The Unglowing, Continued

Mere days after my post on the state of displays, Amazon launched their new Kindle Voyager line. It easily stands out as the best e-ink display available, with a retina-caliber resolution and improved contrast ratio—but we’re still in the realm of black and white, with obtrusive refresh rates. We can only hope that Amazon continues to push the boundaries of e-ink, chasing that elusive color display so they can sell the multitude of books and publications that depend on it.

One more aspect of current display technology I failed to point out is touch latency. This video by Albert Ng and Paul Dietz of Microsoft Research highlights the problem concisely and begins to offer a path forward. Simply put, most touchscreen devices suffer from a 100 millisecond delay between the input from your finger and the visual feedback on-screen. For applications like sketching, it’s abysmal.

At the iPhone announcement, Steve Jobs famously bashed the stylus—a moment I discussed with FiftyThree’s hardware team on the podcast. For most situations he was right, a touchscreen-optimized operating system shouldn’t depend on a stylus. But there’s a reason architects don’t call finger painting their medium of choice (insert Frank Gehry joke). Sketching, painting and drafting all involve tools that make our fingers more precise, more expressive, different.

The evolution of displays is clearly on a path to more paper-like experiences. What are attributes of paper that we still need to solve? In my mind the order is clear:

  1. Non-glowing displays that match or exceed LCD in resolution, PPI refresh rate, and color gamut.
  2. High-performance touch response, under 1 millisecond.
  3. Flexible, and eventually, foldable.