Opinion: Electronic paper keypads – interesting but not necessarily worthwhile

October 9, 2007 at 10:46 pm

e-paper.PNGNo sooner have we looked at novels written and read on mobile phones and the possible future mobile applications of electronic paper, then Japanese operator NTT DoCoMo showcases a prototype mobile phone with a keypad made from the very same stuff. Two years in the making, the keys change their symbols automatically according to the selected application. Tellingly however, even the press release fails to mention any real-world benefits. And in a post-iPhone world where every manufacturer and his dog seems to be about to launch a touch screen phone, the question is whether it has really been worth all the bother.

The technology has been developed by SiPix Imaging, Inc, and uses what it calls ‘Microcups” that are filled with pressure reactive particles and a colored liquid within a plastic substrate. Currently three letters or characters can be displayed per key, but the company aims to increase this, and the time it takes to make the change between characters (currently one second) before a commercial launch is attempted.

But does this keypad really add any value to the user? Presumably, even after switching from a number to a letter keyboard, users will still have to scroll through multiple letters per key. On the prototype, their are additional keys for various punctuation marks and symbols but this makes the keypad very big. And in the meantime, the iPhone is taking the entire handset industry away from a keyboard plus screen layout, to a touchscreen-only format.

So, we seem to be looking at a technology that has been two years in the making, that still isn’t finished, and which has already been overtaken by another solution. Electronic paper may have a big future, but it is surely in the development of full color displays, which may well feature keypad functionality but are unlikely to need a physical keypad. It’s unusual to see a solution come out of Japan that doesn’t look like it’s 5 years ahead of the rest of the world – this may be one for the scrapbook.

Hamish M.
AddThis Social Bookmark Button


Entry filed under: microcups, mobile applications, NTT Docomo, opinion, sipix imaging.

Events: LBS, Telco2.0 brainstorm, Mobile communities and UGC Opinion: Mobile content for foodies – an excellent choice, sir

Industry Events

%d bloggers like this: