LG to make e-paper for new generation of devices

New flexible e-paper could go into color and newspaper-sized e-readers, or even tablets

LG Display says it is developing a new generation of color and flexible e-paper that may go into future products such as e-readers or tablets.

The company expects to begin mass producing 9.7-inch color and 19-inch flexible e-paper, according to an SEC filing it made on Friday. E-paper, or electronic paper, is a display used in e-readers on which text appears as it would on printed paper.

LG introduced the 9.7-inch IPS LCD screen used in Apple's iPad, and remains a main display supplier for the tablet. LG also is one of the suppliers of the 9.7-inch e-paper display Amazon uses in its Kindle DX e-reader.

It is hard to predict LG's direction, but the 9.7-inch color e-paper may go into future generations of e-readers like Kindle or even multimedia devices like tablets, if they fit the size and profile, said Vinita Jakhanwal, director of small and medium-sized displays at market research firm iSuppli.

Many e-readers use monochrome screens based on technology from E-Ink, but LG has been independently researching development of color e-paper, Jakhanwal said. LG in the past showed flexible color e-paper displays, including a 14-inch A4-sized e-paper that could display 16.7 million colors.

"What device it'll be used in will be interesting," Jakhanwal said.

Analysts agreed that color e-paper could bring a new level of multimedia entertainment to e-readers and portable devices. But there are cost and usage issues that need to be overcome before they become popular.

Color e-paper could be more expensive and consume a lot of power, said Lawrence Gasman, principal analyst at NanoMarkets.

Users like the Kindle because it can be left on for long stretches of time without depleting the battery. Color e-paper may not only reduce battery life, but also increase the price of the device. Existing e-paper displays do not require backlights like traditional LCD screens, which make them power efficient.

"If they've got decent color and give reasonable battery life, that's pretty good news," Gasman said.

LG also has a large distribution channel, so it has the capability to push the new screens to device makers, Gasman said.

But color e-paper remains unproven, and analysts said it is not yet ready to replace traditional LCD screens. E-Ink is developing color e-paper technology and has already displayed prototypes, but the results were underwhelming, analysts said.

E-Ink will announce color e-paper plans and availability at the end of this year, a company spokesman said.

There are also some other e-paper technologies apart from E-Ink like electrowetting that can produce fairly deep colors, but the displays are expensive and consume more power, Gasman said.

LG also said it may start manufacturing flexible 19-inch monochrome e-paper. LG could use that for new e-reading devices the size of traditional newspapers, iSuppli's Jakhanwal said.

The e-paper has already been shown in devices at trade shows, Jakhanwal said, adding that she saw the e-paper encased in steel, with a glass panel at front.

"It's more to reflect the size of a newspaper," Jakhanwal said. "It's high time they put something out."

Flexible displays have been out for a while, analysts said. For example, the Kindle's front panel has a flexible substrate, but electronics on the back panel to manage pixels on the screen cannot be flexed. Most of these flexible displays are encased in steel.

A company called Plastic Logic had plans to release an e-reader called Que with a flexible substrate and organic transistors. However, the company cancelled the product this month, and said it was redirecting its focus on its next-generation e-reader.

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