Duration, durability, and duality: How ePaper is challenging compromise
Glass displays are prevalent in the majority of current technologies, with design teams and engineers around the world mass producing them for a number of applications like TVs, tablets and wearables. Despite analysts predicting the OLED display market will grow to $57 billion in 2026, it’s important to remember how many notable sacrifices engineers need to make when designing with glass displays in terms of power consumption, strength, and other qualities.
This blog takes a look at the drawbacks of glass displays, and how ePaper is one of the only display material technologies balancing unique qualities with low-power usage.
Laptops, tablets and smartwatches are just a handful of the many portable devices on the market today that are plagued with limited battery life, so much so that tablet users rarely expect their tablets to last beyond half a day, according to LaptopMag. The research also showed that even the market-leading Apple iPad Pro is only able to offer consumers a disappointing 13 hours and 55 minutes of web surfing before it drains.
These power limitations are problematic to portable electronics as they directly threaten the device’s mobility. A mobile device isn’t so mobile when it’s physically restricted by a charge point and the user has less freedom to use power-hungry software or processes on their device. Poor battery life means more restriction for less reward.
However, devices that integrate ePaper displays combat this problem and provide users with greater flexibility and mobility. Unlike traditional LCD and OLED displays, which require a constant source of power to display anything, once an ePaper display is showing an image, it will remain there and will not consume any power. Even if you remove the power source completely, whatever is on the display will remain visible.
This is because e-paper utilises bi-stable technology, meaning that energy is only required when updating the display, not when maintaining information on the display.
For example, when reading on an eReader, power is only needed when turning to a new page but no power is consumed by the display while reading the page. Bi-stability significantly reduces the power consumption and is a key reason why devices using ePaper have such long battery life, stealing a march on its glass-screened rivals.
Beyond its battery intensive qualities, LCD and OLED displays also become virtually unreadable in bright sunlight. This is because they rely on backlighting, which unfortunately can’t compete with the brightness of the sun.
However, ePaper remains perfectly readable in direct sunlight. It uses electronic pigment beneath its non-reflective surface as opposed to backlighting, which enables it to facilitate a wider range of environments than glass displays.
Land Rover BAR’s adoption of ePaper for the data displays on its Americas’ Cup boat in 2017 is not only a testament to the quality of the displays, but also to the versatility of the material. The engineers working on the boat needed a display with daylight readability for the sub-tropical conditions that the R1 faced and our flexible e-paper displays proved to be the perfect fit.
Survival of the flexiest
In addition to the lacklustre battery life and its highly reflective qualities, glass displays are also highly fragile. Its molecular structure is composed of tetrahedral crystals, making it prone to shattering, scratches and breakage.
As such, consumers are turning to cumbersome and expensive alternatives. The screen protector market for portable electronics is set to be worth just shy of $50bn by 2022, despite these products only being durable enough to take single impact. There isn’t really a 100% effective way to stop the glass from shattering.
Conversely, glass-free EPDs, specifically, are able to offer impressive resistance to shattering, scratches, and complete breaks. This is due to the flexible structure of the material; being able to bend allows the display to dissipate the force of impact more efficiently and absorb far more pressure before snapping than a rigid glass display.
The durability of the material has seen it being adopted for a wide variety of applications. For example, TfL began a trial for ePaper displays at bus stops in 2015 and extended its usage in 2016 after initial success. Glass displays used for this purpose are common targets for vandalism, and an everyday reminder of glass’ comparative fragility.
While the qualities of glass are well-known, it also has many drawbacks that can be overcome with the integration of ePaper displays. ePaper provides consumers with access to an extremely low-power display that offers unique and exciting qualities for a wide variety of applications.