An old dream of mine becomes reality as popSLATE puts e-ink in an iPhone 5 case

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I love coming up with all sorts of concepts, some of which have been posted on the site in the past. One such concept dates back to the old NBT site, back in April 2011. I suggested an add-on device for the iPad 2 that would essentially be an e-ink screen designed to mirror everything on the iPad to the e-ink screen. The idea was to have the iPad’s apps, connectivity, and content library, but still be able to view text on a better suited screen.

Despite the technology being there, no one turned my concept idea into reality. Since then, the Geode iPhone wallet accessory came out to show that it’s perfectly possible to do this kind of thing, but it doesn’t utilize its internal e-ink screen a lot. I went on to write a long winded post about eReaders being separate devices, where I listed a whole bunch of potential uses for a device-connected e-ink display. I summed up my thoughts back then like this:

[…]I just find it beyond peculiar that the only place I’ve seen e-ink used for anything besides book reading is in the back of a digital wallet iPhone case. Seems to me that this would have been higher up on the list of accessories to invent than an iOS-connected cooking thermometer.

Finally, my prayers have been heard. I doubt very much that my concepts and ramblings had anything to do with it of course, but that doesn’t change the fact that there’s now a project on IndieGoGo to fund a iPhone 5 case with a built in e-ink display on the back. The idea is much like my initial iPad 2 concept, namely to draw power from the device itself to power the e-ink screen, which is at the back of an iPhone 5 case. E-ink doesn’t use power other than to change the image on the screen, so this means you can set and image to display and leave it there. It will also use the iPhone 5’s sensors to allow for some rudimentary navigation. I’m guessing that it reacts to sudden bursts of acceleration (tapping) in cases where the device is upside down. That way you get a semi-touchscreen, without needing the expensive and technology in there.

The project seems to be highly focused on image viewing, at least from the official side of things. My initial concept was for a device that uses screen mirroring, meaning you’d essentially be able to use any ereader app or other app to feed it into. The popSLATE instead relies on an app to update the external screen, essentially limiting it to image viewing out of the box, from the looks of things. There is however mention of an API that would allow apps to use the screen, which is awesome. I don’t quite see Amazon or Apple integrating the API into the Kindle app or iBooks (respectively) though, and history has shown that even awesome accessories don’t get that much third party support, even with APIs available. Still, there are some concept images that show a dashboard-type screen with notifications, time, and so on. Since the screen is always on and viewable in direct sunlight, it’s ideal for things like that.

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I really, really love this. I mean, there’s a reason I’ve been babbling about something like this for two years now. I think e-ink is a great technology, but I don’t like that it’s being thrown into otherwise unimpressive devices. Imagine an e-ink devices with the power and features of an iPhone 5 – now that’s a Kindle killer! Unfortunately, I’m not leaving Android. I’m still very much in love with what Tasker allows me to do on Android, otherwise this accessory alone would have made the iPhone 5 a heck of a lot more interesting – assuming third party apps really integrate it. Then again, this type of accessory would also have been a lot more useful on an Android device, if it supported Tasker.

The popSLATE is currently looking for funding on IndieGoGo, and it looks like it will have no problem reaching its $150,000 goal, as it’s already 5/6 of the way there with a month and a half to go. IndieGoGo works a lot like Kickstarter, which means that you can support them for a promise of getting rewards when and if the project really succeeds. The cost of essentially pre-ordering a popSLATE is $99, with an estimated delivery date of June 2013. Knowing how complicated projects go though, it wouldn’t surprise my if the next iPhone is out by the time this actually ships. Either way, I’ll be keeping an eye on this, as it’s a really interesting accessory.

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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets. His day job as a teacher keeps him interested in education tech and takes up most of his time.

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