A new Bloomberg report indicates that Sony might be preparing to produce a smartwatch that uses an e-paper display rather than a traditional LCD display. Not only will the display be made of e-paper, the report continues, but the entire wrist band as well. Could such a device take on Apple’s own smartwatch, set for release early next year?
E-paper, for those unfamiliar with the term, is the same low-power “electronic paper” display used in devices like the Kindle. It allows a display to be legible, even in direct sunlight, by reflecting light rather than emitting it like a standard LCD display.
Bloomberg says that by building the entire watch from e-paper, Sony will enable users to change the look of the device on a whim without switching out physical faces or bands, as would be required with a device like the Apple Watch—although to a much lesser degree than Apple Watch users will enjoy.
The decision to use e-paper stems from a desire to focus on style and customizability rather than functionality. Though this will put Sony’s watch in a much different category than Apple’s entry, the choice to take some of the focus off of the watch’s functionality makes sense given the technical limitations of e-paper technology.
For example, though color e-paper displays have existed for several years now, the technology is expensive—so expensive that Samsung decided to give up on it—and the existing models are unreliable and low-quality. As a result, there are currently no consumer-ready full-color panels.
E-paper displays also suffer from much lower refresh rates, making them ideal for books, but less so for high-tech tablets or other devices that need to display rapidly changing information or interfaces. For an Apple Watch, e-paper would be a poor fit. However, if Sony does plan to focus more on form than function, it may not need to worry about the problems it would face putting a full mobile OS on the watch.
One watch that has successfully navigated these obstacles to provide a solid user experience is the popular Pebble smartwatch, which has support for a variety of third-party apps and functions. The limitations on its display, however, ensure that the Pebble, like any other e-paper-based watch, will likely never achieve the same level of software design that Apple or Google’s Android Wear have reached.
The Sony project is part of a new initiative within the company to reward seed money to employees with innovative ideas and help bring their designs to market.
According to Bloomberg’s report, Sony is working toward a possible release in 2015.
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