New e-paper reader aimed at newspaper biz, but tech has broader application

January 4, 2010 by Dave Haynes


I spent the first two decades of my working life in the newspaper business, so it is a little painful to watch its slow death spiral. It typically costs more to produce a newspaper than it sells for at a newsstand, and way more than what it costs when delivery costs and subscription discounts are rolled in. It worked well when the only effective way to sell a used car or house, or hire new staff, was through the classified ads. But the Internet has obliterated what used to be about 50% of the revenues of a typical metro daily in North America, hence the mighty struggle.

So I look at things like the Skiff, announced today, with considerable curiosity. This sort of large, touchable digital display, networked by 3G, is a better distribution model than print, certainly, now represents. It looks like a newspaper and is large enough to begin to emulate a daily. And in theory it could be steadily updated, directly addressing the stale news problem faced by the papers.

There are a BUNCH of other things newspapers also have to fix for this sort of thing to keep them going, albeit in a radically different form.

What has me curious, though, is the buzz that’s starting to become a roar about e-readers and, therefore, mass manufactured electronic ink displays.  It is this sort of technology that could potentially meet a vast, mostly unfulfilled marketplace for networked signs that don’t need to have a lot of sizzle. They just need to update information on the fly, and work reliably.

Some company will, at some point soon, get a color version of this sort of thing going at a high-volume price that’s attractive. It will be far more capable than a digital picture frame, and far better engineered than those things.

If nothing else, the steady development of e-readers and tablets is pushing the boundaries on what’s possible.

The gadget is being shown off at CES this week and is supposed to be available, via Sprint stores in the US, later in the year.

From the press release:

The Skiff Reader, the initial dedicated device to integrate the upcoming Skiff e-reading service, is remarkably sleek and easy to use. At just over a quarter-inch in overall height, the device is the thinnest e-reader announced to date. It features the largest and highest-resolution electronic-paper display yet unveiled in a consumer device, at 11.5″ in size (measured diagonally) and a resolution of 1600 x 1200 pixels (UXGA). A full touchscreen enables users to intuitively navigate and engage with the newspapers, magazines, books and other digital content they purchase through the Skiff Store, as well as personal and work documents. The device weighs just over one pound and lasts over a week of average use between charges.

“The Skiff Reader’s big screen will showcase print media in compelling new ways,” said Gilbert Fuchsberg, president of Skiff, LLC. “This is consistent with Skiff’s focus on delivering enhanced reading experiences that engage consumers, publishers and advertisers.”

The Skiff Reader is designed not just for sleekness but also for durability. It is the first consumer product to feature the next-generation of e-paper display – one based on a thin, flexible sheet of stainless-steel foil. This contrasts with the fragile glass that is the foundation of almost every electronic screen – and a primary source of vulnerability and breakage risk in the devices that incorporate them. Skiff has worked closely with LG Display (NYSE: LPL), one of the world’s leading display manufacturers and the innovator of the foil-display technology, to optimize and implement this first-of-its-kind non-glass display uniquely for the Skiff Reader. 

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