the laboratory and into commercial production by 2010.

The iLiad is part of very recent history, but it should belong to industrial heritage. It goes too far to say that digital paper is the next step in the history of paper and the history of displays, but it is definitely a stone in creek rerouting the stream.

Blog Posting Number: 814

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