After stealing the show at CES 2013 with their flexible e-paper concepts, Plastic Logic have really captured the zeitgeist with their latest prototype, a smartwatch using a flexible colour e-paper display. Could this be what to expect from Samsung's upcoming smartwatch and the rumoured Apple iWatch? We went along to have a closer look at a press event earlier today.
Using an organic TFT active matrix backplane paired with E-Ink and toped off with a colour filter, the watch (made of a single Plastic Logic e-paper sheet) is flexible enough to wraparound a wrist and is paper-thin at under a staggering 900μm. Though no touch panel is implemented in the Plastic Logic prototype, one could be easily added for a marginal increase in thickness.
Showing off potential functions such as a timeface, heart-rate monitor and incoming caller information from a connected smartphone, colours remain vibrant despite the usual e-paper limitations. Plastic Logic achieve these intense colours by using positional colour filters surrounding the standard monochrome E Ink array, allowing them to send individual dynamic colour information to select regions of the display as required by an application."Effectively unbreakable" according to Plastic Logic engineer Jim Watts (who had no qualms with throwing a separate flexible display sheet onto the ground), the technology is certainly robust enough to withstand the rigours of everyday use. With Plastic Logic prototyping displays with a 300ppi, the visual fidelity could potentially be superb too. Using bi-stable E Ink technology, power draw would be minimal too, with the watch requiring no extra juice to power once a static image has been produced onscreen.
A few issues would need to be considered for any manufacturer looking to employ one of the Plastic Logic displays in their smart watches however. Though the screen technology itself is startlingly thin, there's still a need to house the transistors and silicone chips (the jumble of wires and circuitry you can see in the image below). A clasp or rubberised band could do the job here, but that micro thinness would be lost. Likewise, a tiny battery would need to be installed somewhere, and though that would be fine if just simply refreshing the screen every once in a while, connecting to, say, a smartphone over Bluetooth could have a dramatic impact on a battery you would assume would be of a low capacity given the size. There's also the need for some sort of lighting unless the watch be completely useless in the dark, another battery drain.Though designed only as an example of the potential of the Plastic Logic technologies, and not destined yet for a commercial smart watch product, the device does offer a glimpse at what could be featured in similar products in the future. Alongside Apple's rumoured iWatch, Samsung also recently confirmed that they are working on a connected wrist watch.
Most tellingly, on-hand Plastic Logic reps revealed that they are currently in talks with a "leading sporting brand" with the possibility of developing the technology for a sports-orientated wristwatch. One could easily speculate as to who that could be - you need only glance at Nike or Adidas's shift in focus to connected accessories to see how Plastic Logic's innovations could tempt them.