The use of electronic paper (e-paper) is increasing as a result of its ultra-low-power consumption, a similar user experience to real paper and "green" benefits, according to a new report from Gartner.

E-paper is a display medium intended to mimic the appearance or ordinary ink on paper while being rewritable. Gartner says that, despite disadvantages of poor colour and refresh rate characteristics, e-paper will have significant benefits over other display media and will positively impact the traditional paper market, the retail display sector, a number of consumer markets and the office environment in years to come.
"E-paper does have has some barriers to overcome before gaining credibility with the mainstream market," Jim Tully, vice-president and distinguished analyst at Gartner. "However, it is generating a great deal of interest and we expect adoption to increase steadily over the next few years as the technology improves."
Tully says that one of the key drivers for e-paper adoption is the way it is continuously evolving to include new technologies. Recent additions include touch screen, wireless connection and rewritable colour support capability into devices using e-paper.
Multiple e-book readers have also been introduced and applications of the technology are now expanding beyond e-book readers to include device displays for phones, clocks and watches.
E-paper also has the advantage of providing a similar user experience to real paper display. Its thinness gives users the benefits of a portable, paper-thin rewritable display while its readability in bright sunlight gives a similar user experience to that of reading a paper display.
According to Gartner, low power consumption is the main driver for e-paper adoption in most cases and this is enabling initial applications in signage (for retail and roadside applications), static displays (e-books) and small information-centric screens. Low power consumption also boosts e-paper's green credentials. Its potential environmental benefits are significant, resulting in the saving of trees, preventing the generation of waste water and reducing the emissions of green house gases.
Despite these benefits, there are a number of disadvantages to e-paper that must be overcome in order for it to gain more widespread adoption. Overall, e-paper content is limited and the current colour capabilities of e-paper displays are poor. E-paper is also typically weak in its handling of moving images and a compromise must be found between the requirements for full-motion video and low power consumption.
Gartner says the cost of e-paper displays will need to fall further if it is to act as a viable mainstream alternative to print media, especially as the falling costs and increasing quality of alternative technologies ­such as organic light-emitting diode (OLED) and liquid crystal display (LCD) could moderate the growth potential of e-paper.
Some examples of e-paper technologies include:
* Electrophoretic e-paper, where the image is generated by an array of electrically charged particles suspended in fluid. When current is applied, the particles are moved to the opposite electrode side. Switch the field, and the particles will move to the other side, and this will change the colour and finally change the images. Electrophoretic technology from E Ink is currently used in commercial devices such as the Amazon Kindle, Sony Librie reader and Plastic Logic's e-newspaper.
* Electronic liquid powder (ELP) from Bridgestone, which uses a similar electrophoretic approach to E Ink's e-paper, but with the ELP particles suspended in air instead of fluid.
* Cholesteric LCD, an LCD variant, such as the technology from Kent Displays that is used in Fujitsu¹s new e-book reader FLEPia, using multiple layers of different colour LCD crystals to generate the image.