Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Electronic paper

Electronic paper

An immense market is preparing itself for a new technical revolution - electronic or 'e-paper'
Prototype of e-paper used by the press (Photo: EverJean/ Flickr) What if, tomorrow, we hold in our hands the equivalent of the Daily Prophet from the Harry Potter adventures or USA Today as envisaged by Spielberg in his film ‘Minority Report’? With text displayed on plastic-coated paper, we would turn the pages virtually with a click, and illustrations would come to life.

OK - tomorrow, it probably won't happen, but why not the day after? For Bruno Rives, founder of Tebaldo, an agency involved in new technological trends and usages, there is no doubt that 'we are now in year zero of electronic paper.' The concept has existed for several decades. But it has now reached its 'technological maturity', according to Jacques Angelé, director of technological programmes for Nemoptic, a French company at the cutting edge of e-paper development. 'Ideally, this new object weighs 150 to 200 grams, is 5mm thick, and 7 to 8 inches diagonal. It must be simple to use and be constantly updated; if not, it’s just another PDA or palmtop.' After several unsuccessful attempts, like the Cybook launched in 2000 by French company Cytale, the e-paper is now ready. On your marks, get set…… develop!Numerous businesses are positioning themselves so as not to miss the boat, as it is all expected to move very quickly. Angelé predicts that, 'everything will play out over the next three years.'

Until then, the main players in this market are getting a foothold and we will certainly see a 'bonus for the first on board.' Europe and its innovative businesses are well positioned for when the time comes, but the competition will be fierce, both in the development of this little technological marvel, and in its applications in the press or in publishing.Even the first electronic ink is European! 'Of course, E-ink comes from American MIT, but the patent for it was given to Phillips, a European, so that it’s integrated with the paper,' explains Rives. European companies are blossoming: Nemoptic (France) is developing electronic ink, Plastic Logic (UK) is working on the paper whilst Ganaxa (France) is thinking about the software.Elsewhere, in January, Plastic Logic announced the installation of a new factory in Dresden, East Germany, to develop its e-paper. It'll be the first centre in the world producing flexible plastic screens. 100 million Euros was invested in ‘Silicon Saxony’, which beat New York and Singapore to the contract. And this is indeed where the competition lies. '

We are good at technological supplies, but much less so at situating ourselves in the markets,' according to Rives. Most of all, stay ahead of the gameHow can we fight, or even just resist when faced with the Chinese, Japanese and Americans? Angelé believes we must 'unite the players to propose competitive solutions, and not just defence strategies. With an acute awareness of the economic interests at stake, we could energise the industry, anticipate the evolutions and even facilitate them!' His company also works hand-in-hand with other French businesses on the ‘Sylen’ electronic reader.

Regarding the applications for this new technology, in press or publishing for example, the same case applies: European businesses must definitely not rest on their laurels. 'The big players have already seen the immense market that is preparing and, like Amazon, are positioning themselves so that the average user goes to them for what they want,' Angelé explains. We need to understand their point of view: this is a new support enabling the creation of numerous editorial or commercial partnerships that will give the consumer access without an intermediary, without the barriers of language or national law!

New start for the press?Regarding the press, each is considering their electronic declension after taking its place on the Internet. Les Echos, a French economic daily, is amongst the first to take the plunge. 'Via the site lesechos.fr, we will now very quickly propose a subscription enabling us to deliver the first machines at the end of April/beginning of May,' announces Philippe Jannet, technical director of the electronic edition of Les Echos.

The content will be continuously updated, and will support Bluetooth, Wifi and GPRS connections.'It’s a new opportunity for the press!' rejoices Rives, who personally worked on this project. 'It's a chance to seduce readers who don’t usually read the papers, and re-conquer those who have turned to the free papers. The investment is not so big if we consider what’s involved!'The condition is that they take into account the reader who will require a 'richer format and will not be content with one newspaper only. The content must be enhanced with encyclopaedic information, graphics, and so on,' suggests Rives. This is a requirement for which the Belgian daily De Tidj paid the price.

It 'threw in the towel, its version being an identical copy of the newspaper but in e-paper format. It didn't take into account the particularities of the machine,' explains Jannet, assuring that Les Echos would not commit the same strategic error. As for us, we will also have to get used to a new object.

Though a page in black and white doesn’t shock us if we think of it like a pocket book, it may seem austere for other applications. Will it be long until it hits colour or video, and will it long before we get a foldable electronic page? Maybe the technological attraction will make us forget the grainy texture of paper between our fingers. In principle, and even Rives agrees, that it is 'certainly a difficult alchemy.' But, he reminds us, 'paper did not explode in 321 BC, we had to wait until the 1500s.'

Monday, April 09, 2007

Plastic modified to meet electronic needs

Plastic modified to meet electronic needs

AUSTIN, Texas, April 9 (UPI) -- A U.S. scientist has modified a plastic so its ability to conduct electricity can be altered during manufacturing to meet future electronic device needs.

Yueh-Lin Loo, an assistant professor of chemical engineering at The University of Texas at Austin, conducted her research with a plastic called polyaniline, which could serve as flexible, inexpensive wiring in future products such as military camouflage that changes colors, foldable electronic displays and medical sensors.

By combining polyaniline with a chemical that gives it conductivity, Loo discovered she could increase the plastic's conductivity one- to six-fold based on the version of the chemical added.

The results of her research involving the chemical polymer acid appear in the April 7 issue of the Journal of Materials Chemistry.

Have Newspapers Reached Their Deadline?

Have Newspapers Reached Their Deadline?

(CBS) There was a time when the only way to find out what was happening was to buy a newspaper, but these days there are plenty of ways to get your news. Lynne Taylor doesn't go any further than her couch to catch up on current events. She gets some news from radio and TV, but when she wants to read, it's all online. "I'm checking to see what's going on in the world now and online makes me feel like I've got a real 'now' as opposed to paper 'now,' [which] is yesterday," Taylor, a Ph.D. student, told Sunday Morning correspondent Rita Braver.

In a way, Taylor is every editor's nightmare. It's in large part because of younger people like her that newspapers are in turmoil today. Papers across the country have been or may be sold, with workers laid off as well. Major advertising revenue for many papers is down, too, and classified ads are increasingly being placed on Internet sites.

In fact, newspaper circulation in the United States has been falling for two decades, from a high of 63 million in 1984 to 53 million or less today. Editor and publisher of the Chattanooga Times Free Press Tom Griscom is fighting to keep the Tennessee paper solvent and relevant with new focus on local news. The paper is a combination of two newspapers which merged nine years ago because of declining readership. "We've got a total of 40 reporters that cover sports, lifestyle and of course the news side," he said. "We're telling them that story about Medicare and children and what it's doing to children here, rather than the fact that President Bush sat down and made a, you know, the latest announcement."

And like most papers now, the Chattanooga Times Free Press is not just about what's in print. In fact, at the top of the paper there is an ad for the paper's Web site. "Because that's the deal," Griscom said, "if you want to follow us throughout the day, go to the Web site 'cause we're gonna be posting breaking news." In fact, Braver was there on a big news day; Chattanooga had just lost out on a new Toyota plant. She followed reporter Mike Pare as he headed out to cover the latest developments.

He said he would file a couple of stories on the plant that day. Those Internet stories will come in addition to the longer piece Pare will file for the next morning's paper. Everyone at the Times Free Press is well aware of predictions that printed papers are dead or dying. Rising paper prices have led some papers, like the Wall Street Journal, to shrink (literally).

In addition, although e-readers now are just for books, companies like Plastic Logic in England are developing small wireless devices, called E-paper, which will mean we won't ever have to carry real paper around to read the news. But Griscom's not ready to give in. "We will progress way far ahead, no doubt about it," he said. "But I'm not predicting there will not be ink on paper. I just don't — I mean, I don't know."

There is uncertainty about the Internet, too. Griscom said the paper hasn't started making much money off their Web site yet. "We make some, but it's not gonna be anywhere near the print product," he said. "We're understanding a little bit better how the Internet works, how it interacts with what we're doing." Samir Husni, chairman of the journalism department at the University of Mississippi, is a world-renowned expert on print journalism. He says that what is killing newspapers is not that people have forsaken print, but that papers have become too predictable. He cautions newspapers against putting too much faith in their Internet operations. "Every couple of years we seem to go through a cycle — print is dead, print is dead," he said. "Anybody who is realistic will know that we will have printed paper products from now 'til eternity."

"When was the last time you were surprised by a front page story in a newspaper?" he added. "When was the last time you said: 'Wow!'? Let me give you an example: Sunday, few weeks ago was the Super Bowl, everybody knew the Colts won. What were the headlines, almost no exceptions? 'Colts win Super Bowl.' Big surprise!" "If I read the newspaper, if I pick up the magazine, what's in it for me?" Husni says that newsmagazines are suffering even more than newspapers. Each of the so-called Big Three are seeing decreases in advertising and steady circulation drops over the past 20 years, and staff reductions. It is easy to see why, talking to Husni's students. "It's not as immediate," Jason Katavitz said. "They come out weekly at best." Husni says that whether in print or online, traditional newspapers and magazines have to do a better job of showing how their stories relate to readers. "We are seeing an upswing in terms of the alternative newspapers that are coming to town, in terms of the alternative magazines that are coming to town they can relate to.

They feel, 'It's my grandfather's newspaper, my father's newspaper, I'm not going to relate to it — I want something for me.'" The editors of The Politico, dedicated to intensive political coverage, agree. John Harris and Jim VandeHei think they've found the new way. They both left top jobs covering politics at the Washington Post to found Politico, which launched just last month.

It's a hybrid: There's a paper edition three times a week. But unlike traditional newspapers, it's the Web site that drives the paper — complete with videos and all kinds of blogs. "We're gonna be more conversational, more irreverent, we hope more 'insider,'" Harris said. For example, this past week, the day after the Scooter Libby trial, most newspapers led with the verdict. The Politico, having given the details the day it happened, was busy speculating on the future.

But won't something be missed if traditional newspapers disappear? "You know, I'm still very sentimental about that, at the same time, I've actually grown to become a platform agnostic," VandeHei said. "I don't care if I'm reading it on paper, if I'm reading it online. I just want smart news, smart analysis, and I want to be able to read it and think about it when I want to." Which seems to suggest that newspapers and magazines must look at changes in reading habits not as a death knell but as a challenge "The danger is that you cling to a past and that inhibits you from being creative enough and aggressive enough, bold enough, optimistic enough to embrace all of these new opportunities," Harris said.