Tablets and eReaders: Fertile Ground for Display Innovations


by Jason Heikenfeld

I am not an early adopter of technology. Over a year ago, my wife and I finally purchased a reflective Kindle using an E Ink screen, and it quickly became the dominant way books are read in our home. Just this past year, I purchased an iPad, with some reluctance due to my impression that it was just a toy. I now have the iPad tablet synced to cloud document storage and have found it indispensable for my numerous work hours outside the physical office. This year my three children (Luke, Will, and Jack) are now all at the same school, where each member of grades 6–8 is assigned his or her own tablet for use in nearly all classroom learning activities. Five years ago, we would have been talking about use of laptops at best. These personal examples represent a tiny part of how many of us are using tablets and eReaders. Credit innovators such as Amazon and Apple for envisioning bold new consumer products – products that are centrally reliant on advanced screens created by our display community.

This Tablet and eReader Applications issue of Information Display touches on one of the most exciting, controversial, and technology-diverse areas of display development. We have selected a set of authors and articles that cover only a few applications, but which communicate a great breadth of market opportunity. These opportunities also impose challenging requirements for displays. For example, weight is a major concern, much more so than with laptops that you can rest on a table or smartphones that have relatively small screens. This, in turn, imposes limits on battery size and increases the need for very low display power consumption. Also, these devices often leave the home or the office and find themselves in direct sunlight, where color gamut and contrast ratio collapse for a conventional LCD panel. Furthermore, while we love portability, especially when we can store the device in our pocket, there is always the desire for a much-larger-sized display.

Tablets and eReaders place display engineers in paradoxical situations that are full of trade-offs. They are, therefore, ripe platforms for the introduction of new display technologies. This extremely rich area of display development will be relevant – and controversial – for a long time. One can easily argue that this sector of displays has the largest number of distinct technologies pitted against each other. How long will it last? Maybe until we develop that ultimate full-color, video-rate, all-lighting, readable, unbreakable, foldable, and energy-saving touch-driven display. In the meantime, a few technologies have been carefully matched to the right applications, enabling early entry even without perfect screen performance.

Two articles in this issue approach portable devices from an applications perspective, which in most cases will determine the future winners and losers. E Ink presents a piece on the potentially huge new market sector of electronic textbooks, and a re-invigorated Polymer Vision reminds us that there is pent-up demand for and a large technology push in foldable/rollable displays.

A more technology-based contribution comes in the form of a piece from industry analyst Geoff Walker, who writes about the different forms of touch currently used by eReaders. Last, DisplaySearch describes the spectacular growth of the tablet market and discusses "Ultrabooks," a new notebook category designed to compete with tablets.

I would like to thank ID magazine for the opportunity to serve as guest editor and to interact with these incredible authors and companies. I have been involved in SID for over a decade now, dating back to my early days developing inorganic EL displays. Personally, I plan to stay active in tablets/eReaders for years to come because from a research perspective many of the technology challenges are not yet solved even in a laboratory setting. We hope many of you enjoy this issue, especially by accessing the on-line version on your portable device.


Jason Heikenfeld is Associate Professor and Director for the Novel Devices Laboratory at the School of Electronic and Computing Systems at the University of Cincinnati. He can be reached at •