The new display has several advantages over existing liquid crystal displays (LCDs).
The biggest difference is that the display is just 0.25 millimetres thick -- 2.5 times the thickness of a regular sheet of paper. This is thanks to the toner used in the display being sandwiched between two sheets of plastic film -- unlike an LCD which contains liquid crystal trapped between two sheets of glass. The use of plastic also means the display is much less brittle.
The display works by using electrostatic absorption and repulsion on toner sealed between the plastic sheets to form images and text on the display. This technology brings with it the second big difference between the new display and conventional LCDs -- images remain on the display even when the power is turned off. This means power only needs to be applied to the display when images are being drawn, which means total power consumption is low.
The prototype display shown by Canon Wednesday is still in the early stages of development although the company hopes the first commercial products might be on the market by late 2001. Those displays are likely to be relatively low resolution and monochrome, although engineers are now working towards colour versions with a resolution of 200 dpi (dots per inch). Canon expects they might hit the market in 2007.
Flexible display technology is being pursued by several companies. Just over a month ago Pioneer unveiled a prototype organic electroluminescence (EL) display based on a film substrate so it can be bent too.
The new technology will allow for displays to be made ultra-thin and more durable and in some applications, such as advertising, allow a message to be wrapped around corners. They are also being eyed as a basic technology for future electronic book or newspaper applications because they can be handled like paper but refreshed and redrawn to display different contents.