A company called Plastic Logic with a clever technology from the University of Cambridge has raised $100 Million in Venture Capital funding to build a factory for plastic semi-conductor subtrates. See the FT report.
$100 Million is a lot of money for a manufacturing plant and the technology sounds brilliant. It will also, apparently, work very well with another clever new-materials technology, E.Ink, (If you havent heard of E.Ink, you may know about the Sony Reader — think miniature golf balls arranged in a matrix, each ball with a black face and a white face, in this matrix the faces flip black/white in a pixelated array). E.Ink has so far been stuck with rigid semiconductor backing. Stuck with it and stuck on it. Inklike microballs in a matrix and plastic substrate, when you fuse these two inventions you have a foldable, re-usable, high-resolution, glare resisting, print-carrying, cheap surface. All the complaints about not being able to take an e-magazine into the bath go down the plug-hole. These inventions are definitely bringing nearer the moment of the wearable magazine or the T-shirt-as-newspaper. Consider a T-shirt newspaper which is always displaying the latest issue of Metro (or The Guardian). Can you imagine what a tube journey is going to be like when half the occupants are wearing today’s newspaper and the other half is trying to peer at the relevant column? (Before she gets off at the next station).
This is a great future, and I expect that conventional print replacement (and conventional t-shirt replacement) will be one of the areas in which Plastic Logic is deployed. But the big challenge for magazines and newspapers is not to do with improved and cheaper media for display. These media are coming and will surely be there and improving at the rate of Moore’s Law. The challenge is to figure out how magazines and newspapers will be accessed, organised and used through the web. There is not a lot of point having a magazine on your restaurant napkin, if you cannot search it, refer to it by a link, and/or even subscribe to it.
This is fun but before we get too excited about the plastic New Yorker, note that colour will not be available in the first generation of the Plastic Logic substrates…..He does not say how long the first generation is, but I would guess this means three or four years with only black and white.
Our reservation about the Sony Reader applies.