Could smartphones with E Ink-only displays gain a following?

Anna Scantlin
Contributing Editor from Kansas City, MO
Published: July 12, 2013

I think we can all agree that when it comes to smartphones and how advanced they've become for us, we're pretty much spoiled. We can do a heckuva lotta stuff on these devices now-a-days. You can shop from your phone, update your Facebook status, Tweet, order a pizza, call your mom, and even throw some disgruntled birds at green pigs. One of the best things about all of these things that we can do from our phones is that the screens we view them on are pretty darn fantastic. They're bright, vibrant, crisp, full of color - just beautiful, really. But what if things took a step backward, in a sense? What if phones were created with a display that only used E Ink technology?

Now, this isn't one of those outlandish hypothetical questions; in no way do I see the future getting rid of all of these beautiful screens that we have available to us in order to replace them with E Ink displays entirely. But I do wonder, with the many benefits that we're seeing come from E Ink displays, if smartphones that use this technology could actually gain a solid following.

We've seen hybrid devices that use E Ink technology alongside the technology we currently have and use today. It wasn't too long ago that I wrote about Yotaphone, and how I actually really dig the idea. Yotaphone is a device that runs on a full color, full HD display on one side of the phone, and the other side, instead of having a solid back with a camera like most smartphones, features a full E Ink display. We've also heard about the idea being implemented in an Indiegogo project from a company called popSLATE, who created a case that will give you an E Ink display on the back of your iPhone 5. Personally, I find these hybrid designs useful and intriguing, and should anything like this actually show up in our markets here in the U.S. I would probably be all over that like butter on toast.

But taking the hybrid aspect out of the equation, you're left with two options: the smartphones that we know and love today, and the possibility of an entirely E ink display smartphone.

Laptop Mag actually did a report on a prototype that E Ink had on display earlier this year of an E Ink smartphone running on Android. The device was shoddy, but as a prototype the purpose of the display was mostly to show people the general idea behind the concept of why an E ink display would be beneficial to people today.

I think that an E Ink display device would definitely have its benefits. On the one hand, you could really boost your battery life. One of the biggest battery life suckers from a phone is a device's screen and brightness. With E Ink devices the screen doesn't take up a lot of power, even if it's using backlight. E Ink is precisely why gadgets like the Pebble smartwatch and the Kindle are able to last so long; the Pebble smartwatch is able to last over 7 days, and the Kindle can last for a couple of weeks. It also helps that each device isn't supposed to do much. The smartwatch gets notifications, e-mails, displays phone calls, and can connect with a few applications. E-readers are primarily meant for reading and basic web-browsing. One of the biggest benefits from an E ink display is that you would have phenomenal battery life compared to what we're used to with our current smartphones. You would also have incredible outdoor readability and the devices would likely be very affordable, even when purchasing at full price.

On the other hand, you would be missing out on a lot of what people expect out of a smartphone if you were to get a smartphone with an E Ink display, that's for sure. You wouldn't be able to watch movies or videos, and while pictures are most certainly possible, they're pictures that are made to display on E ink. Along with limited usability, at least in its current form, E ink has a noticeable lag when it comes to screen switches. Of course, for a new type of smartphone I'm sure that the lag could be improved upon for a smoother smartphone experience. Smartphones often contain time-sensitive material, so being able to switch somewhat seamlessly between different parts of the phone is pretty important to a lot of people.

Despite the negatives, I think that an E ink display smartphone could be a good alternative in the market if the technology can be improved upon. As culturally obsessed as I may be, I do realize that there are still people in this world who have no desire to watch movies, Netflix, or YouTube from their cell phones. I think as long as the device has a phone, messenger, browser, and GPS application it's good to go. Would it be the most popular device of the year? Probably not, but I do think it could generate some interest.

Readers, what do you think? Do you think that an entirely E ink display smartphone has a place in the market? Share your thoughts with me in the comments below!

Images via Engadget, Laptop Mag